09 nov 20
How Francis Is Preparing the Conclave, With His Cardinal Favorites
It is no longer a hypothesis but a certainty. Now we know that Pope Francis “first of all” keeps his thoughts fixed “on what will come after me,” meaning on the future conclave, whether this is to come sooner or later. He said so himself in an interview a few days ago with the agency ADN Kronos. In which he also applied to himself the memorable “We’re on a mission from God” of the Blues Brothers, in these words:
“I fear nothing, I act in the name and on behalf of our Lord. Am I a madcap? A bit short on prudence? I don’t know what to say, my guide is instinct and the Holy Spirit.”
In effect, his latest promotions – and dismissals – of cardinals old and new seem to be aimed precisely at setting up a conclave to his liking.
To begin with, Francis has brutally sidelined – demoting him without a moment’s notice on September 24 – such a cardinal as Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who in a conclave, if not a candidate for succession, would surely have been a great elector capable of playing his own hand, thanks to his eight years as “substitute” at the secretariat of state, in daily contact with the pope and with a grip on the tiller of the worldwide Church.
Stripped of his “rights” as a cardinal, Becciu will not even be able to enter a conclave, even though a Church historian like Alberto Melloni maintains the contrary.
The reason for his fall from grace would be his misuse of the money of the secretariat of state and Peter’s Pence. But Becciu also knows that neither the pope nor his own direct superior, cardinal secretary of state Pietro Parolin, can claim to have nothing to do with the offenses being pinned on him. In fact, the public record now includes both a document of the Vatican magistracy indicating that Becciu informed the pope of his moves, even the most risky, and received his approval, and a very recent e-mail exchange between Cardinal Parolin and self-styled secret service expert Cecilia Marogna, recruited years ago by Becciu as one of the “public officials” of the secretariat of state and now accused of embezzlement and misappropriation of Vatican funds carelessly entrusted to her.
As proof of the close fiduciary bond that until very recently linked the pope to Becciu, it should also be noted that Francis had appointed him as his “special delegate” to the order of the Knights of Malta. And who has the pope now appointed in Becciu’s place? Another of his favorites, the new cardinal Silvano Tomasi, former Vatican representative at the United Nations but above all a party to the fratricidal clash within the order that in January of 2017 led the innocent Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing to forced resignation, imposed on him by none other than the pope.
Tomasi, very close to Cardinal Parolin, turns out to be one of the thirteen new cardinals that Francis will vest with the scarlet next November 28.
A list that is worth looking at not only for who is on it, but also for who is off.
Off it, for example, are two archbishops of the first magnitude: that of Los Angeles, José Horacio Gómez, who is also president of the episcopal conference of the United States, and that of Paris, Michel Aupetit.
Both are unusually gifted and enjoy wide esteem, but they have the disadvantage – in Francis’s eyes – of appearing to be too distant from the guidelines of the current pontificate. Aupetit even has experience as a physician and bioethicist, like the Dutch archbishop and cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk. And it is no mystery that both Gómez and Aupetit, if made cardinals – which however will not happen – would in a conclave be on the shortlist of candidates alternative to Francis and of solid profile, a shortlist that already includes Eijk and the Hungarian cardinal Péter Erdô, well known for having led with wisdom and firmness, during the double synod on the family of which he was relator general, the resistance to the proponents of divorce and the new homosexual morality.
Among the newly appointed cardinal electors, all indebted to Jorge Mario Bergoglio for their respective careers, there are at least three who stand out.
In the United States there has been a stir over the promotion to the scarlet of Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington, the first African-American cardinal in history but also a bitter opponent of Donald Trump.
From the island of Malta comes another new cardinal, Mario Grech, a staunch supporter of synodality as a form of life for the Church and recently promoted by Francis as secretary general of the synod of bishops. The newly appointed Grech immediately made an appearance in an interview with “La Civiltà Cattolica” in which he accused of “spiritual illiteracy” and “clericalism” those Christians who are suffering from the lack of the Eucharistic celebration during the “lockdowns” and do not understand that the sacraments can be dropped because there are “other ways to engage in the mystery.”
