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Pastors who smell of their sheep

14 October 2016

Pope Francis’s new cardinals bring a fresh approach, says Paul Vallely

THE lineaments of the papacy of Pope Francis became even clearer this week, after his announcement of the names of those whom he has chosen to become cardinals. His prioritising of courageous conflict-resolution was clear from the first name on his list: Archbishop Mario Zenari, the dauntless Vatican ambassador to Syria, who becomes the first papal nuncio in recent times to have the rank of cardinal. Appointments in the Central African Republic, Bangladesh, and Albania also show how this Pope values bravery in the face of temporal power.

His preference for the peripheries is evident. He continues to make the College of Cardinals less European, with representatives from all five continents — 11 of them from places such as New Guinea, Malaysia, and Lesotho, which have never before had a cardinal.

All the new men are pastors who “smell of their sheep”. From Madrid, he has chosen Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra, who walks around his diocese, and is called the “Spanish Francis” by the locals. He has a devotion to the Virgen de la Paloma (”Our Lady of the Dove”), whose feast day attracts thousands of non-church attenders who live “on the spiritual outskirts”.

The new cardinals favour collaboration over confrontation. From his native Latin America, Pope Francis has picked men prominent in the Continent’s conference of bishops, CELAM. In Belgium, he has chosen Archbishop Jozef De Kesel, who was twice before put forward by the papal nuncio to take over the country’s primatial see, and twice rejected by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Franciscan shift is clearest, however, in the three new cardinals from the United States. The Pope has passed over the obvious figures whom Pope Benedict had placed in sees around the world where a red hat had previously been automatic — in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Los Angeles. There, the entrenched theological conservatives Archbishops Charles Chaput, William Lori, and José Gómez have paid the price for resisting the Pope’s desire to open communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, and for their combat with the Obama administra­tion over health care and contraception, and ramping up the “culture wars” in the US.

Instead, one American red hat has gone to Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, a key ally of Pope Francis on welcoming into the Church those in irregular family situations. Another has gone to Bishop Kevin Farrell, an outspoken advocate for gun control, who recently moved from Dallas to lead the new Vatican department on the Laity, the Family and Life. And a third has been given to Bishop Joseph Tobin, who was demoted from a top Vatican job for criticising Pope Benedict’s investigation of nuns in the US. Relegated to the small diocese of Indianapolis, he has done battle with the State Governor, Mike Pence — who is now Donald Trump’s running mate — over welcoming Syrian refugees.

Pope Francis is slowly shifting the Church from the Right back to the centre. But he still has appointed only a third of those who will elect his successor. When the time comes, this means that, if the reforms of Pope Francis are to be cemented by the next papacy, it will once again require intervention by the Holy Spirit.


Paul Vallely’s biography Pope Francis: The struggle for the soul of Catholicism is published by Bloomsbury.

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