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Why this August’s extraordinary consistory of cardinals is significant

Andrea Gagliarducci   By Andrea Gagliarducci for CNA

Cardinals gather before the start of a consistory in 2014 at the Vatican. Pope Francis announced May 29, 2022, he would create 21 new cardinals in August; the 16 who are under the age of 80 include Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Vatican City, Jun 6, 2022 / 04:46 am (CNA).

Under the Code of Canon Law, reformed in 1983, there are two types of consistories of cardinals: ordinary and extraordinary.

An extraordinary consistory is celebrated in particular cases and all the world’s cardinals are called to take part.

An ordinary consistory takes place when the pope needs the cardinals’ counsel on some important (though routine) issue, or to give solemnity to a papal decision such as the approval of canonizations.

The last time that Pope Francis summoned the cardinals to an extraordinary consistory was on Feb. 12-13, 2015. Now that the new Vatican constitution has been published, the pope is once again calling the cardinals to Rome.

The changing face of the College of Cardinals

It is the closing of a circle. The 2015 gathering was held before the consistory for the creation of new cardinals. The extraordinary consistory on Aug. 29-30, dedicated to discussion of the constitution Praedicate evangelium, will also take place after a consistory for the creation of new cardinals.

Pope Francis has only called one other extraordinary consistory since his election in 2013. The meeting on Feb. 22, 2014, was focused on the family. It began with a speech by the German theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper that served as a baseline for discussions at the 2014-2015 Synods of Bishops on the Family.

Between 2015 and 2022, many things changed. First of all, in the College of Cardinals. By 2015, Pope Francis had created 15 cardinal electors and five non-electors. In later consistories, he created 73 other cardinals, including 48 electors. The face of the College of Cardinals has profoundly altered in recent years.

After the August consistory, there will be 132 cardinal electors and 62% will be cardinals created by Pope Francis. Many of them have not had the opportunity to talk to each other. “In the event of a conclave, I wouldn’t know who sits next to me,” complained a cardinal created during a past pontificate.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis has moved forward with a reform of the Curia that has also changed a lot over time. To understand the changes, we must go back to that extraordinary consistory of 2015, in which 164 cardinals from all over the world participated.

The 2015 extraordinary consistory

Father Federico Lombardi, then director of the Holy See press office, reported that the 2015 extraordinary consistory began with a “very broad multi-voiced report” on economic issues. Cardinal George Pell, then prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, spoke, as did Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the Council for the Economy, and other figures involved in Vatican financial reform.

The next day, there was a report by the Council of Cardinals (then known as the C9) on curial reform and also an address on the internal coordination of the Curia. Cardinal Seán O’Malley then spoke about the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which had just been established.

In the ensuing years, Vatican financial reform took steps both forward and back, which mirrored the discussion at the 2015 consistory. In fact, the financial autonomy of Vatican departments was discussed then, as well as which departments maintained a degree of independence because of their unique nature, such as the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

In the end, however, after much trial and error, Pope Francis continued briskly with the reforms he had in mind. And perhaps it was precisely the discussions of those days, which some did not hesitate to call “resistance,” that convinced him of the need to pursue reform without consulting the wider College of Cardinals.

Father Lombardi said that there had been “a certain consensus” on the possibility of a partial implementation of some specific aspects of the reform, “without waiting for the completion of the whole work.”

That’s exactly what happened. But the use of the consistory as a sort of “papal advisory board,” as the pope had sought to do at the start of his pontificate, was suspended.

The evolution of consistories

Consistories had a particular importance in the Middle Ages. They functioned at times as a governing body, as well as a court. Pope Innocent III even convened three meetings of the cardinals per week.

After Pope Sixtus V’s reform of the Curia in the 16th century, the consistories lost the weight of government. The cardinals assisted the pope in governing the Church instead through work in the Vatican congregations, while consistories were convened to add solemnity to important moments in the Church’s life.

The consistory assumed renewed importance after the Second Vatican Council. Writing in the book “Paul VI. I saw, I believed,” Father Gianfranco Grieco said that the pope always wanted the cardinals gathered in a consistory to wait for him on his return from an international trip, to exchange first impressions of the visit with them.

John Paul II convened six extraordinary consistories during his almost 27-year pontificate, discussing themes such as the renewal of the Curia, Church, and culture, the threats against life, and the challenge of the sects.

During these meetings, the cardinals seized the chance to get to know each other, talk to each other, and understand each other’s way of thinking. The gatherings were opportunities for exchange, not just for discussion. These have been lacking in the past seven years.

The extraordinary consistory in August, therefore, will have an impact on the next conclave. But what the cardinals have to say during the formal discussions is unlikely to carry much weight. The reform of the Curia has already been completed and promulgated; the cardinals can merely take note of it.


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15 Comments

  1. We read: “’In the event of a conclave, I wouldn’t know who sits next to me,’ complained a cardinal created during a past pontificate.”

    Much more so, today. To fill this vacuum, perhaps a lay group can run down the mailing addresses of all the conclave cardinals, especially the more recent, and mail each of them a gift copy of Edward Pentin (editor only), “The Next Pope: The Leading Cardinal Candidates,” (Sophia Institute Press, 2002).

    Packed into 691 very attractive pages, are the very informational [not St. Gallen-type lobbying!], thorough [!], balanced [!] and dispassionate [!] profiles of the nineteen most likely papabili, from B to Z. Prepared for both laity and clergy alike, it will be a damning shame if this invaluable resource is simply shelved like so many lay appeals before the worldwide Scandal finally received notice within the bureaucratic sinkholes of the somewhat Apostolic Church. Business as usual…

    Of the 62% of conclave cardinals elevated by the Pope Francis, might we hope that enough of them from the periphery are not yet groomed into the cultic heresies of the West (notably the synodal deconstructionist Marx-Batzing-Hollerich & Co, including the interlocking directorate of Gregory-Cupich-Tobin (New Jersey)-McElroy & Co.)?