But even more strategic, for Pope Francis, is the promotion of Marcello Semeraro, the new cardinal whom he has set in the place left empty by the defenestrated Becciu, that of prefect of the congregation for the causes of saints.
Semeraro has been a key element of Bergoglio’s court since his election as pope. Until a few weeks ago he was the secretary of the team of 8, then 9, then 6, and now 7 cardinals who assist Francis in the reform of the curia and the government of the universal Church.
From Puglia, age 73, Semeraro was professor of ecclesiology at the Pontifical Lateran University and then bishop, first of Oria and then of Albano. But the decisive turning point for him was his participation in the 2001 synod as secretary. It was there that he forged his ties with then-cardinal Bergoglio, suddenly charged with delivering the opening address to that assembly in the place of Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York, forced to stay home because of the attack on the Twin Towers.
The ties between the two soon became quite firm and every time Bergoglio came to Rome he did not fail to make a trip to nearby Albano. Then came the 2013 conclave and the two – Semeraro likes to remember – met for a couple of hours the day before the voting, with Bergoglio “strangely silent.” The first bishop the new pope received in audience after his election was Semeraro, later appointed secretary of the newly formed team of cardinal councilors. When Semeraro turned 70 in December of 2017, Francis surprised him by appearing in Albano at lunchtime and celebrating with him (see photo).
But there is more. For years Gregory, Grech, and even more so Semeraro have been active supporters of a change in the Catholic Church’s doctrine and practice in the matter of homosexuality. In his diocese of Albano Semeraro hosts the Forum of Italian LGBT Christians every year. And he wrote the preface for the recent book “L’amore possibile. Persone omosessuali e morale cristiana,” by Fr. Aristide Fumagalli, professor at the theological faculty of Milan and Italy’s version of the American Jesuit James Martin, an even more famous pitchman of the new homosexual morality, for which Pope Francis as well did not fail to express his appreciation.
Attention must also be paid to the moves Francis has made in recent weeks on behalf of a few of the cardinals who are close to him.
The most startling came on October 5 with the appointment of Cardinal Kevin Farrell as president of a new Vatican organism that oversees “reserved matters,” meaning those falling outside of the ordinary norms and covered by the most rigorous secrecy.
Farrell, 73, born in Dublin and later a bishop in the United States, in his youth a member of the Legionaries of Christ, has been since 2016 the prefect of the Vatican dicastery for the laity, family and life, and since February 2019 also “chamberlain” of the college of cardinals, meaning the one assigned to manage the government of the Church in the period between the death of a pope and the election of a successor.
It is clear that with this series of promotions Pope Francis has endowed Farrell, evidently his pride and joy, with an unusual accumulation of powers.
And this has happened in spite of the shady spots in this cardinal’s biography, unclear to this day.
His most nebulous years are those in which, as auxiliary bishop and vicar general of Washington, he was the closest collaborator and trustee of the head of the archdiocese at the time, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, with whom he also shared quarters from 2002 to 2006.
During those same years the two dioceses of Metuchen and Newark, of which McCarrick had previously been bishop, paid tens of thousands of dollars to settle lawsuits with former priests who had charged him with having sexually abused them. And McCarrick was already the target of far more widespread accusations of abuse, accusations that would keep building and gaining credence until his definitive censure and reduction to the lay state in 2018.
But in spite of his close proximity to McCarrick, Farrell has always maintained that during those years he never had “any reason to suspect” anything illicit in the behavior of the cardinal who was his boss, mentor, and friend.
In October of 2018 Pope Francis promised the publication of a report that would shed light on the coverup and complicity that McCarrick is though to have enjoyed in the ecclesiastical camp up to the highest levels.
But Farrell’s appointment as overseer of the most confidential matters does not ensure that this report – the publication of which has been announced for tomorrow, November 10 – will bring complete clarity.
As prefect of the dicastery for the family, Farrell also made his mark by picking as a speaker at the world meeting of families held in Dublin in 2018 the Jesuit Martin, for whose pro-LGBT book “Building a Bridge” he had written the preface.
Another move by Francis concerned what is referred to as the Vatican “bank,” the IOR, Institute for Works of Religion.
