By Andrea Gagliarducci
As the fifth anniversary of his pontificate approaches, it is obvious that Pope Francis has made his mark on the life of the Church, and will continue to. In fact, in the upcoming months, there could be a new document from the Pope, and a new consistory to create new cardinals.
These possibilities have not been officially confirmed. However, the rumors in Vatican corridors are widespread, and a new document, along with new cardinals, seems imminent.
The possibility of a new papal document has began circulating in recent days. The document – reported to be an encyclical – would deal with Catholic spirituality in the modern world.
In particular, the Pope is expected to tackle the issue of worldliness, which he has often described as one of the main problems within the Church.
In Evangelii Gaudium, the Pope underscored that worldliness “can be fueled in two deeply interrelated ways.”
First is “the attraction of gnosticism,” namely, “a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings.”
The second is “the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past.”
Pope Francis added to that “a supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others.”
According to rumors, pelagianism will be a main focus of any forthcoming papal document.
Some hint of the alleged document can be found in Pope Francis’ speech to the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, delivered Jan. 26, 2018.
On that occasion, the Pope praised the work of some members on “some aspects of the Christian salvation, in order to reaffirm the meaning of redemption with a reference to the current neo-pelagian and neo-gnostic trends.”
“These trends,” the Pope added, “are expressions of an individualism that trusts one’s own power in order to be saved.” The Pope stressed that Christians “believe instead that salvation is in the Communion with the Risen Christ, who, thanks to the gift of his spirit, introduced us to a new order of relations with the Father and men.”
If there is a document, it will be a further sign of the mark Pope Francis is making on the Church.
The Pope is also shaping the Church with consistories, as new cardinals tend to fit a profile preferred by Francis. With his four consistories, the Pope has profoundly changed the composition of the College of Cardinals, putting an emphasis especially on far-flung dioceses and bishops with pastoral experience.
Another consistory is also expected soon, likely in June or November. Cardinal Paolo Romeo, emeritus Archbishop of Palermo, turned 80 on Feb. 20, and will not be eligible to vote in a future conclave.
By June, 5 other cardinals will have turned 80, dropping the number of cardinal electors from 120 to 114. The cardinals who will turn 80 are Francesco Coccopalmerio, Keith O’Brien, Manuel Monteiro, Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon and Angelo Amato.
Because 120 is the maximum limit of cardinals voting in a conclave, the Pope could have six possible slots to create new cardinals in an upcoming consistory.
The Pope could also make the decision to create more cardinals, and modify the limit set for voting cardinals. At the moment, there are 49 voting cardinals created by Pope Francis, 52 created by Benedict XVI and 19 created by St. John Paul II.
With a new consistory, Pope Francis will likely become responsible for the largest bloc of cardinal-electors in a future papal conclave.
The Pope will have further slots for new cardinals in 2019, when Cardinals Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Tong Hon and Edoardo Menichelli will turn 80.
In the meantime, the Pope has begun a substantial shift within the ranks of the Secretariat of State, appointing José Avelino Bettencourt and Alfred Xuereb as nuncios on Feb. 26.
Msgr. José Avelino Bettencourt has been the head of Protocol at the Secretariat of State since November 2012. He is now appointed as a nuncio, but no post has been assigned to him. He could go as nuncio to Georgia, a post that would likely also include the nunciature to Armenia and Azerbaijan, as it did for Archbishop Marek Solczynski, who was nuncio to Georgia until 2017, before being appointed nuncio to Tanzania. But an official announcement has not yet come.
Msgr. Alfred Xuereb has been the general secretary to the Secretariat for the Economy since March 2014. He had previously been Benedict XVI’s second secretary, and he kept the post of second secretary to the Pope at the beginning of Pope Francis’ pontificate. He has also worked in the Vatican Secretariat of State and then in the Prefecture for the Pontifical Household.
It is also expected that Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, Vatican “vice minister for Foreign Affairs” since 2013, will be appointed a nuncio, allegedly to Singapore, a key post, considering that the nuncio to Singapore is also the Vatican’s non-resident representative to Vietnam. However, this appointment has not been made official yet.
This is an interesting move, as the deputy of the Vatican “minister for foreign affairs” is usually in a better position to be promoted than the head of protocol. The impression is that the Pope is planning for major changes in the Secretariat of State, but that no final decision has been made, and that possibly the rumors spread on the decisions have somehow disturbed the Pontiff.
However, it seems evident that Pope Francis is accelerating moves to shape the direction of the Church, giving more impetus to the process of reform he began when he was elected.