Friday, September 11, 2015

Will the Francis Revolution Last?

A reader wrote in in regard to the previous posting:
Do you have an idea of what percent of the cardinals and bishops support Francis?
Not everyone 
gets the style.
The simple answer is “No,” but this calls for a response that is far more complicated than can appear in a reply posting.  This is a classic example of trying to read the data and write the history as it is unfolding.  As for those who support or don’t support the direction Pope Francis is moving in, it is somewhat easier to get a read on the Cardinals than on the bishops as the Cardinals are fewer in number and far less able to conceal their opinions but even in the case of the Cardinals, there is a “silent majority” that is very difficult to second guess to what extent they support Pope Francis’ agenda for reform. 
Let’s look first as what a Conclave might look should Francis’ papacy come to an end in the next six months. (God Forbid, I might add.)  There are 120 Cardinals eligible to vote in the next conclave.  As of the most recent consistory with its newest class of Cardinals we have 30 potential electors who were appointed by Pope John Paul II.  We have 59 electors appointed by Pope Benedict XVI.  And we have 31 electors who were appointed by Pope Francis.  We can surmise that the Cardinals, to some extent, reflect the thought of the Pope who appointed them.  But again we have to be careful.  One of Francis’ strongest critics regarding his desire to find a “pastoral solution” to the problem of the divorced and remarried receiving the sacraments is Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith.  But Müller is a Francis appointee.  Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, on the other hand, is perhaps Francis’ most trusted right-hand man and is a John Paul appointee. 
What the numbers, arranged by the Pope who appointed the Cardinals, show is just how fast the complexion of the College can change.  With only two “classes” of his nominees, Francis already has appointed more members of the College than John Paul.  Probably with two more classes, three at the most, his nominees will have a simple majority in the College.  This will presumably make a return to the pre-Francis days far more difficult. 
But all is not smooth sailing.  Last year before the Synod, five Cardinals wrote a book, Remaining In The Truth of Christ, in order to stall Francis’ agenda.   This year eleven Cardinals teamed to write: Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family: Essays From A Pastoral Viewpoint.  One of the authors of the second book, Cardinal Basileos Cleemis of India, is only 56 years old.  He will be voting in conclaves for 24 more years.  Another, Cardinal William Jacobus Eijk, has 18 more years.  This means that they will probably play a role not only in choosing Francis’s successor, but his successor’s successor—and perhaps even a third and fourth successor.  Cleemis is a Benedict appointee as is Eijk. 
There is no doubt that whatever opinions you hold the next Conclave is going to be a “Battle for the Soul of the Church.”  The most articulate of Francis’ supporters, Walter Kasper, is too old to vote or even to be in the Conclave.  The Francis faction will probably be led by Cardinals Maradiaga, Marx, Tagle and Schönborn.  The anti Francis, or perhaps better the “reverse direction” party will be led by Raymond Burke (who can participate in conclaves until 2028), aided by Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka.  There are a number of Cardinals, including Müller, who are opposed to Francis’ agenda on finding ways to allow people in irregular unions a deeper participation in the Church’s sacramental life, but who are on board with the wider Francis’ agenda.  While the “reverse direction” faction may have only a few spokespersons within the Sacred College, I suspect that there is enough of a “silent majority” to have an impact on the election and the direction of the Church.  While I doubt there will be an attempt to go back to the Church Triumphant model of the last papacy, I think there are enough doctrinal hard-liners in the Sacred College to want very clear guidelines on the limits of pastoral outreach to the LGBT community and to the divorced and remarried.  I think there will be stronger support for tighter liturgical discipline or at least for those who want the optional use of the pre-conciliar rites.   Francis has thrown a few bones to the liturgical conservatives but he is clearly not interested in any return to the pre-Conciliar rites.  Nor do I think is he interested in advancing further reforms in the Liturgy despite his own pastoral style.  I suspect his successor will be a man who in naming bishops divides the power a bit more evenly than Francis has.  On the other hand, each Pope of recent years has “stacked” the College to some extent with men who think like himself. 
This brings us from the Cardinals down to the bishops.  Francis is clearly appointing men who comprehend his agenda of a more simple Church.  The Chicago appointment (Archbishop Cupich) is particularly telling.  It will be even more telling the next time red hats get passed around to see among the Americans who gets one and who doesn’t.  Many of the American bishops have expressed—usually off the record except for Bishop Tobin of Providence—a dismay at the change in style and tone set by Francis.  The American hierarchy are particularly conservative, however.  On the other hand, American Cardinal-Archbishops Dolan, O’Malley, Wuerl, DiNardo are pretty much following Francis’ lead.  O’Malley is particularly interesting as he is one of Francis’ most trusted advisor—and rightly so, a man of exceptional talent—yet he pretty much stands above the fray whereas Dolan is an Irish street-fighter and gets down and gets dirty.  Wuerl too doesn’t mind skating out onto thin ice in following Francis’ lead.  We need to see more new bishops to get a good read on Francis and what he is doing with the American hierarchy.  I will be surprised to see Lori of Baltimore get his coveted red hat in this papacy but Chaput—despite his rigid conservativism—might as a reward for the upcoming World Meeting of Families.  It will be interesting and, if he doesn’t get the hat, very telling.  There are some key dioceses that need to be filled and it will also tell us a lot whom Francis chooses.  I am particularly interested in Arlington Virginia whose bishop turns 75 this month and whose diocese has long proved to be somewhat unmanageable with obdurate clergy who live in a time warp, convinced that it is 1955. 
I have painted this with a pretty broad brush—there is a lot one could write or say on it and a lot of subtlety I have glided over.  Let’s say in summary that Francis is building a College of Cardinals that wear his colors; but it takes longer to get that same impact on the world’s bishops.  Let’s hope the man has the time to do it.  

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