To fully understand the pontificate of Pope Francis, one must be as attentive to what is not said and what is not done as to what is said and done. The announcement of a consistory to create 21 new cardinals in August is one example. Three cases deserve special mention.
No cardinal for Kyiv
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, will be ignored for the eighth consecutive time by Pope Francis. Considering the war raging in Ukraine, Patriarch Sviatoslav would certainly have been proposed to the Holy Father as an opportunity to show Ukrainian solidarity.
Why Archbishop Shevchuk was not made a cardinal is a mystery. Head of the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches, his predecessors were appointed cardinals by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II. Six of the smaller Eastern Churches have cardinals, including the Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara, Maronite, Chaldean, Romanian and Ethiopian Churches.
Pope Francis, in particular, raises cardinals to show his pastoral care. For example, he appointed the Archbishop of Agrigento, Sicily, cardinal to show the priority he gives to migrants and refugees.
Archbishop Shevchuk is only 52, but the August 2022 consistory will include Bishop Giorgio Marengo, 47, of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, where the Catholic population is so small there are doesn’t even have a diocese.
Pope Francis has repeatedly refused to elevate Archbishop Shevchuk out of alleged deference to the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate in Moscow, which would prefer the Ukrainian Catholic Church not to exist. Not making Archbishop Shevchuk a cardinal not only undermines protests of Vatican support for Ukrainian Catholics, but also gives the impression that Patriarch Kirill of Moscow holds some sort of veto over internal Catholic life in the so-called “Russian world”.
Given that the Ukrainian Orthodox bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) last Friday declared their independence from the Moscow Orthodox Church, Archbishop Shevchuk’s snobbery gives the impression that the The Holy Father is more respectful of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow – whom he called “Putin’s altar boy” earlier this month – than the other bishops of Kirill.
In 1994, Saint John Paul II, wanting to show solidarity with the war-ravaged city of Sarajevo, appointed Archbishop Vinko Puljić, then 49 years old, cardinal, despite his young age. Kyiv has a thousand-year-old Christian tradition which Patriarch Svyatoslav defends against a blasphemous military attack from Moscow. He already lives with courage the symbolic cardinal red, offering his life for the Church. That he is not recognized in Rome is a bitter disappointment for many Ukrainian Catholics in these hours of desperate need.
A social cardinal
Since Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles turned 80 in 2016, Southern California, home to the nation’s largest Latino Catholic population, has not had a cardinal elector.
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, elected president of the USCCB by his brother bishops, is the living embodiment of Pope Francis’ priority on immigrant integration. A Mexican immigrant to the United States, Archbishop Gomez was one of the most forceful prelates in the defense of immigrants.
Pope Francis, however, chose another SoCal shepherd for the college of cardinals, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, characterized by veteran Vatican correspondent John Allen as “one of the most fervent liberals in the episcopal conference. American”.
Passing over Archbishop Gomez — head of the largest archdiocese in the United States — for one of his suffragan bishops is an extremely calibrated message. That Bishop McElroy publicly opposed Bishop Gomez over pro-abortion Catholic politicians is not unrelated to his selection. Archbishop Gomez, a gracious and dignified man, will conduct himself with the usual reserve in the face of what many of his brother bishops – unofficially – consider to be poor treatment.
A cardinal consolation prize
A new cardinal on the list is remarkable where he does not come from. Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke hails from the new diocese of Ekwulobia in Nigeria.
Therein lies a tale. Pope Benedict XVI appointed Okpaleke Bishop of Ahiara in 2012. Many priests and people violently objected on the grounds that Bishop Okpaleke was not from their own ethnic group. Bishop Okpaleke had to be ordained bishop outside of Ahiara and could not take effective possession of the diocese.
After years of failed attempts to resolve the situation, Pope Francis lowered the arrow on the priests of Ahiara in 2017. They had 30 days to withdraw their opposition and write personally to the Holy Father, pledging their obedience. It was a direct invocation of papal authority to resolve the situation.
It failed. The Vatican conceded defeat in 2018, accepting Bishop Okpaleke d’Ahiara’s resignation without embarrassment. The rejected bishop was then left to languish for two years without a diocese. Finally, a solution was found during the creation of a new diocese in Nigeria in 2020; Okpaleke was appointed its first bishop. Since the diocese had no previous existence, it would encounter no opposition.
The elevation of Bishop Okpaleke to the rank of cardinal is an ex-post attempt to salvage something from the sad situation. Papal honor is a consolation prize for what papal authority could not accomplish.
Cardinals around the world
Other appointments are also worth noting.
Archbishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner of Manaus, Brazil, was a key figure in the Synod on the Amazon, where his archdiocese is located. Like so many key figures in this synod, he is a Latin American of German descent who was keen to advance, with considerable German support, a married priesthood and a female diaconate. Pope Francis refused these two synod proposals, a bitter disappointment for the German-Amazonian alliance. The red hat floating down the Amazon can be seen as another consolation prize.
There are two Indian cardinals in the new “batch” – as they say in India – reflecting the growing importance of the Church in India, which has many more Catholics than many European countries.
Archbishop Anthony Poola of Hyderabad is the first Dalit – a member of the ‘untouchable’ caste – to be made a cardinal, pointing out that the liberating message of the Gospel is very appealing to India’s lower castes, which fears the Hindu nationalist power.
The other new Indian cardinal has perhaps the finest combination of name and title in the entire Church: Filipe Archbishop Neri Antonio Sebastiao di Rosario Ferrão of Goa and Daman, Primate of the East, Patriarch of the East Indies. The Archbishop-Patriarch, a gentle and kind shepherd, is currently President of the Latin Rite Bishops of India, and is being raised in an important year, with 2022 marking the 400th anniversary of the canonization of Saint Francis Xavier, the missionary of Goa, and St. Philip Neri, after whom the new cardinal is named.