Pope Francis has elected 21 new cardinals to help reform the Catholic Church, leaning heavily on diversity just days ahead of a meeting where he will outline plans for its future and discuss controversial issues such as LGBTQ+ followers, women’s roles in the church and celibacy.
The new “princes of the church,” including Chicago-born Robert Prevost — were inducted Saturday by the 86-year-old pontiff in St. Peter’s Square.
In his instructions to the new cardinals, Pope Francis said their variety and geographic diversity would serve the church like musicians in an orchestra, who sometimes play solos while performing as part of an ensemble other times.
“Diversity is necessary; it is indispensable. However, each sound must contribute to the common design,” he said.
“This is why mutual listening is essential: each musician must listen to the others.”
Each new cardinal took an oath to obey the pope, remain faithful to Christ and serve the church. The pontiff reminded them that they were wearing red as a sign that they must be strong “even to the shedding of blood” to spread the faith.
The new cardinals hail from the US, France, Italy, Argentina, Switzerland, South Africa, Spain, Colombia, South Sudan — the nation’s first — Hong Kong, Poland, Malaysia, Tanzania, Venezuela and Portugal.
The ceremony was not without controversy, as the appointment of Victor Manuel Fernandez, the new head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, was met with outrage.
The man known as the “pope’s theologian” admitted to making mistakes with his handling of a 2019 case regarding a priest accused of sexually abusing minors in Argentina, when he was a bishop there.
One survivor urged Pope Francis to rescind Fernandez’s nomination during a rally near the Vatican Friday.
“No bishop who has covered up child sex crimes and ignored and dismissed victims of clergy abuse in his diocese should be running the office that oversees, investigates, and prosecutes clergy sex offenders from around the world, or be made a cardinal,” Julieta Añazco said according to a statement from the End Clergy Abuse.
Pope Francis said Fernandez would not deal with sexual assault cases as a cardinal. When he named him prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, he said he wanted Fernandez to oversee a radical break from the past, adding the former Holy Office often resorted to “immoral methods” to enforce its will.
Prevost, who is now responsible for vetting bishop candidates around the globe, has also faced criticism. While Augustinian superior in the US, he allowed sexual abuser Fr. James Ray to reside near a Catholic elementary school in 2000.
The promotions of Prevost and French Cardinal Christophe Pierre, the pope’s ambassador in Washington, DC, signal Pope Francis is eyeing a balance-of-power shift in the US, where conservative bishops are outspoken critics of his reforms. The two will nominate new bishop candidates and oversee investigations into current ones.
“I think I do have some insights into the church in the United States,” Prevost said after the ceremony. “So the need to be able to advise, work with Pope Francis and to look at the challenges that the church in the United States is facing, I hope to be able to respond to them with a healthy dialogue.”
Pope Francis will host a synod between Oct. 4 to 29 to discuss women’s roles in the church, the LGBTQ+ church community and priestly celibacy with bishops and lay members. A second will take place next year.
Several new cardinals are voting members of the synod and have clearly stated they agree with Pope Francis’ vision for the church.
Almost 100 of the 137 cardinals are under the age of 80, meaning they will be eligible to vote on his successor.
Europe still has the most voting-age cardinals with 52, followed by the Americas with 39 and Asia with 24.
With Post wires