Rev. Thomas Reese on Pope Francis’ New Cardinal Appointments

In announcing the appointment of 10 new cardinal electors, Pope Francis has improved the possibility that the next pope will continue his policies, but their appointments have also sent a message to the church about what should be the priorities of its leaders.

Cardinals do not just elect popes. They also help guide the church through committees, called congregations, that supervise the work of Vatican offices. Who serves on these congregations can influence the direction and priorities of these offices. Having more loyalists on these congregations will help promote Francis’ policies within the Vatican.

Second, cardinals are very influential in their parts of the world. Someone in a red hat sticks out in a crowd. We see this in the United States, where politicians and the media pay more attention to cardinals than to the elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who is the official spokesman for the U.S. bishops.

Cardinals can play an extremely important role in countries where there is conflict and poor political leadership. What cardinals say can have an impact on public policy and on the life of the church.

In short, by making these men cardinals, the pope is handing them megaphones. He wants their voices heard above the crowd of thousands of bishops in the church. He wants them brought to the notice of the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. In the appointment of these new cardinals, the men are the message.

All of the new cardinals have experience in working on issues close to Francis’ heart: refugees, migrants and the poor; interreligious understanding and cooperation; reconciliation and peace building; evangelization; concern for the environment.

The Rev. Michael Czerny, a Jesuit, is a perfect example of this.

The 73-year-old Czerny is the pope’s point man and policy adviser on issues dealing with migrants and refugees. Many also believe Czerny was a principal drafter of the pope’s encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’.”

Before focusing on migrants and refugees, Czerny was involved in caring for those afflicted with AIDS in Africa, although many activists were disappointed by his opposition to the use of condoms during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Even as a simple priest, those in-the-know were paying attention to Czerny because they knew he was close to Pope Francis. Now, as a cardinal, he will be impossible to ignore. Being a cardinal grants Czerny access to the highest levels of governments and gives him a large megaphone to proclaim the pope’s concern for migrants, refugees and the environment.

Other appointees also reflect the pope’s concern for the poor and marginalized.

Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, made reaching out to indigenous people an important part of his ministry. The 72-year-old is also known for taking on big corporations, especially mining companies, that exploit the resources of indigenous lands. His concern for human rights and the environment has earned him death threats, but they reflect the goals of Pope Francis.

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Source: Religion News Service