The IOR is supervised by a commission of cardinals, in which the pope made some changes on October 10.
Among the new members he added two of his proteges: Polish cardinal Konrad Krajewski, his industrious “almoner” in works of charity, and the Filipino cardinal – a bit Chinese on his mother’s side – Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle, prefect of “Propaganda Fide” and universally considered the man Francis would most like as his successor.
While among the members removed one name stands out, that of Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Which has led to thoughts of a downgrade, both of him and of the secretariat of state.
In reality his exit from the IOR commission is an advantage for Parolin. The cardinal is doing all he can to be seen as having no involvement in the misconduct that has ended up under scrutiny at the secretariat of state, and he therefore has an interest in keeping clear of a storm that could soon hit the IOR, accused by two Malta investment funds of having stuck them with a loss of tens of millions of euros as a result of the breaking of an agreement for the purchase and restoration of the former Stock Exchange Building in Budapest.
In the meantime, however, Parolin has suffered another and much tougher reversal: the Pope’s order that the secretariat of state divest itself of its assets and properties, all to be administered by the Vatican central bank, the APSA, and supervised by the secretariat for the economy, that very organism originally headed by Cardinal George Pell to which neither Parolin nor his deputy Becciu ever wanted to submit.
Parolin had long been classified among the “papabili” but can now be considered crossed off the list. But for at least two years the support for his candidacy had been in sharp decline. As a statesman, the misconduct of his subordinates in the secretariat of state weighed heavily against him. As a diplomat, there is no chessboard on which he has registered the slightest success, neither in the Middle East, nor in Venezuela, much less in China. And even his vaunted abilities to contain and adjust the state of confusion induced in the Church by Francis’s pontificate, when tested by the facts, have turned out to be too modest, if not non-existent.
In effect, pope Bergoglio shows that he prefers another cardinal as a statesman over Parolin, the Honduran Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, whom he reconfirmed in mid-October in the position of coordinator of the “C7,” his team of seven cardinals advisers.
How Francis can continue to rely on Maradiaga remains a mystery. In addition to having long been a target of serious accusations of financial misappropriation already investigated by an apostolic visitation in his diocese, Maradiaga had for years as his auxiliary bishop and protege Juan José Pineda Fasquelle, dismissed in the summer of 2018 due to ongoing homosexual activity with his seminarians.
Not only that. In that same summer of 2018 Francis appointed in the key role of substitute of the secretariat of state – in place of Becciu, who was made a cardinal – the Venezuelan archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, former councilor of the nunciature in Honduras between 2002 and 2005 and very close to Maradiaga and Pineda, whose appointment as auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa he backed, as well as being himself the target of accusations of misconduct never put under impartial investigation by the Vatican.
Does Tagle remain Francis’s true successor “in pectore,” favored all the more by the moves just described?
That the Chinese-Filipino cardinal is the “papabile” most dear to Bergoglio is beyond doubt. But that a future conclave would elect him pope is far from guaranteed. Precisely because he is too similar to Francis, it is easy to predict that Tagle will end up crushed by the many umbrages over the current pontificate.
So it cannot be ruled out that Bergoglio may have in mind another successor to his liking, perhaps one more apt to be elected. And this could be Bologna cardinal Matteo Zuppi, already with various arrows for his bow, but whose electoral strength would come above all from the Community of Sant’Egidio that he cofounded and is indisputably the most powerful, influential, and omnipresent Catholic lobby of recent decades, at the worldwide level, with extensive connections in the upper echelons of the Church.
With Bergoglio as pope, the Community of Sant’Egidio has also reached its apogee in the Vatican, with Vincenzo Paglia at the head of the institutes for life and the family, with Matteo Bruni at the head of the press office, with community supreme leader Andrea Riccardi in the director’s chair for the theatrical interreligious meeting for peace presided over by the pope last October 20, and especially with Zuppi made cardinal a year ago. A “street cardinal,” as he likes to be called, as well as the author of that golden ticket to Francis’s court which is the preface to the Italian edition of the pro-LGBT book by the Jesuit Martin.