In New Cardinal Picks, Pope Francis Sidelines Conservatives, Promotes Progressives

Pope Francis greets the crowd from the popemobil after a mass on October 9, 2016 at St Peter's square in Vatican. / AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis announced his choices for new Catholic cardinals Sunday, promoting a number of well-known progressives while snubbing conservatives who were up for the job.

In all, the Pope named 17 new cardinals, including 13 who are under 80 years old and therefore eligible to participate in the conclave electing the next pope.

Notably, in his selection for cardinals from among the United States bishops, Francis named the recently appointed archbishop of Chicago, Blaise Cupich, a man with impeccable liberal credentials. He also broke with protocol by choosing Archbishop William Tobin of Indianapolis, a relatively small archdiocese never before considered important enough to have a cardinal at its helm.

On the other hand, the Pope passed over the conservative archbishops of Philadelphia, Detroit and Los Angeles—Charles Chaput, Allen Vigneron and José Gómez, respectively—despite the fact that their three important archdioceses have in recent memory always been considered “cardinalatial sees.”

Archbishop Chaput was responsible for bringing Pope Francis to the United States in September 2015, hosting the pontiff for the World Meeting of Families.

Veteran Vatican analyst John Allen noted that with his new appointments, Pope Francis had engineered a “seismic shift” in the Catholic hierarchy in the United States, and by naming just progressives, “Francis was making a statement about the direction in which he wants the American church to go.”

The Pope’s picks also underscore the very real divisions within the U.S. Catholic bishops conference.

A year ago, Archbishops Cupich and Chaput faced off over a theologically indefensible op-ed published by the Chicago Archbishop that suggested that abortion was no more important than a number of other social justice issues such as unemployment, immigration and capital punishment.

In a signed essay in the Chicago Tribune, Archbishop Cupich listed a series of social ills that he said people should find “just as appalling” as the gruesome ripping apart of unborn children and the sale of their organs by Planned Parenthood.

While applauding the strong reaction to the Planned Parenthood videos, Cupich immediately added: “We should be no less appalled by the indifference toward the thousands of people who die daily for lack of decent medical care; who are denied rights by a broken immigration system and by racism; who suffer in hunger, joblessness and want; who pay the price of violence in gun-saturated neighborhoods; or who are executed by the state in the name of justice.”

A week later, Archbishop Chaput responded with a sharp rebuke to Cupich in his own diocesan newspaper, Catholic Philly. In his article, bearing the pithy title “There is no equivalence,” Chaput stated: “The deliberate killing of innocent life is a uniquely wicked act. No amount of contextualizing or deflecting our attention to other issues can obscure that.”

This was not the first time that Archbishop Cupich has “contextualized” the evil of abortion.

A regular contributor to the Jesuit magazine America, in 2008, Cupich wrote a piece against racism, just prior to the presidential election that saw Barack Obama elected president. In it, he suggested that voting on the basis of race is morally equivalent to voting for a pro-abortion candidate.

For his part, Indianapolis Archbishop William Tobin has also been critical of America’s culture wars, and publicly clashed with Republic vice presidential nominee Mike Pence over the idea of welcoming Syrian refugees into the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Sunday’s nominations represent an important step in Francis’s project of shifting emphases within Church, as well as his move toward more global representation among the college of cardinals. The bulk of the new cardinals come from outside Europe, hailing from Africa, Asia, South America, and Oceania.

The sole Italian elector the Vatican’s ambassador to Syria, Archbishop Mario Zenari.

The ceremony for the creation of the new cardinals will be held on November 19, at the conclusion of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

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