Is the Pope getting a grip?
One seventh of the world are Catholics. It seems their leader, Pope Francis, having floundered for a while, is beginning to make his mark, not just now, but with his appointments, for the future, one of which has had a clash with Donald Trump's running mate
'I am shocked beyond words by the decision of the Holy Father. Please pray for me.’ Thus ran the Twitter feed of Joe Tobin. Why? It is not that the Vatican has reintroduced capital punishment or even that like one of his fellow priests he has been imprisoned for theft.
No, Joe Tobin has just been made a cardinal.
Francis has created 17 new cardinals and, as usual, told no one in advance, not even the designates. The first Tobin knew about it was the shouting outside his room as he stayed in a seminary with no cell phone access.
Of the seventeen new Princes of the Church, only a couple are from Europe. For the most part they represent the peripheries, hailing from Malaysia, Albania, Central African Republic, Brazil, Bangladesh, Venezuela, Mexico, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Lesotho and the Holy See’s ambassador to Syria.
A further three are from the USA, including Tobin. Crucially, thirteen out of the seventeen will, being under the age of 80, be able to vote for Bergoglio’s successor. The Holy Father is turning 80 and has only one lung, so consideration is already being given to the succession, despite his having been in office less than four years.
Tobin is a large man, nicknamed Big Red (for his hair), a former hockey player and alcoholic and is Archbishop of Indianapolis. He is a Redemptorist, a member of a Catholic Society which preaches to the poor, and very much a Bergoglio-style promotee.
He and his two new colleagues will rebalance the American church from its current conservative leanings, something the Pope profoundly wants.
Tobin is publicly known outside Indianapolis and Detroit (where he was born) for one thing, and it may turn out to be important. He had a very public argument with the Governor of Indiana over agreeing to take in Syrian refugees to the diocese when the Governor threatened to ban them. That Governor’s name is Mike Pence, and he is Donald Trump’s running mate in the forthcoming Presidential Election.
In his first consistory in 2014, Francis made nineteen new cardinals, of whom sixteen were under 80 years old. In his second, last year, he made 20, of whom 15 were under 80. Thus it may be that Francis has made more than forty new papal electors, out of a total maximum of 120.
The new cardinals tend not to come from traditionally important places like Turin and Venice; often they are bishops not archbishops, not Vatican insiders, not intellectuals and are from the southern hemisphere, like Francis himself.
Above all they are people who, despite their hierarchical importance, act like ordinary priests, ‘shepherds who smell of their sheep’, as Francis put it.
Francis seems to have had a mixed reign so far. His Jubilee Year, which ends in November, has not been an unqualified success, in part through terrorism making people reluctant to travel to Rome. His synod on the family was a disaster,;the papal position overruled by conservative bishops angry at his departure from tradition.
He has often seemed to be someone who shoots from the hip, speaking first and thinking afterwards.
Against that, he has made some strides in reforming the excesses of the Curia, and has had success, with Cardinal George Pell, in reforming the Vatican Bank, against some stiff internal opposition.
And, finally, what appears to be a philosophy, a Bergoglioism, is emerging. He wants to stick to the dogma, so carefully emphasised by John Paul II and Benedict, over homosexuality and divorce, but overlace it with kindness, and Mercy, as the Jubilee Year is known. Parish priests will have wide-ranging freedom to bring the divorced and the gay back into their flocks.
One seventh of the world are Catholics. It seems their leader, having floundered for a while, is beginning to make his mark, not just now, but with his appointments, for the future.
Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here
We are wholly dependent on the kindness of our readers for our continued work. We thank you in advance for any support you can offer.