Vatican: A Remarkable Appointment

July 27, 2021
Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich

Pope Francis has just appointed Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich relator general for the upcoming Synod of Bishops, a key position often seen as a springboard to higher positions.

On July 8, 2021, the Sovereign Pontiff revealed the name of the one who will play a key role as chief coordinator of the next Synod to be held in October 2023, whose theme is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.”

62-year old Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, “duties will include helping to prepare the synod, presiding over the drafting of both the working and final documents, and presenting a summary of topics that emerge from the synodal discussions.”

The role is significant and sometimes seen as a stepping stone to the papacy. 

The position of general relator is an entry into the very closed circle of the famous papabili, the high prelates who can claim to gather around their candidacy a maximum of support during the conclave: if he is not elected pope, the papabile can contribute to the election of one.

Both Cardinal Karol Wojtyla and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once held the positions, respectively, as relator generals for the 1974 synod on evangelization, and the 1980 synod on the Christian family.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who dreamed of a permanent synod in the Church, was general relator of the 1983 synod on penance and reconciliation, and Cardinal Godfried Danneels, a key figure of the St. Gallen group that fought against the election of Benedict XVI, and a behind-the-scenes actor in the election of Pope Francis, was general relator of the 1987 synod marking the 20th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.

Cardinal Hollerich then appears to be a rising star within the hierarchy of the Church: appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as Archbishop of Luxembourg in 2011, elected President of the Commission of Episcopal Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) in 2018, and then in October 2019 the Argentinian pontiff brought him into the Sacred College.

In his official biography on the Vatican website, Cardinal Hollerich is described as an “advocate for greater involvement of the laity, especially the young, in the ecclesial sphere.”

“Cardinal Hollerich has similar positions to Pope Francis on migration issues and populism, believing that those opposed to mass immigration to Europe on the grounds that the majority are Muslim and can therefore destabilize countries, ‘are exaggerating.’”

The new synod general relator also expressed his support for the priestly ordination of married men: “It is a wonderful addition,” he said.

As for the German synodal path, which subverts the doctrine of the Church on several key points in its morality and its discipline, Cardinal Hollerich declares he has “great respect for those daring to ask very big questions, which must also be asked.”

Finally, Covid-19 allowed the Luxembourg cardinal to show his true colors. Like Cardinal Mario Grech, he sees the restrictions on access to the sacraments as an “opportunity.” “We need new forms of evangelization, not the restoration of the previous conditions,” he told the German-language Catholic news agency KNA.