Francis to “brothers” (i.e., new cardinals): “Not a promotion or honor…”

Note the informal salutation. Here is the letter Pope Francis sent (this is an innovation, btw) to the newly-named cardinals:

Dear brother,

On the day that your designation as part of the College of Cardinals is made public, I wish to send you a cordial greeting along with the guarantee of my closeness and prayer. It is my hope that, joined with the Church of Rome and “clothed in the virtues and sentiments of the Lord Jesus”, you may help me with fraternal efficacy in my service to the Universal Church.

The cardinalship does not imply promotion; it is neither an honor nor a decoration; it is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts. And, although this may appear paradoxical, the ability to look further and to love more universally with greater intensity may be acquired only by following the same path of the Lord: the path of self-effacement and humility, taking on the role of a servant. Therefore I ask you, please, to receive this designation with a simple and humble heart. And, while you must do so with pleasure and joy, ensure that this sentiment is far from any expression of worldliness or from any form of celebration contrary to the evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty.

Until we meet, then, on 20 February, when our two days of reflection on the family commence, I remain at your disposal and ask you, please, to pray for me and to ask for prayers on my behalf.

May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin protect you.

*               *               *               *               *

The “Franciscan Reform” isn’t about doctrine – even the secular media get that right and repeatedly note that he isn’t changing Catholic doctrine (but perhaps adjusting the emphases therein). The “Franciscan Reform” seems to be about structural reforms (greater collegiality, less centralism) – but it remains to be seen what shape that takes and how compromised the result will be. The “Francis Reforms” is, above all, a change of spirit and a change of attitude. I think it’s safe to say that the festivities for the new cardinals won’t look like this (Llovera, Burke, Ranjith):


  1. I’m intrigued by the verbs (and forms thereof) used to describe the action Pope Francis took with regard to those who will become new cardinals next month.

    In most media accounts, the press seems to use either a relatively neutral “named” or the honorific “elevated.” Both have parallels in secular appointments, like the way in which nominations to the US Supreme Court are described.

    In the link in the post above, the Vatican Information Service uses the lofty “created” — “Published below is the letter sent today by the Holy Father to the future cardinals to be created on 22 February . . .”

    The Code of Canon Law uses “select,” promote,” and “create” in Canon 351: “§1. The Roman Pontiff freely selects men to be promoted as cardinals . . . §2. Cardinals are created by a decree of the Roman Pontiff . . .”

    But in this letter, Francis chooses none of these verbs. Instead, he twice says they have been “designated” as part of the College of Cardinals, and explicitly rejects the notion that they have been “promoted” or “honored” or “decorated” (as in “given an award”).

    A very interesting choice on Francis’ part. Very interesting indeed.

      1. @Charles Day – comment #2:
        The gospels don’t give much in the way of detail. There’s no description of an announcement, no record of Jesus bestowing of distinctive clothing, headgear, or jewelry, and no account of any liturgical rite.

        Instead, the gospels simply record that they answered Jesus’ call: “Follow me . . .”

      2. @Charles Day – comment #2:
        “When we read the Gospels, how did one become an Apostle? Creation, promotion, elevation, or named/designated?”

        Called, and sent.

    1. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #1:
      I think (I may be wrong on this) that in the Italian press, “designato” (or equivalent) is not an uncommon term (alongside “creato” or less commonly, “nominato”) to describe the action. After all, aren’t the cardinals-to-be referred to by the term “cardinale designato” until the consistory?

  2. Does the Pope usually address the Cardinals as anything other than “brother(s)”? Did B16/JP2 use something else? As i recall, they did use the term “Signori Cardinali” when making very formal speeches to groups including cardinals – but so has Francis.

    1. @Joshua Vas – comment #4:
      A quick Google search suggests Benedict XVI used “Venerable and dear brothers,” but also “Dear brothers” on occasion.

  3. If one looks back at Dolan becoming a cardinal, there were a large number of bishops, priests, and laity that went to Rome. He had a Mass for them at the Lateran before the ceremony, and there were several ticketed events upon his return. More like the coronation of a prince.

    While New York may be the capital of the world, I don’t think Francis wants cities and countries out doing one another trying to emulate New York. When one begins to appoint bishops from places like Haiti, one has to send a clear message to the cardinal designates that they need to think long and hard about how they are going to handle everything on a larger stage, in Francis words

    the ability to look further and to love more universally with greater intensity may be acquired only by following the same path of the Lord: the path of self-effacement and humility, taking on the role of a servant.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #9:

      “More like the coronation of a prince.”

      Good grief.

      By contrast, one might recall that Pope Francis, both when he was named a cardinal and when he was elected Pope, specifically asked people in Argentina to stay home and donate the money instead to the poor.

      Hopefully, the new cardinals-designate will follow his lead, even if begrudgingly in the spirit of “fake it till you become it.”

  4. The emphasis on evangelical virtue and the poor is wonderful, but I suppose there must still be a problem of machismo and clericalism among the brothers, or else how could women not also be called to share their vision and heart in this service?

  5. i just think that all the clergy should wear the black clerical garb we have here in the west; bishops adding their pectoral cross and that’s it. Yes, the miter and staff for liturgical functions as well.
    Francis is calling all of us to simplicity and having bishops & cardinals running around in lavish flowing robes is a hold over of the powerful medieval Church. Any man who loves this type of stuff is not suited for any ministry. we are called to be servants, not lords….

  6. Rocco from his far greater knowledge of the court details how the making of cardinals has gotten out of hand

    Over time, the rites creating new cardinals and the week surrounding it have come to be known as the “Scarlet Bowl” for a reason – outside a Conclave (or, quite possibly, maybe even more than one), no Vatican event draws so much of the global church’s leadership caste to Rome: all the cardinals, of course, along with the customary throngs of senior clergy, prominent laity, media, lobbyists and hangers-on of all sorts. Accordingly, beyond the central rites themselves, the week is a frenzied blur of receptions, dinners and other meetings that, candidly, often don’t just border on the deluxe.

    He raises two interesting questions:

    1. B16 moved everything inside of Saint Peter’s however that resulted in competition for tickets. What will happen this time?

    2. A key event is the “reception” in the Apostolic Palace for the new cardinals, one of the only occasions when it is open to the general public. But Francis has almost abandoned it.

    Finally the consistory is becoming more of a time to do church business, i.e. for the Pope to seek the advice of the cardinals. That had already begun under B16 and is accelerating under Francis. How will this impact the frenzied blur of receptions, dinners and other meetings!!!

  7. It’s easy to fault large celebrations etc. on the surface. But we should remember that the elevation of a cardinal is as much about the people and the place as it is about the cardinal.

    I’ve not delved into news footage to find out, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were and will be large celebrations in Haiti to celebrate their “having arrived” on the Vatican’s radar and the world stage. I suspect that when NYC celebrated Cardinal Dolan’s consistory, the celebration was as much or more so about the city’s pride in having a Cardinal than paying homage to Cardinal Dolan as an individual.

    We can sit here and shake our heads at the ticker tape parades and the float pictured above, but we should remember these other elements at play and what is going on.

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