Profiles of Pope Francis’ New Cardinals

Pope Francis presides at the consistory to create new cardinals on June 28, 2018 in Rome. ( Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

 |  Sep. 2, 2019

As with the Holy Father’s previous appointments they have a broad geographical scope, and are supportive of issues he has prioritized such as immigration, the environment and dialogue with Islam.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis unexpectedly named 13 new cardinals on Sunday, choices that have again revealed his wish for the Church to go out to the peripheries and the developing world.

But they also reveal Churchmen supportive of other issues close to his heart including open migration policies, concern for the environment and populism, a diplomatic rather than realist stance toward Islam, and sympathies for those supportive of homosexual issues.

“Their origin expresses the missionary vocation of the Church as she continues to proclaim the merciful love of God to every person on Earth,” the Pope said. 

The new cardinals, 10 of whom will be eligible to vote in a conclave, will receive their red hat during a cardinal-making consistory on Oct. 5, the vigil of the Oct. 6-27 Amazonian Synod. 

With Francis’ new choices, the number of cardinal electors will rise to 128, eight more than the number that was recommended by Paul VI (Pope St. John Paul II also on occasion exceeded the 120 limit), although the number is to swiftly decline in the coming months. 

Three electors — Congo Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Italian Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli, and Indian Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo — are soon to lose their eligibility to vote as they turn 80 later in October, with others exceeding the voting age next year.  

After the Oct. 5 cardinal-making consistory, which will be Francis’ sixth, the College of Cardinals will comprise 67 electors chosen by Francis, 42 created by Benedict XVI, and 19 by John Paul II.

The list of new cardinal electors, which the Holy Father nearly missed announcing after being stuck for 25 minutes in an elevator on his way to the Angelus, has further internationalized the College of Cardinals. But the choices also retain a European focus, comprising five Europeans, one from Asia, two from Africa, and two from Central America. 

With the exception of Bologna, Francis continues to overlook other episcopal sees historically headed by a red hat, in Italy most notably the Patriarchate of Venice, Palermo and Turin, and in the United States, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.  

No U.S. cardinal was created, and Francis hasn’t awarded an American a red hat since the consistory of November 2016, preferring instead to focus on Europe and promoting the presence of the global south. Perhaps more surprising was the absence of a Chinese cardinal, given the landmark Vatican-China agreement on episcopal appointments signed last September. 

Top of the list of the 10 new cardinal electors was Bishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot. Born in Seville, Spain, the 67-year-old has been president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue since May this year, succeeding the late Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran. Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Ayuso secretary (deputy) of the dicastery in 2012, and he has led various interreligious meetings, written numerous books and articles, and speaks a number of languages including Arabic.

A former president of the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies in Rome, Bishop Ayuso was heavily involved in drawing up the Human Fraternity document signed Feb. 4 by Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar, and the Pope in Abu Dhabi. The Vatican called it “an important step forward” and a “powerful sign of peace and hope” between the two religions, but critics have expressed strong reservations about a passage in the document that stated the “diversity of religions” is “willed by God,” arguing that it contradicts a central belief of the Church by relativizing the uniqueness of Christ and the Church.

Archbishop José Tolentino de Medonça, the Archivist and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church only since June 2018, is a Portuguese prelate who has had a meteoric rise. Until recently, he was a priest virtually unknown outside Portugal until the Pope chose him to preach at his Lenten retreat last year. Born in Madeira in 1965, Archbishop Tolentino de Medonça has a doctorate in biblical theology and in 2011 he became a consultor for the Pontifical Council of Culture. Elevated to archbishop on taking up his current post, he has published numerous volumes and articles of a theological and exegetical nature, as well as several works of poetry. 

But he has also been a controversial figure who wrote the introduction to a book on feminist theology by Sister Maria Teresa Forcada. Dubbed by the BBC as “Europe’s most radical nun” and known for promoting “queer theology,” Sister Forcada is pro-abortion, stridently anti-capitalist and for women’s ordination. In his introduction, Father Tolentino de Mendonça wrote that he believed Sister Forcada’s “apostolate” should be a model for a Christianity “free” of past and present dogmatic ties, and that her value is to have “highlighted the importance of ethical relations free of rigid and codified rules.”

Archbishop Matteo Zuppi, whom Francis chose to be the surprise successor to Cardinal Carlo Caffarra as archbishop of Bologna in 2015, served as an assistant priest and then parish priest of Rome’s historic Santa Maria in Trastevere parish from 1981 to 2010, and then as assistant ecclesiastical general to the Sant’Egidio lay community in Rome. Benedict XVI appointed him an auxiliary bishop of Rome in 2012. 

