The most important part of Pope Francis’ mission is towards the Church, its focus, in an ambitious program of reforming the mentality, ethos and even structure. Evangelii gaudium offers a vision of a Church that is radically brought back to conformity with the challenging simplicity of the Gospel

Excerpt from La Croix, May 2019

…But the most important part of Pope Francis’ mission is towards the Church. This is its focus ad intra and it involves an ambitious program of reforming the mentality, ethos and even structures of Roman Catholicism.

The blueprint for this aspect of his mission is the 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii gaudium.

It offers a vision of a Church that is radically brought back to conformity with the challenging simplicity of the Gospel.

It is a rejection of a whole array of non-essential elements that have helped create over many centuries a Church culture and structures that are often more rooted in clerical power and control than the words and example of Jesus Christ.

The document and the vision of Church that it embodies have not been universally embraced by the holy People of God. The ordained men – notably priests and bishops – would seem to be, proportionate to their numbers, those Catholics who have been most critical or dismissive of the apostolic exhortation.

Young priests, especially, present one of the biggest challenges to Francis’ reforms. They just are not with him. Most of the men under the age of 50 have been formed in a clerical ethos that this pope is trying to eradicate.

Obviously, there are exceptions. But particularly those who were attracted to priestly ministry during the previous pontificate are the clergymen who appear to be putting up the biggest obstacles to Francis’ efforts to change the mentality of global Catholicism.

The pope will ordain a number of young men (and a few not so young) to the presbyterate on “Good Shepherd” Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Easter) in St. Peter’s Basilica. And it will give him another opportunity to directly address those who are consecrated for sacramental and governmental leadership in the Church.

Francis has also faced opposition at the Vatican to his efforts to reform the Roman Curia.

Those efforts will be finalized in a document that is currently being reviewed by bishops, religious superiors and theologians who are extraneous to the curia. The text should be ready for publication by in the next weeks or months.

A testimony to the strength of the opposition in Rome was the way Francis and his closest aides released the recent “motu proprio” on procedures for reporting sexual abuse.

Usually, the Holy See Press Office gives about a week’s notice for the release of a major document. But this time the text was released suddenly without even a day’s notification.

The reason, say some, was to keep formidable forces in the Vatican bureaucracy from torpedoing the document’s release.

Consistory for the creation of new cardinals

Finally, another manifestation of the sense of urgency in this pontificate is Francis’ attentiveness to ensuring the number of cardinals who are under 80 years of age and eligible to vote in a conclave are kept at the maximum level.

There has been a lot of talk in Rome about the likelihood that the pope will hold another consistory, probably on June 28, the day before Rome’s patronal feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

If he wants to keep within or around Paul VI’s number of 120 electors, Francis will have six slots to replace those who will age out in the next three or four months.

But he could push beyond this arbitrary ceiling – either modestly or by setting a completely new number. If he chooses the latter he would likely do that with a formal document to update the current procedures for the election of the Roman Pontiff, a text that would also include precise protocols for the resignation of the Bishop of Rome.

If Francis creates six new cardinals he will have named 62 or 63 electors. But among them there are some like Gerhard Müller who can in no way be considered “Francis bishops” or be relied upon to vote for a pope who will continue Francis’ vision.

However, there are others who got their red hats from John Paul II or Benedict XVI who are very much pro-Francis. They include Cardinals Luis Tagle, Reinhard Marx, Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga SDB and Christoph Schönborn OP, just to name a few.

If there is to be a consistory at the end of June, we should expect Pope Francis to make the announcement within the next two weeks or so.

The names and number of those whom he chooses to be part of the next group of cardinals will tell us even more of about the pope’s sense of urgency in reforming the Church.

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