By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK
As of this writing the biggest buzz in the Catholic media is about the new cardinals named by Pope Francis. Commentators are reading them like tea leaves to try their best at predicting what these choices mean for the future of the Church and as a key to understanding the pontificate.
One of the most useful analyses is that by John L. Allen Jr. as published in the National Catholic Reporter:
“Upon closer examination, there’s also a clear option for the periphery among Francis’ picks.
“For instance, Bishop Chibly Langlois will become the first cardinal from Haiti, by most measures one of the poorest countries in the world. The appointment breaks an unwritten Vatican rule that if the Caribbean was to have a cardinal, the red hat should go to one of the region’s three Catholic powerhouses — Cuba, Puerto Rico, or the Dominican Republic.
“Moreover, Langlois’ Diocese of Les Cayes is not one of the two archdioceses in Haiti, so Langlois represents an option for the periphery even within his own nation.
“In addition, one of the three ‘honorary’ cardinals named by Francis, meaning men already over 80, was another Caribbean bishop, retired Archbishop Kevin Edward Felix of Castries.
“The same point applies to the new cardinal from the Philippines, Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, whose Cotabato Archdiocese traditionally has not been considered a major see on a par with Manila or Cebu. In Italy, Francis bypassed the traditional red hat sees of Venice and Turin in order to lift up Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia.
“(That choice was taken not only as an option for traditionally neglected locales but also for political moderates, given that the current archbishops of both Venice and Turin are generally seen as members of the conservative wing of the Italian church.)
“The February 22 event in which Francis creates these new cardinals thus shapes up as the ‘Consistory of the Periphery’.”
Many commentators have used the word “poor” to describe the areas of the world that the lion’s share of the new picks for the red hat represent, but I propose that the word “periphery,” as we see Allen describe them, is more helpful, as the poor are always included among those on the periphery and as part of the portion of humanity for which Pope Francis repeatedly expresses the most solicitude.
Another example of the Pope’s concern for the periphery is his choice to baptize the daughter of a couple married only civilly. This Baptism took place on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The couple made the request of the Holy Father at an audience in St. Peter’s Square. We cannot know all the facts of their lives, and must presume that there is a reasonable hope that their child will be raised in the faith as the Church requests.
The Pope is here throwing down a pastoral challenge for priests to actively extend the care of Christ to those who, in some cases, are unable to marry sacramentally because of the existence of a prior spouse as a result of divorce. Such a circumstance is never automatically a bar to Baptism of a child. Pope Francis by example reminds priests that the sacraments are not a “carrot and stick” system, but a gift of grace freely given through the love of God in Christ who desires that all be saved.
The further internationalization of Church leadership under Pope Francis is also a good sign for the strengthening of tradition, always healthy in an institution that comes to us through “traditio,” that is by being handed down.
For years observers have bemoaned the Church in the West’s rearrangement of the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic, at the same time that in the Third World, which is peripheral, cardinals and bishops were simply trying to feed their people or defend them from homicidal Muslims and others.
The largest growth in the Church is occurring in Africa, Asia, and Oceania, as seen through the thousands of new Catholic schools which have opened in these areas of the world during the past 20 years. Also characteristic of these new Catholics is the absence of an agenda against the traditional worship of the Church and the twisting of Vatican II documents to advance an agenda of rupture.
These new “peripheral” Catholics have nothing against those practices which have longstanding privilege as expressions of public, Catholic prayer and worship. They have made mature adult choices to be Catholic and to make use of those aspects of the faith which are distinctly Catholic.
The mania for making Catholic worship look “Protestant” in the West is seen as nonsensical and counterproductive by these Catholics. Innovations such as standing for Communion and receiving the Sacred Host without making any visible sign of adoration, whether bowing or kneeling, is characteristic of this neglect of the authentic spirit of the liturgy.
That traditionalists will be more thoroughly represented in Church leadership is therefore a bellwether for the proper understanding of Vatican II as taught by Benedict XVI, an expression of tradition and not a rupture from it.
Ironically, traditionalists have been for a long time pushed to the periphery in the West and thus Pope Francis speaks to them as well.
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(Follow Fr. Cusick on Facebook at Reverendo Padre-Kevin Michael Cusick and on Twitter @MCITLFrAphorism.)