Known as a “priest of the streets” for his outreach to the elderly, immigrants, gypsies, and drug addicts, he also participated in Sant’Egidio peace initiatives in Africa, in particular its mediations to liberate kidnapped missionaries and its successfully brokered peace deal in Mozambique and Burundi, working with Nelson Mandela. Popular among Italians, he likes to ride around Bologna on a bicycle, and his sensitivity to social issues is thought to bring him close to Francis. During his visit to Bologna two years ago, the Pope was reportedly pleased when the archbishop offered him a lunch with the poor of the city. Many on Italy’s political left received the news of his red hat with great enthusiasm

Archbishop Zuppi has drawn criticism for writing an Italian preface to Jesuit Father James Martin’s book “Building a Bridge” in which he endorsed a new pastoral attitude for so-called “LGBT” Catholics. But Archbishop Zuppi’s supporters have told the Register that his position is more nuanced that Father Martin has made it out to be (Father Martin described him as a “great supporter of ‘LGBT’ Catholics”), and that while the archbishop calls for a more sensitive pastoral approach in his foreword, he reasserts the Church’s teaching on the issue and calls faithfully Catholic outreach groups such as Courage “instructive.”

Archbishop Jean-Claude Höllerich, a Jesuit who was appointed Archbishop of Luxembourg by Benedict XVI in 2011, is also president of the Catholic bishops’ conference in the European Union (COMECE). He has shown himself to be a kindred spirit to Pope Francis on a number of issues. In April, he made headlines by writing in the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica thatEuropean populists are playing a “wicked game” by exploiting people’s fears regarding immigration and security. The “drama” of migrants in Europe, he said, was a “disgrace” and that “to remove our fears we are presented with enemies: migrants, Islam, the Jews, etc.” He added that President Donald Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon and Russian political analyst Aleksandr Dugin were the “priests of these populisms that evoke a false pseudo-religious and pseudo-mystical world, denying the heart of western theology, which is God’s love and love of neighbor.”

He has expressed his full support for the upcoming Amazon synod, telling a conference promoted jointly by COMECE, REPAM (the Church organization set up in 2014 to prepare the synod), and the German Catholic aid organizations Adveniat and Misereor, that the Amazon faces “a global problem which requires a global response.” He added: “We must immerse ourselves in reality, because it is in reality that we find God. And today this reminds us to care for Creation, which requires a real revolution in custom, mentality and the economy.” At last year’s youth synod, the archbishop said discernment “is not about black and white but discovering all the different colors and shades of reality.” A former teacher of seminarians and vocations director, Archbishop Höllerich has close links with the Church in Japan having been a student chaplain and then vice rector at Tokyo’s Sophia University.

Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, who is the current undersecretary of the migrants and refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, is another new Jesuit cardinal whose opinions closely match those of Francis. Born in the former Czechoslovakia in 1946 and a Canadian citizen, Father Czerny has long specialized in social justice and human rights. From 1992-2002 he served as secretary for social justice at the Jesuits’ General Curia and afterwards founded and directed the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN). In 2005 he taught in Nairobi, collaborating with the Kenya’s bishops’ conference. In 2009, Benedict XVI made him an expert at the Synod on Africa.

Often seen at justice and peace meetings or gatherings involving the environmental concerns, Father Czerny’s influence grew when he was appointed a consultor for the now defunct Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2010. There he served, and continues to serve, as a chief adviser to Cardinal Peter Turkson, offering him advice on a wide range of social justice issues. Francis has often relied on his expertise, making him a member of last year’s youth synod. He is one of the special secretaries for the upcoming Amazon synod and a leading figure in promoting the meeting’s narrative.

Among the new cardinals “on the peripheries” is Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta, Indonesia — the world’s most populous Muslim nation (in 2018, according to the CIA Factbook, Catholics numbered 2.9%, or 7.6 million of its population of 263 million people). Born in 1950, he was first appointed as bishop of Semarang by John Paul II in 1997 before Benedict appointed him archbishop of Jakarta in 2010. Considered to be close to the Indonesian state, he was re-elected for an unprecedented third term last year as president of Indonesia’s bishops’ conference because of an “urgent need” (he said he was unsure what the nature of the urgency was). He attended the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization and the Synods on the Family. Francis appointed him a member of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. 