    The future of the perennial Catholic Church now lies largely in the hands of a fully-informed and emboldened Mongolia, East Timor, Hyderabad, Brasilia, Ghana, Goa, etc…

    Instead of the “smoke of Satan,” why not white smoke?

  2. Andrea Gagliarducci is usually on top of things, “ROME — Pope Francis added fuel to rumors about the future of his pontificate by announcing he would visit the central Italian city of L’Aquila in August for a feast initiated by Pope Celestine V, one of the few pontiffs who resigned before Pope Benedict XVI stepped down in 2013. Francis’ main task as pope has in some ways been accomplished. All of which made Saturday’s otherwise routine announcement of a pastoral visit to L’Aquila carry more speculative weight than it might otherwise have” (NPR).
    Rumors are swirling, a great cyclone of speculation sweeping across Europe, its outer bands reaching US shores. Who would not [in the secret of his heart lest he be judged a dolt] speculate, if not wildly, struggling with the appearance of due reservation. What if? Who are the papabile? “Papal Possibilities, Anno Domini 2022 By Robert Royal MONDAY, June 6, 2022”. Even the staid Robert Royal speculates. Wait! He doesn’t say who they are. He nevertheless does add, “McElroy also, notoriously, tried to slow down Vatican investigations into Theodore McCarrick. Indeed, it’s curious that all Francis’ American Cardinals had connections to McCarrick – Cupich, Tobin, Gregory, Farell, and now McElroy”. Are this notorious Francis cadre of myrmidons a suggestion?
    Perhaps the Holy Spirit has other plans. Today the Church celebrates The Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of the Church. Whatever may transpire we are assured the outcome however dramatic will occur as her Son wills. Those who possess a true love worthy of Christ’s mother, as Saint Aelred says is necessary for love of her son will not be disappointed.

    • The Virgin Mary chosen by God to nurture and be a blessing to our Saviour. May her name be held in high esteem.

      Acts 1:14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

      Luke 1:38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

      Luke 1:35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

      Luke 1:28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favoured one, the Lord is with you!”

      John 19:26-27 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

      Luke 1:48 For he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

      Luke 2:19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

      Luke 1:47 And my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,

      Luke 1:46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,

      Words from our Lord to enlighten, humble and direct our paths.

      God bless you as you strive for excellence in relaying God’s word and tending His sheep.

  3. I’ll second Mr. Beaulieu above but go a step further. Maybe Mr. Pentin could do an update of his very insightful 2002 book.

  4. Oops. Mr. Pentin’s book is from 2020 so maybe there is no urgent need for an update. Just a pressing need to get it into as many hands as possible.

  5. What is the spiritual health of the church today?

    “Feed my Sheep”. Lack of spiritual nourishment causes the sheep to graze in other pastures. Our pastors must groom the soul with the balm of Gilead which is the word of truth. Let wolves be rebuked by the eternal word of God.

    • Who specifically will do the rebuking, and in what way should that be done to make the biggest impact? The sheep are in a bad place, maybe even a desperate place, when the shepherds are corrupt and compromised.

      • Thank you for your response.

        This forum is a good place to begin. A rebuke is actually a blessing for a man who strives after God. The Lord gives us confession so that we can commune with Him, Gently or forcefully pointing out a mans shortcoming shows our fidelity to the Lord and regard for sinners eternal soul.

        The Lord is mighty to save and we are told that the prayers of a righteous man avails much. Our faith In Jesus Christ allows God to deem us righteous. Unceasing joy and thanksgiving.

        God bless you.

      • You and I can rebuke as God leads us. God’s eternal truth will make the biggest impact. Wolves amongst the sheep need to be put out of the church. What is excommunication if it is never put into force?

        God bless you and thank you!

  6. “Ever since the modernist mutiny known as Vatican Council II gave birth to the “conciliar church,” aptly described by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre as “a schismatic church, because it breaks with the Catholic Church of all time … [with] its new dogmas, its new priesthood, its new institutions, its new liturgy, already condemned by the Church in many official and definitive documents,” men far wiser and holier than I have pondered this very question in search of a satisfactory answer.”

    “So, the Spirit is not manifested in a personal way.[5]”

    Except for the fact that “The Word Became Flesh And Dwelt Among Us”, Through, With, And In The Unity Of The Holy Ghost (Filioque).
    https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/the-holy-spirits-rumored-eclipse-in-western-theology/

    https://akacatholic.com/church-in-eclipse/

    It is important to note that Perfect Love does not divide, it multiplies as in The Loaves And Fishes, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.

    We can know through both our Catholic Faith and reason, that it is not true that those who affirm The Filioque “overlook the fact that the very principle of relations of opposition is unacceptable to Orthodox triadology–“, but rather affirm The Ordered Communion Of Perfect Complementary Love, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.

    • This break is due to a denial of The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, and thus a denial of the fact that “It is not possible to have Sacramental Communion without Ecclesial Communion “, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, For It is “Through Christ, With Christ, And In Christ, In The Unity Of The Holy Ghost” (Filioque), that Holy Mother Church, outside of which there is no Salvation, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost (Filioque) exists.

      At the end of the Day, it is still A Great Mystery, but it is no Mystery that we exist because Perfect Life-affirming, and Life-sustaining Love exists. The Sacrifice Of The Cross Is The Sacrifice Of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, “For God so Loved us, He Sent His Only Son…”

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