Sunday, January 11, 2015

All the Pope’s Men, Why Francis’s Choice of Cardinals Could Backfire

Days after rebuffing traditionalists as having ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s,’ Pope Francis chose a group of cardinals from the peripheries of the church. Why that move could haunt him.

When Pope Francis travels to Sri Lanka and the Philippines next week, he will do so with even greater support than usual from Asian and other marginalized Catholics thanks his announcement on Sunday of an eclectic mix of new cardinals to be installed on February 14. But does catering to Catholics in the margins put his support at home in Vatican City at risk?

The College of Cardinals, established in its current form in 1150, is one of the most exclusive good old boys’ clubs left in the world. Not only are the 120 or so clerical members hand-picked by popes, they alone form the exclusive voting body to elect the next pope from among their clan. So when Francis announced the second batch of new cardinals of his 20-month-old pontificate, including three from Asia, three from Latin America, two from Africa, and two from Oceania, many saw him stacking the deck to ensure that his successor is, as he describes himself, from the ends of the earth.

But some Vatican experts warn that by expanding the club’s membership to the peripheries, Francis’s plan for an all-inclusive church might just backfire. American Vatican expert John Allen warns that filling the hallowed halls with relative strangers to Vatican business and protocol may ensure that the old status quo might just prevail. “Prelates who have no Vatican experience, who don’t speak Italian, and who don’t themselves have the experience of running a large and complex ecclesiastical operation may feel a natural tendency to defer to the old hands,” he writes. “Vatican insiders will tell you that when the cardinal of, say, Chicago, or Cologne, or Milan, shows up in their offices, he’s taken seriously indeed… It’s not clear that the cardinal of Tonga or Cape Verde will have quite the same muscle, at least right out of the gate.”


The Daily Beast

Barbie Latza Nadeau

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