Archbishop Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguezof San Cristóbal, Havana, Cuba, has been a bishop since 1997 when Pope St. John Paul II named him auxiliary of Camagüey. He became its archbishop in 2002 and one of his initiatives was to develop evangelization programs in which grandparents, who still remembered their education in Catholicism as children, taught the principles of Catholicism to their grandchildren. He also established prison ministries. He represented Cuba at the 2007 CELAM assembly in Aparecida, Brazil. Francis appointed him Archbishop of Havana in April 2016. He has reportedly said he does not want capitalism to come to Cuba but rather “a progressing socialism.”

As Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa— a former member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals — turns 80 next month, the Pope has chosen to elevate to cardinal his successor in Kinshasa, Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu. Born in 1960, Archbishop Besungu, who is a Capuchin, will be one of the youngest members of the College of Cardinals. He studied partly in Rome, at the Accademia Alfonsiana, where he obtained a degree in moral theology, and has served as the president of the National Assembly of Major Superiors (ASUMA). After being appointed bishop of Bokungu-Ikela in 2005, he was chosen to be president of the Episcopal Commission “Justice and Peace,” after which he became archbishop of Mbandaka-Bikoro in 2016. In June 2016 he became vice president of Congo’s bishops’ conference. Pope Francis named him archbishop of Kinshasa last year. 

Appointed bishop by Pope St. John Paul II in 1989, Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri, 72, was born in Guatemala City and has long been involved in social justice issues, especially in the area of protecting the rights of indigenous people. In 2011, he was awarded the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award for his courageous work to empower the poor and marginalized. Previous recipients have included Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Mother Teresa. First ordained bishop in 1989, he was Guatemala’s bishops’ conference president from 2006-08 and took part in the 2007 CELAM Assembly in Aparecida where Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio played a leading role. Benedict XVI nominated him as bishop of Huehuetenango in 2012.

Lastly, the Pope chose Archbishop Cristóbal López Romero SDB of Rabat, Morocco, as a new cardinal. Born in 1952 in Vélez-Rubio of the Diocese of Almería in Spain, the Salesian priest studied in Barcelona and obtained a licentiate in information sciences in the city’s School of Journalism in 1982. From 1979-1984 he was known for his pastoral ministry toward the marginalized in Barcelona, and from 1983 to 2003 served as a missionary in Paraguay. From 2011 to 2014, he was head of pastoral parish and school ministry in Kenitra, Morocco before serving as Salesian provincial in Bolivia from 2011-2014. Francis appointed him bishop of Rabat in Dec. 2017. 

The Pope also chose three other Churchmen, over the age of 80, to become cardinal in view of their distinguished “service for the Church:”

Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald, 82, is a Missionary of Africa (White Father) and a former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue from Walsall, England. After serving as secretary of the dicastery from 1987 (then called the Secretariat for Non-Christians), he was appointed its president in 2002 before Benedict XVI transferred him to become nuncio to Egypt and the Arab League in 2006. The move came as a surprise to some, and was read at the time as revealing a more realist approach to Islam by Benedict than the more diplomatic tone stuck by Archbishop Fitzgerald. Soon after the archbishop’s transfer, Benedict gave his historic Regensburg lecture which upset parts of the Islamic world. Archbishop Fitzgerald resigned in 2012 having reached the mandatory age limit of 75for bishops.

Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevičius, 81, archbishop emeritus of Kaunas, Lithuania, was arrested in 1983 for anti-Soviet propaganda and spent 10 years in the prison work camps of Perm and Mordovia. Released in 1988 after exile in Siberia, the Jesuit priest was nominated rector of the Interdiocesan Seminary of Kaunas in 1990. He was consecrated auxiliary bishop of Kaunas in 1991 and became its archbishop in 1996. From 1999-2002 and from 2005-2014 he served as the president of Lithuania’s bishops’ conference. Pope Francis accepted his resignation as archbishop in 2015 on age grounds.

Bishop Eugenio Dal Corso, emeritus of Benguela, Angola, is an Italian prelate who began life as a missionary Poor Servants of Divine Providence priest in 1975, serving first in a province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he remained for 11 years until his transfer to Luanda in Angola, where he dedicated himself to the poorest and weakest of the population. He was first nominated bishop in 1997 as bishop of Saurino before Benedict XVI named him bishop of Benguela in 2008 where he remained until he resigned on reaching the age limit.

At the Angelus on Sunday, the Pope called on the faithful to “pray for the new cardinals so, confirming their adherence to Christ, they may help me in my ministry as bishop of Rome for the good of the entire, holy faithful people of God.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.


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