VATICAN CITY — In a pontificate that has revealed much about the current state of the Church, 2020 promises to be a papal year of even clearer vision, when, as Luke’s Gospel says, what is “secret will be brought into the open.”
New exposure is likely to begin with the results of a Vatican investigation into ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the Church’s handling of allegations against him. The “thorough study,” which the Vatican announced in October 2018, will also be combined with the results of a preliminary investigation begun in 2017 and could be published within days.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said last year the Vatican will issue a declaration on completion of the investigation. Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston had said in November that the study could be completed by the end of 2019, and several U.S. bishops inquired about the progress of the report during their ad limina visits last fall.
News of McCarrick’s transfer to a new residence Jan. 6 has further fueled speculation that its publication is imminent. All eyes will therefore be not only on its contents, but also on how Francis handles the findings and any ensuing action he might take.
The Holy Father will also come under scrutiny this year for his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, or summary document, on the contentious Pan-Amazon synod that took place last October.
The main question will be whether the Pope backs the synod fathers’ proposal to ordain married permanent deacons to the priesthood, ostensibly to bring the sacraments to remote areas that suffer a shortage of priests. If he does so, which is not a given, as he was disappointed that it took up so much attention at the synod, the question will arise whether he will also restrict such a change to the Amazon region or allow it to be replicated more universally — a development critics fear could lead to a gradual end to mandatory priestly celibacy in the Latin Rite.
Other aspects of the synod will also be closely watched, including more details on how he takes forward the synod fathers’ proposal to conduct further study into a permanent diaconate for women, how he plans to explore the possibility of an Amazonian rite of the Mass, and to what extent the environmental objectives of the synod will be adopted. Although the Pope said he hoped to publish the apostolic exhortation by the end of last year, it is now expected to appear in March or April.
New Curial Constitution
This is also expected to be the year in which a new constitution for the Roman Curia, called Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel), is to come into effect. Since last spring, a draft constitution has been circulating among bishops and experts for consultation. Frequent postponements of its final release point to possible resistance to some of the proposals, the most controversial of which is to place a new super-dicastery for evangelization above the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in terms of standing and importance.
Whatever the document finally contains, it will provide further indication of the Pope’s vision for reforming the Church, one that is expected to contain some fairly drastic changes and place the Roman Curia more at the service of bishops rather than the other way around, consistent with Francis’ preference for an “inverted pyramid“ and decentralized model of authority.
The Pope is also to take part in two events this year that will further shed light on his vision for Church and society, both of which aspire to a “new humanism” of fraternity regardless of religion but which critics see as relativizing the truth and uniqueness of Jesus Christ by promoting religious indifferentism and syncretism.
The first will be a meeting entitled the “Economy of Francesco,” which will bring together young economists and entrepreneurs from around the world to “enter into a ‘covenant’ to change today’s economy and to give a soul to the economy of tomorrow.”
The March 24-26 gathering in Assisi will be one in which people of different “creed and nationality” can take part, the Pope said last May, “inspired by an ideal of fraternity attentive above all to the poor and excluded.” It will be a chance to “dream of a new humanism,” he added, “responsive to the expectations of men and women and to the plan of God.”
The second meeting, again hosted by Francis, will also involve young people and is called “Reinventing the Global Educational Alliance.”
Attended by interreligious representatives, nongovernmental organizations, scholars and cultural and political leaders, the May 14 initiative aims, in the Pope’s words, “to form mature individuals capable of overcoming division and antagonism, and to restore the fabric of relationships for the sake of a more fraternal humanity.”
The meeting will result in a global educational pact that, among its objectives, intends to introduce children to “total reality,” including openness to the transcendent and healing a “vertical rift between man and the Absolute.” Other aims according to the Congregation for Catholic Education are to heal fractures within families, between religions and cultures, and to educate the young for “ecological citizenship” and to care for the poor.
In a message released last September, Francis called on all who care about education of the young to sign the pact and thereby “create a global change of mentality through education.”
In his message, which also referenced his controversial document on “Human Fraternity” that he signed with the Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb of Al-Azhar University in Abu Dhabi last February, the Pope told young people that in the new global village, “the ground must be cleared of discrimination and fraternity must be allowed to flourish.”
Feb. 4 may also see one of the Pope’s other wishes in this regard come true: a United Nations-sponsored World Day of Human Fraternity. Both he and the grand imam have petitioned U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to create such a global observance. Guterres is favorable to the idea.
Beyond these potentially contentious events, the Pope is expected to make a number of overseas visits this year, although none has so far been confirmed. Possible destinations are South Sudan, Indonesia, East Timor, Malaysia, Hungary which will be hosting an International Eucharistic Congress Sept. 13-20, Cyprus and Lebanon.
A consistory of new cardinals is also possible this year, as well as some key episcopal appointments in the United States, including Philadelphia to replace Archbishop Charles Chaput, Boston to replace Cardinal O’Malley, and St. Louis to replace Archbishop Robert Carlson. All three are over the age of 75 and so have submitted their ecclesially mandated resignations on age grounds, although the Pope is not obliged to accept them. The see of Atlanta is also vacant following Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s appointment to Washington, D.C.
Other challenges for the Pope this year include financial reform and the possibility of further financial scandals coming to light as part of the reform process, as well as developments on the German bishops’ synodal path that some Church leaders there see as potentially schismatic. The German process gets fully underway on Jan. 31, although it is not expected to pose any concrete problems for the papacy until it concludes at the end of 2021.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.