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How much can the pope achieve in the time he has available?

It's widely expected that the pope will bring in some sweeping reforms. But where will he begin and how much will he be able to do?

  • Arthur Jones
  • Vatican City
  • March 28, 2013
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If Pope Francis is serious about reforming the Roman Curia, God bless him. Further, if he undertakes that reform with the poor in mind, the first question is not where might he begin, but how long has he got?

Of our nine popes since 1913, only Pius XII, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have made it to 82 or beyond. So the question about a 76-year-old pontiff isn't as impertinent as it first may seem.

Francis lives simply, walks quickly and walks a lot. Can we assume (to achieve Pius XII's 82 years) the new pope has six vigorous years to work with?

If so, six years takes the story to 2019. By 2019 Francis will be able to appoint about 40 percent of the College of Cardinals, approximately 50 of the 120.

The first part of the conjecture looks then to the longer-term utility of significantly changing the makeup of his college.

Which traditional cardinalate sees might cease to get a cardinal? And which Vatican jobs that normally bring the coveted red hat might no longer get one? With apologies to Cardinals Edwin O'Brien and James Harvey (nothing personal intended), does the grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem need to be a cardinal? Does the archpriest of St. Paul's Outside the Walls have to be a cardinal to get the job done? Perhaps so. But unless Francis expands the numbers for the College of Cardinals, someone will lose out down the road.

If Francis has no consistory for six years, and therefore appoints no new cardinals, Italy by 2019 would have perhaps 12 cardinals still at conclave voting age compared to 28 today. The United States would have perhaps seven, down from 11.

If Francis is serious about the church representing the poor, then he probably has to consider cardinals representing the regions of the world with the greatest poverty, and if serious about evangelization, the fewest Catholics.

If he scans the world's 100 poorest countries the greater number are in Africa. No surprises there, and that offers possibilities.

A large number of poorer countries are predominantly Muslim. A friend of mine suggests that one way Francis could change the face of evangelization is to send all the bishops who have titular sees in North Africa over to North Africa to start their evangelizing in their other dioceses.

Further, Francis, if he wants to improve the church's influence in key areas of the world, could run his finger down a list of the world's 100 largest cities. He would see that Tokyo, with more than 13 million people, has no cardinal, while Malta, with 400,000 inhabitants, had one.

Rearranging the seating at the conclave table, however, is casting the curial reform into the future. Closer at hand, what to watch for is Francis' handling of two key congregations: the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

If Francis wants a caring church, he will have to see that caring bishops, pastoral men with simple lifestyles, are appointed. Unless he changes the system for the selection of bishop candidates -- by opening it up to wider consultation -- then the type of men in line to be cardinals doesn't change.

Currently, given the appointments of the past three decades, he doesn't have a large pool of compassionate pastor-types to draw from.

Full Story: Pope Francis' appointments will create church of the future

Source: National Catholic Reporter

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