Francis' New Cardinals

Pope Francis names 17 New Princes of the Church

(photo: St. Louis Review)

During his Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis announced that he was going to create 17 new Cardinals, new members of the College of Cardinals. As reported by the Register’s Vatican correspondent Edward Pentin, the list contains 13 Cardinal Electors – meaning they are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a papal conclave – and 4 Cardinals over the age of 80 who are being honored for their long service to the Church. The list of new Cardinals is:

Cardinal Electors

  • Archbishop Mario Zenari, Italy
  • Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Central African Republic
  • Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra, Spain
  • Archbishop Sérgio da Rocha, Brazil
  • Archbishop Blase J. Cupich, U.S.A.
  • Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario, Bangladesh
  • Archbishop Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo, Venezuela
  • Archbishop Jozef De Kesel, Belgium
  • Archbishop Maurice Piat, Mauritius
  • Archbishop Kevin Joseph Farrell, U.S.A.
  • Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes, Mexico
  • Archbishop John Ribat, Papua Nuova Guinea
  • Archbishop Mons. Joseph William Tobin U.S.A.

Cardinals over 80

  • Archbishop Anthony Soter Fernandez, Archbishop Emeritus of Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
  • Archbishop Renato Corti, Archbishop Emeritus of Novara Italy
  • Archbishop Sebastian Koto Khoarai, Bishop Emeritus of Mohale’s Hoek Lesotho
  • Father Ernest Simoni, presbytery of the Archdiocese of Shkodrë-Pult, Scutari – Albania


Read Ed Pentin’s excellent discussion of the new Cardinals (be sure to read his assessment of the names not included this time around), but several points are worth exploring further, starting with the numbers.

Francis has now appointed 44 Cardinals in three and a half years. That is partly a product of attrition as a large group of Cardinals named under St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI had reached the threshold of being over 80. The pace, however, is considerable, and with the Consistory on November 19 when these new members of the College are officially installed, there will be 56 Cardinals named by Benedict and 21 by John Paul II. A few more consistories and Francis will have tipped the balance of Cardinals in favor of those appointed during his pontificate.

Using political terms (not always ideal in an ecclesiastical sense), Cardinals-elect Cupich of Chicago, Tobin of Indianapolis, Farrell late of Dallas and now an official in the Roman Curia and De Kesel of Mechelen-Brussels would be described as “moderates,” but other members, such as Cardinal-elect Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid, are known for being of a more conservative temperament.  All of them, however, are noted for their shared vision with Francis of pastoral leadership.

From the American perspective, Cupich’s appointment comes as little surprise to observers. He was named personally as archbishop of Chicago in 2014 by Francis and just a few months ago was appointed to be a member of the Congregation of Bishops, the Vatican office in charge of finding and recommending new candidates to head the world’s growing number of dioceses and archdioceses.  

Tobin and Farrell, though, are rather unexpected.  Tobin, 64, is archbishop of a mid-sized Midwestern archdiocese  and the first Cardinal in an archdiocesan history that goes back to its founding as the Diocese of Vincennes in 1834 under the great Bishop Simon Bruté de Rémur. A Redemptorist, Tobin has served all over the world, knows Francis and has studied the impact of secularization.   

Meanwhile, the rise of Bishop Farrell, 69, has been nothing short of meteoric. The Irish-born prelate was named an auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C., in 2001 and Bishop of Dallas in 2007. He was appointed, unexpectedly, on August 17, 2016 by Pope Francis to be the prefect of the newly created Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, an office that will probably become a Secretariat and that brings together several Vatican offices under one umbrella, with Farrell now as its head. His brother, Bishop Brian Farrell, is the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, so both will be serving in Rome.

As with Francis’ other Consistories, the other Cardinals-elect represent the pope’s commitment to giving voice to the peripheries, to every corner of the globe. Half the new Cardinal Electors are from the Southern Hemisphere: two from Africa, one from Asia, and three from Latin America, including Brazil and deeply troubled Venezuela.  Even the lone Italian, Cardinal-elect Mario Zenari, serves as nuncio, or papal ambassador to war-torn Syria, described by Francis as “amata e martoriata” (“beloved and battered”).

One new member who epitomizes Francis’ priority for the peripheries is Cardinal-elect Dieudonné Nzapalainga, a member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit and archbishop of Banqui, in the Central African Republic since 2012. He is now the youngest member of the College, at 49, shepherd of the war-torn capital in the C.A.R. and hosted Francis when the pontiff visited last year. The new Cardinal clearly left an impression on the pope and has been a figure of reconciliation in a country still recovering from bloody civil war and religious strife.

Nzapalainga is the first Cardinal from the Central African Republic. He joins three other Cardinal Elector designates who will be the first to receive the red hat for their countries: Bangladesh, Mauritius and Papua New Guinea.  This is part of Francis’ strategic sense of inclusion, but it is in keeping with similar approaches by St. John XXIII, Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II of choosing Cardinals from new places.

Francis does not choose indiscriminately. His choices from the peripheries have been of bishops with excellent academic credentials (most have studied in Rome) beyond their pastoral strengths. More important, Francis typically names Cardinals who are or who have been presidents of their respective episcopal conferences. That means that they have been elected by their brother bishops to lead them.

In the case of Cardinal-elect Tobin, he has served as Superior General of the Redemptorists and also Vice-President of the international Union of Superiors General. Likewise, Cardinal-elect Ribat of Papua New Guinea is currently President of the Federation of Catholic Episcopal Conferences of Oceania, a conference that stretches across a vast portion of the Pacific Ocean.

In practical terms, this means that these new Cardinals are intimately aware of the challenges and opportunities facing the Church today, have longstanding familiarity with Rome and truly represent parts of the globe where the Church is growing the fastest.

These new Princes of the Church – from Mauritius, Bangladesh, Mexico and elsewhere – will help guide the Church for years to come. And they will all likely play a role in any future conclave. For that reason alone, the Consistory on November 19 bears close observation.