On July 9, 2023, Pope Francis announced that he would create 21 cardinals at a consistory to be held on September 30. It is not a numerical necessity that drives the Sovereign Pontiff to this new creation, because, if he follows the rules set by John Paul II, the maximum number of electors at the conclave is 120 cardinals.
However, after the September consistory, the College of Cardinals will include 137 electors, including 53 Europeans, 24 Asians, 19 Africans and 17 from North America; 16 of them will come from South America, 5 from Central America and 3 from Oceania. A total of 99 will have been created by Francis, i.e., more than 70% of cardinals under the age of 80. Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has created 121 cardinals from 66 countries in eight consistories. It is only in 2024/2025 that the maximum number of voters will once again be less than 120.
This large number of new cardinals clearly shows that Francis feels that his time is running out. He wants to ensure that the reform process he began can continue after him. This is why the list of future cardinals is made up of trusted men, very close to his reforming ideas. Thus the list of the following names:
Msgr. Victor Manuel Fernández, who has just been appointed Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (Argentina); Grzegorz Ryś, Archbishop of Lodz (Poland), one of the few Polish prelates favorable to the Pope's line; Stephen Chow Sau-yan, S.J., Bishop of Hong Kong (China), whose spirit of dialogue with Beijing is appreciated by Francis; Angel Sixto Rossi, also a Jesuit, Archbishop of Córdoba (Argentina), who is very socially committed; Américo Manuel Alves Aguiar, Auxiliary Bishop of Lisbon (Portugal), who told RPT Noticias on July 6, that he does not seek to convert to Christ the young people present at the 2023 World Youth Day (WYD).
On katholisches.info of July 9, the Vaticanist Giuseppe Nardi was not hesitant in writing: “The first days of the Roman Curia's summer holidays were marked by two radical changes: the dismantling of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [with the appointment of Msgr. Fernández at its head] and a determination to ensure Bergoglian majorities for the post-Francis period.”
This opinion is shared by Jean-Marie Guénois, the religious journalist of Le Figaro, who affirmed on July 9: “No Roman Pontiff before Francis had ever allowed himself to move so quickly in the creation of new cardinals - almost a promotion by year – to ensure the sustainability of his reforms.… For the record, John Paul II convoked nine consistories in… 25 years.”
And he explains: “For Francis, appointing cardinals close to his line is a decisive dimension of his policy of reforming the Church, since it determines the choice of the line of his successor. He thus rejects any divergent personality, which his predecessors did not do, who always included cardinals who were opposed to them to take into account the diversity of opinions in the Church.”
This rush to quickly name many cardinals in line with his reformist line, invoked the following comment from Andrea Gagliarducci on the Monday Vatican site on July 11: certainly Francis is doing everything to secure his legacy, but it is a question of an “uncertain legacy.”
“The Pope is finally demonstrating that he has no confidence in his revolution and its effects. He knows he hasn't won everyone's hearts. This pontificate was characterized by the presence of ‘guardians of the revolutionary,” capable of labeling any critical position as “antipapist,” even if this criticism was relatively moderate and only raised questions about, rather than challenging authority of the Pope.”
On July 17, still on Monday Vatican, the Italian Vaticanist wonders what will remain of this legacy Francis is trying to protect with so much stubbornness and haste. Of course, as has already been said, “the pope’s new cardinals have a low average age; the new archbishops of Madrid, Brussels, and Buenos Aires are around 60 years old and therefore have at least 20 years of service ahead of them.”
So that “Francis has therefore not only appointed new bishops and cardinals, in a way he has imposed their presence on his successor.” Here Andrea Gagliarducci reports a confidence: “Some time ago, someone close to Francis told me that the pope had a ten-year plan. Seeing all the initiatives taken in recent months, it seems like a living prophecy to me. Why ten years? Because in ten years, anyone who could have blocked his plan, or at least exposed the flaws in his reforms, would have left the Roman curia.”
But the central question remains: what did Pope Francis leave behind? And the answer: “perhaps his most incredible legacy is his presence in the media, the need to speak publicly about things that in the past would have been taboo, like the abuse scandal in the Church, going as far as to accuse the institution itself in a communication campaign that seems to exalt the Pope and put everything else in an awkward position.”
On the idea of a “systemic” and not “conjunctural” corruption which would justify a complete reform of the Church, by ridding it of its alleged Tridentine “clericalism,” Andrea Gagliarducci maintains: “In his allegations of abuse, the pope takes up a cross that John Paul II had carried. Under John Paul II, scandals in the Church had come to light for the first time.”
“But both John Paul II and Benedict XVI, despite requests for an apology, never accused the institution, the difference between individual and institutional responsibility remaining evident to them.… Pope Francis has inaugurated a new season: that of a Church attentive to public opinion, which is questioned by public opinion, and responds without fear of internal consequences. The case of abuses in Chile, which Pope Francis considered in depth only after the protests received in the country in 2018, is emblematic.”
“Conceding to public opinion – what the pope has called “the altar of hypocrisy” [during the resignation of Msgr. Michel Aupetit, Archbishop of Paris, in December 2021. Editor’s note] – means ceding ground, leaving the initiative to the media. And yet, this renewed (and sometimes naïve) transparency is perhaps Pope Francis’s most significant legacy. There is no turning back from this occasionally tricky relationship with the media. Once you open the door, the door stays open.”
According to the Italian journalist, Francis’s legacy is that of a Church listening to public opinion, which is a way of opening it ever more to the spirit of the present time. But it is certainly not the Church Mater et magistra, a mother teaching revealed Truth that she has received in trust.