Members of the College of Cardinals’ ‘Freshman Class’ Look to the Future of the Church
Several of the Church’s 16 new cardinal-electors told the Register about what they hope to see, when the time comes to elect a new pope.
VATICAN CITY — When Pope Francis looked out into the sea of red silk sitting before him in St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday, he saw a more diverse College of Cardinals than had ever been assembled before.
Speaking to the Register, a number of the 16 new cardinal-electors — those under 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a papal conclave — shared what direction they hope the Holy Father’s successor will follow.
Cardinal Arthur Roche, prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, told the Register immediately following the consistory that he wants the next pope “to carry on what is happening in the line of the Second Vatican Council.”
“Indeed, the last three popes have been in that line, but in a very special way Pope Francis is making it more evidently accessible to people.”
As head of the Church’s top liturgical body, Cardinal Roche was responsible for implementing Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis Custodes restricting the use of the traditional Latin Mass in dioceses. He said it is “very important” that the College of Cardinals “move forward” on liturgy.
“It is the life of the Church, without it, there’s no vitality.”
The only cardinal from the United States created in this weekend’s consistory, San Diego’s Cardinal Robert McElroy, echoed the need to continue on the path that Pope Francis has forged in his pontificate.
“I would hope the trajectories of the renewal Pope Francis has begun would be a high priority in seeking the next pope,” he told the Register. “I hope that would be many years down the road, but it’ll still be important to try to bring those currents more fully into the life of the Church at all levels.”
Voices From the Peripheries
With four new cardinal-electors coming from countries that had never had a cardinal before — Mongolia, Paraguay, Singapore and East Timor — the pool of candidates for the papacy increasingly suggests that the next pope might share their perspective of a Church on the margins.
Cardinal Cesar Costa, the archbishop of Brasilia, told the Register that the election of a new pope offers an assessment of the Catholic Church around the globe, and notes the growing influence of the Church’s peripheries, which Pope Francis has worked to give a voice in the institutional Church.
“A conclave is a time to listen to the richness of the Church, to that which the Spirit has done in every part of the world,” he said. “Asia has a greater expression today in the Church, also in Africa, but I think the beauty of the Church is found in its universality.”
Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, at 48 is the youngest member of the College of Cardinals. An Italian missionary serving in Mongolia since 2003, he said that a pope from Asia would help bring back the evangelizing spirit of the early Church as is described in the Gospel.
“If we refer to the Church of the Acts of the Apostles, I’m sure we can find the right path in the Church in Asia, which resembles that community of the origins,” he told the Register. In the next pope, Cardinal Marengo said he wants to see someone who prioritizes “simplicity, being close to people, being faithful to the doctrine we have received, and being able to share it with other people in communion.”
The sixth Indian in the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Anthony Poola is the first from the Dalit community, formerly referred to as the “untouchables” and excluded from India’s Hindu caste system. He told the Register that by elevating the marginalized to positions of authority in the Church, Pope Francis is shifting the attention of the College of Cardinals, and de facto his successor, to those excluded from society.
“This call is special for us; we need to be a voice for the voiceless.”
Whoever may be in line to fill Pope Francis’ shoes will need to get a two-thirds supermajority of votes in the next papal conclave to become the successor of Peter. Increasingly, that candidate appears likelier to come from outside the traditional areas of influence within the Vatican, namely Europe and the Americas.
The representation of voting-age cardinals from the Asia-Pacific region overall has risen from 9% in 2013 to 17% in 2022, according to Pew Research Center. The number of electors from Sub-Saharan Africa have also increased, rising from 9% to 12%. Latin America and the Caribbean have had a more modest gain, rising from 16% to 18%.
For the prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy, South Korean Cardinal Lazzaro You Heung-Sik, the appointment of six new cardinals from Asia better captures the “variety of cultures, languages, and races” of the continent. For that reason, he told the Register that “cardinals must be actors in creating dialogue for complete communion.”
This week, the College of Cardinals is now meeting in an extraordinary consistory, marking only the third time Pope Francis has called all of the cardinals together, the latest of which was in 2015. The consistory’s priority is to discuss what may be considered the landmark of Francis’ pontificate: the Vatican’s new apostolic constitution, Praedicate Evangelium, restructuring the central administration of the Vatican.
But commentators have been quick to point out that given the increasingly global face of members of college, the most important part of the consistory actually may be the opportunity for the cardinals to know one another and hear of the local Churches each serves.