Friday, October 14, 2016

Francis’ criterion for choosing the new US cardinals

Image result for 3 red birettasThe three red birettas that are to be conferred to US bishops at the 19 November Consistory announced by Francis at Sunday’s Angelus (9 October), are a sign. 

The Pope is showing that he does not want to penalise the big and powerful American Church but at the same time his choice of cardinals points toward a specific path. 

The very path he had pointed out in his speech to US bishops in September 2015, on the first day of his visit to Washington. It is worth looking back at what he said in that speech in order to understand his decision to add three new cardinals once considered to be centre-leaning, to the College of Cardinals. 

Kevin Joseph Farrell’s nomination was the most predictable and expected of all three. Farrell was born in Ireland but has served as bishop in the US for decades and was recently appointed Prefect of the new dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, created as a part of the process of Curia reform. In his case, what was significant was the fact that he was summoned from the US to lead the new dicastery. 

Blase Cupich, who has been serving in Chicago for two years, was Francis’ first nomination in a major US diocese. Cupich had never previously been a candidate and the Pope chose him with a view to start changing the American “cultural warrior” bishop model. Finally, the most surprising cardinal nomination was Joseph William Tobin, Archbishop of Indianapolis, who was removed from the Roman Curia after just two years as Secretary of the Congregation for Religious because his stance on America’s progressive nuns was considered too “soft”. 

The North American episcopate has seemed to be one of the episcopates that has had trouble getting in tune with Francis’ approach. In recent decades the new bishops selected to head the US’s most important dioceses, were prelates who were hugely active in public pro-life campaigns and less active when it came to raising their voice about social justice issues. 

In the speech he addressed to the American Church at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the Pope called on clergy to start a new chapter and alter their outlook. 

The Pope invited bishops not to use “divisive language” or limit themselves to “preaching”. 

They should instead win over space in people’s hearts without “mak[ing] of the cross a banner of worldly struggles”. 

Francis underlined that it is certainly useful for a bishop “to have the farsightedness of a leader and the shrewdness of an administrator” “but we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us”. 

Shepherds must not therefore turn into managers and look at the Church with the criteria of business-like efficiency. They must not, in other words, think that evangelisation is all about the use of financial resources, management instruments or the power of means of communication. 

As far as their attitude towards society, Francis said: “Woe to us, however, if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed”. Bishops, therefore, cannot allow themselves to be “paralysed by fear”, “think[ing] back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition”. 

“Harsh and divisive language” does not in fact “has no place in the heart” of a pastor “although it may momentarily seem to win the day”. Division and fragmentation are everywhere but the Church “cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over”. An appeal for communion and unity, addressed to a highly polarised Church – as is American society – split between conservatives and progressives. 

The path the Pope suggests for overcoming this polarisation, in that of meekness and humble dialogue with everyone. “Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain”. 

Francis went on to list the issues on which the Church must speak out: “The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature.” 

So it is not just about the pro-life campaign or the opposition to same-sex marriage. 

“Preach[ing] and proclaim[ing] to those without” is not enough, it is not enough in other words to make accusations which are then published in newspapers. Bishops need to “find room in people’s hearts and in the conscience of society,” Francis said. Evangelisation is not achieved through fighting. “Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbours and servants,” the Pope finally urged. Now, Francis’ decision to create three US cardinals, sets in stone what he said in Washington a year ago.

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