Breaking down the Elite 8: A Pocket Guide to the Pope’s New Super-Cardinals

Yesterday, our newly beloved Pope Francis announced perhaps the most remarkable move yet in his short pontificate: he has selected an eight-person group of Cardinals, handpicked to represent every Christianized continent of the world (sorry, Antarctica), to accomplish two modest tasks:

1. Advise him in the governance of the Universal Church.
2. Help him revise the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia Pastor bonus.

As John Allen, Jr., writes, these two sentences leave no stone unturned.  “Curial reform is only the second task. The first is to advise the pope on decisions about the universal church, meaning there’s almost nothing that falls outside its purview.”  Oh, and just so we’re clear: “curial reform” is no small job either.

The late Holy Father John Paul II penned Pastor bonus in June of 1978, 25 years ago this summer. It spells out 11 separate “pastoral congregations,” 3 “tribunals,” 12 “pontifical councils,” and a variety of other services, institutions, and various offices.  Pastor bonus was Blessed John Paul’s attempt to practically implement the Second Vatican Council in terms of committee, subcommittees, and offices.  As of yesterday, assuming Pope Francis lives a few more years, we know that this document will be substantially revised.  One can only imagine how much or how little.  Will there be checks and balances put into place?  Will laypersons and women be included?  Will the various congregations be redefined?  Will new ones be formed, perhaps to specifically handle abuse?  Will the Vatican Bank be dismantled or privatized?  So many questions.

* * * * * * * * *

So, yes, this is big news. It’s not as dramatic as refusing to live in the Papal Apartments, embracing a child with cerebral palsy, or washing the feet of an interfaith mix of young women and men in the Italian prison system.  It’s not as exciting for the news outlets either, since the first official meeting of the eight-member team won’t be until October…and even then, who knows how long it will be until Pastor bonus is rewritten or other changes are set in place?

So, since all we can really do is speculate, allow me to present your (mostly serious) pocket guide to the eight suddenly highly influential members of the Roman Church:

1. The Globe-Trotter: Representing the Vatican itself, I give you Cardinal Giuseppe “The Globe-Trotter” Bertello, President of the Government of the Vatican City State.  At the young age of 70, Cardinal “The Globe-Trotter” Bertello is about as much of an insider as you can get…he’s been with the Vatican diplomatic core since the early 1970’s, and was appointed head of the Vatican City State in 2011 in order to help to bring about the changes needed. Bertello is a proud Italian and has been known to make a mean lasagne when he’s not helping Rwandans survive a terrible civil war.

2. The Penguin: Representing the Southernmost nation of Chile, I give you Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz “The Penguin” Ossa, the retired archbishop of Santiago.  At the ripe age of 79, Cardinal Penguin Ossa was the president of the Bishops’ Conference in Chile from 1998-2004, and president of the wider Latin American Episcopal Council from 2003-2007.  The Penguin has been known to spend evenings watching his favorite animal swim out to see, which is clearly why he has been picked to represent a unified voice for Latin America in the Elite 8.

3. The Tiger: Representing not only his home country of India, but the entire Asian continent, I give you Cardinal Oswald “The Tiger” Gracias, archbishop of Bombay (Mumbai).  At 68 and running strong, The Tiger is currently both the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and the Secretary-General of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference, representing 19 bishops’ conferences from 14 countries as well as 9 additional countries that lack a Bishops’ conference.  Gracias loves the latest Bollywood flick as much as anyone, and has been known  to drop some serious prose on behalf of the women of India…

Our whole country has been shocked by the many incidents of violence against women. Hardly a day goes by without cases of violence against women being committed, be it in homes or on the streets….We need to go beyond the law, beyond self-interest and beyond self-preservation, to always seek what is good for the well being of others, as indeed of the whole of society….Women should enjoy greater respect everywhere: at home, at the workplace and in society.  (On Violence Against Women; January 7, 2013)

The Tiger knows when a line has been crossed.

4. The Peacemaker: Proudly representing the Continent of Africa, I give you Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo “The Peacemaker” Pasinya of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who hails as the archbishop of its capital, Kinshasa (a city of 9 million people, btw).  The Peacemaker, now a respectable 73, has served several times as the President of the Congolese Bishops’ Conference, but truly made his mark when he served as the transitional national leader of the DRC during its transition to a democratic state in 1994.  That’s right. Cardinal Peacemaker Pasinya had to broker between genocidal dictators and a democratic-leaning population, and to this day must be vigilant about his security.  He nearly escaped an assassination by two men dressed as priests in 2010 and his nephew was murdered in 2012.  On the lighter side, the Peacemaker loves to practice liturgical dance moves on his spare time and is known to be a pretty good footballer…for an old man.

5. The Bald Eagle: Representing the rough-and-tumble chaos that is North America, I give you Cardinal Sean Patrick “The Bald Eagle” O’Malley, archbishop of the great city of Boston, MA.  At 68, The Bald Eagle is one of the infants of the group, but has seen his time as a humble but ruthless servant of the embattled Boston archdiocese.  He is known as a cleaner-upper, notably in his selling off the 65-acre “fiefdom” that was the curial offices of Boston and relocating to a much cheaper and humbler home in the suburbs. Cardinal Bald Eagle O’Malley is humble like his brother Francis, knowing how to apologize with the best of them for crimes committed in the past…although he can pick off field mice when necessary.  The Bald Eagle hails originally from just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, and is said to get his humility from watching the Browns play football over the past 40 years.

6. The German: Representing the Pope-Emeritus’ homeland and, really, most of Europe, I give you Cardinal Reinhard “The German” Marx, archbishop of Munich and President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences in the European Union.  At the infantile age of 59, The German is the youngest man of the eight but has racked up quite the reputation for speaking out against the destructive tendencies of capitalism.  A popular man in Germany for his anti-capitalist views (at least among some), The German must represent the whole of Europe for the Elite 8, and, as such, might be found consuming more beer than is usually allotted for Vatican councils.

7. The Crocodile: Hailing from Down Under and representing Middle Earth–I mean, Oceania–I give you Cardinal George “The Crocodile” Pell, the archbishop of Sydney.  At 71 years and going strong, The Crocodile has never been one to mince him the “Timothy Dolan of Down Under.”  He has published a host of books and articles on the faith and likes to give interviews where he says things like, following Benedict’s resignation, “I think I prefer somebody who can lead the Church and pull it together a bit.”  Cardinal Crocodile Pell has some strong thoughts on Church leadership and structure, and one can only imagine he will ensure the littlest continent (and less than 1% of worldwide Catholics) makes its voice heard.  The Crocodile also enjoys breeding wallabies in his spare time.

8. The Renegade: The coordinator/president of this Elite 8, and the most eccentric by far, I give you Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez “The Renegade” Maradiaga, the archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  Once considered “papabile” at 70, Cardinal Renegade Maradiaga marches to his own odd and forceful beat.  An accomplished classical pianist and licensed pilot, The Renegade has doctorates in philosophy and theology as well as diplomas in clinical psychology and psychotherapy.  He speaks more languages than Pope Francis (for example, English), has led the Honduran Bishops’ Conference for years, and was recently elected to a second term as the president of Caritas International. In his spare time, The Renegade enjoys walking the line between critiquing the late Hugo Chavez and condemning the International Monetary Fund…as well as reenacting scenes from Don Quixote when he can spare the time.

* * * * * * * * * *

Questions?  Comments?  Feel free to leave a comment and let me know!

Tagged with: