Two consistories and plenty of questions in Rome

The cardinals this weekend really should be starting to sketch the profile of the man who can deal with a multitude of existing curial, ecclesial, and global challenges.

A cardinal holds his biretta as Pope Francis celebrates Mass with new cardinals in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo. (CNS photo/Gregorio Borgia, Reuters pool)

All eyes are on Rome and the extraordinary and ordinary consistories of cardinals this weekend – and one gets why – but the doings scheduled to take place in the eternal city on Saturday and Sunday aren’t really the story.

Popes give out red hats from time to time. Church watchers and vaticanisti of both the professional and amateur varieties will get worked up over who’s in and who’s out, who’s up and who’s down. The scribblers will turn out copy on everything from the nuttiest rumors to the tailor with stories to tell, and most of it will be great fun.

This time around, Pope Francis has done plenty to stir an already churning Roman pot.

The visit he’s scheduled to the central Italian town of L’Aquila, sticken by earthquake in 2009 and still struggling to get back on its feet, has occasioned a great deal of talk about his plans for retirement.

Pope Francis’s apparent decision to invite the disgraced Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu to participate in the consistory has also brought the chatter. Becciu, in case you’ve forgotten, is a central figure in the ongoing trial over the Vatican’s Sloane Ave. real estate debacle. Becciu was once a powerful prelate and olim prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Francis stripped Becciu of all the powers and trappings of his high station when he came to suspect him of corruption. The real estate corruption trial drags on at the geological pace of Vatican justice, but Becciu – to hear him tell it – has been “reinstated” and will participate in the weekend’s doings.

Pope Francis’s choices for the berretta rossa have not been entirely uncontroversial. American Church watchers had lots to say about Pope Francis’s decision to give Bishop Robert McElroy a red hat, but there were lots of other picks that raised eyebrows.

There is his decision to create a Legionary curial official, Archbishop Fernando Vergez Alzaga – President of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State and President of the Governatorate of Vatican City State.

There is his abortive attempt to foist the red on the former Archbishop of Ghent, Lucas Van Looy, whose mishandling of abuse cases made him so notorious that he begged the pope to let him forego the honor.

Consider his decision to create the Bishop of Como, Oscar Cantoni, who had a role in the sex abuse and coverup scandal at the Vatican’s own minor seminary.

Those are just a few.

Now, there are to be 132 voting cardinals, from whom one reasonably supposes Pope Francis’s successor will be chosen sooner or later.

“Who’s going to be next?” is a reasonable question for anyone to ask at almost any time during any pontificate. With Pope Francis’s powers evidently on the wane, the real nature and gravity of his health concerns uncertain, and his reform of the curia as complete – on paper, at least – speculation about his plans for the future and his druthers when it comes to a successor would be fair game even if he hadn’t stoked the fire.

He certainly meant it when he told several journos he isn’t thinking of resigning, and smart money is on this weekend being a fizzle in that regard. While the punters place their bets and the scribbling class make odds, the world is going wobbly.

The Sandinista government in Nicaragua has begun a crackdown on the Church that could turn into full-scale persecution any minute. Nigeria’s Christians are being driven from their homes and dispossessed, snatched from their beds, and blasted to bits. The government in Ukraine has summoned the pope’s ambassador to answer for some papal remarks that did not sit well with the embattled country’s leadership or people.

Whoever the next guy ends up being, he is going to have to deal with those situations – they aren’t going away anytime soon – and he’s going to have to deal with the fallout from others.

Whether it is the half-measures regarding everything from financial reform to the prevention and orderly investigation of episcopal malfeasance of all kinds, Pope Francis’s successor is going to have his hands full. The appalling matter of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta is a gruesome case-in-point.

The cardinals this weekend really should be starting to sketch the profile of the man who can deal with all that and trying to see whether anyone among them comes close to fitting the bill.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 214 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). China, Sandinista, Nigeria, elevated sex-abuse operatives, etc., etc.

    Maybe the perennial adage applies: “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Time to check the menu, and to follow the Holy Spirit rather than any primitive and tribal loyalty (conservatism with a vengeance!) for the one appointing recent cardinals…

    An helping hand out of the hole is the timely, professional, balanced, matter-of-fact, and thorough profile for nineteen of the most likely papabili, supplied by an independent and unaffiliated team of anonymous scholars. A non-rigid and non-bigoted openness to this open book is absolutely (an absolute!) necessary: Edward Pentin, editor, “The Next Pope: The Leading Cardinal Candidates” (Sophia Institute Press, 2020).

    • In honorable mention to Brian Young’s response [below] to criticism of criticism:
      It is inadmissible that the Consistories deserve such quality derision.

  2. As to how many Cardinals get appointed by Pontiffs, Pope John Paul II named 231 Cardinals in his 25 year pontificate; Benedict XVI named 90 in his 8 years as Pontiff, and Pintiff Francis has named 83 (or are these 16 in addition to thst and he has named 99?).

    As to the kind of men who get named Cardinal, some appear to be wonderful Good Shepherds like Cardinal Sarah and Cardinal Zen and Cardinal Mueller and Cardinal Burke.

    Other men named Cardinals are unworthy, such as Cardinal Kasper (named by JP2), despite being known to be a publicly known and published apostate (having denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus in 1974 in his book Jesus the Christ); ex-Cardinal McCarrick (named by JP2), over-ruling the negative recommendations of the regular process which included the negative recommendation of Cardinal O’Connor; Cardinal Wuerl (named by Benedict XVI), who turned out to be an “eminent” sex abuse coverup Cardinal and liar (now living in luxury (now in Rome I believe?) in his continuing “ministry-in-retirement” in advising the Pontiff Francis on who gets named a bishop and Cardinal in the US, paid for his services with an annual $2M stipend doled out by the utterly corrupted Archbishop-Cardinal of Washington Gregory, the longtime friend and clone of the sociopath sex abuser McCarrick); and Cardinal Hollerich SJ (named by the Pontiff Francis) who is a publicly known apostate who has declared that the 2000 year Christian/Catholic teaching against sodomy is “wrong” because it is not “scientific.”

    All of the men I have called unworthy are enemies of Jesus, and the Gospel, and the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” and my family and my children, and I tell them and teach them so, for the sake of Jesus, The Way, and The Truth, and The Life, and for their sake.

  3. So far the editors are doing a petty poor job dealing with “needlessly combative or inflammatory language”.

    • On the contrary, what needs to be said is coming forward. Faithful catholics have had enough of a topsy turvy See of Rome. Faith and continuity are vital. How many prefer Papa speak?

    • Danial Crawford:

      I assume you know that Cardinal Kasper has publicly denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and that Cardinal Wuerl has publicly lied about and covered up sex abuse, snd that Cardinal Hollerich publicly rejects the apostolic teaching against sodomy.

      And I assume that your conclusion is that despite denying the Gospel accounts, covering up sex abuse, and teaching against Christian sexual morality, you take exception to pointing out these grave offenses by these “princes-of-the-Church” as they are often called.

      Conversely, I conclude that the reason why young and ild don’t take the Catholic faith seriously is because of “the witness” of such men above.

      Grave offenses by false shepherds demand to be fought against.

      You may judge that “needlessly combative.”

      I judge it to be facing reality.

      The apostle Paul, as we all know, publicly confronted The Apostle Peter, over much less important matters.

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