Who’ll Wear a Red Hat?
Raymond Perrier on Faith & Society
Being based in Durban, I have spent a lot of time lately explaining that Archbishop Siegfried Jwara, who was installed as our local archbishop on August 8, is not “the new cardinal”. For 20 of his 29 years as archbishop of Durban, Wilfrid Napier was also a cardinal; and since he is the only cleric of that rank in South Africa, he is often referred to simply as “The Cardinal”. So inevitably, in many people’s minds, the two roles — archbishop of Durban and cardinal — have become merged.
Before Napier there had been only one other South African cardinal: Owen McCann, the archbishop of Cape Town, who received the red hat in 1965. (Incidentally, after his retirement as archbishop in 1985, Cardinal McCann was the editor of The Southern Cross for six years; it is not known whether our newly-retired cardinal aspires to follow in those red-slippered footsteps!)
The Catholic Church has had an established presence in what is now South Africa for 203 years, and an episcopal hierarchy for 70 years. But there has been a South African cardinal in place for only a combined 50 years. So it is not a standard for the local Church to have a cardinal.
Cardinal Napier, who turned 80 in March, will retain that title until his death. Cardinals in this part of the world tend to enjoy longevity. Cardinal Sebastian Koto Khoarai of Lesotho died in April aged 91; Cardinal Alexandre José Maria dos Santos of Mozambique died in September aged 97; Cardinal Júlio Duarte Langa — still alive in Mozambique aged 93; and two more in Angola, aged 96 and a mere 82. And Cardinal McCann was 86 when he died in 1994. It looks like the red hat might be a fount of eternal youth in Southern Africa!
But under a rule established by Pope Paul VI in 1970, cardinals over the age of 80 do not vote in a conclave to elect a new pontiff. That’s one of the principal roles of a cardinal, as well as being a close adviser to the current pope. So the presence in Southern Africa of five cardinals, none aged below 80, means that if a conclave were held tomorrow, there would be no voice from this part of the continent. Geographically, the closest voting-age cardinals to us are in the Democratic Republic of Congo (3700km from Johannesburg), Tanzania (3500km) and Madagascar (2100km).
Far from Rome
Under previous papacies this might not have mattered or even been noticed, but Pope Francis has gone out of his way to appoint cardinals who serve in places far from Rome to show the true universality of the Catholic Church. In fact, 19 countries which never before had cardinals have been drawn into the conclave by Francis’ appointments, including such surprising “un-Catholic” places as Myanmar, Sweden and Morocco. Because there is a theoretical limit to the number of cardinal electors (120), the inclusion of these countries has meant the exclusion of places that “expect” to have a cardinal.
The reason for this expectation goes back to the origins of the college of cardinals. While clearly not part of the early Church, the naming of the close advisers of the Bishop of Rome — the pope — as cardinals emerges in the 8th century. By the Middles Ages they were operating as a papal court. For this role, and in an age before international communications, physical proximity to the pope obviously mattered. And this remains true up to a point. For example, membership is still skewed towards those who are in the Roman curia (30 of the current electors). Many, but not all, of these are Italian by origin, to which we can add the nine cardinals who are bishops of Italian dioceses. That means a very Italo-centric view of the Church.
But Pope Francis has reduced the number of Italian dioceses which have cardinals (to the dismay of traditionalists and partisans), and has also appointed many non-Italians to Roman jobs. As the first non-European pope for 13 centuries, Francis (even if he himself is the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina) has ensured that many more of those who advise him, and who will elect his successor, reflect how “catholic” the Church has become.
So it is to be hoped that by the time the next conclave happens (and we pray that is many years away), there will be voices in the Sistine Chapel which reflect the experience of the Church in the countries that make up the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) territory: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Zimbabwe and, of course, South Africa. This would be in keeping with the inclusive vision of the Church that Francis has been promoting.
There is something else that Pope Francis might consider in order to promote inclusivity. It was only in 1917 that the rule was set that cardinals had to be priests. Before then, there were times when lay people were made cardinals, albeit usually relatives (legitimately or illegitimately) of the pope. Any rule that is made can be unmade, especially if there is a precedent to support that. I don’t intend exploring the question of whether women can be Catholic priests — after all, Pope John Paul II decreed that we may not even discuss the possibility — but we can explore the idea of lay women being made cardinals.
Earlier this year, Francis appointed a woman to the Synod of Bishops. The esteemed Cardinal Mario Grech, who leads that dicastery (and the Maltese generally are not renowned for their liberalism), commented that “a door has been opened”. So Francis could decide to open that door a little wider. He could appoint a number of women cardinals. They could not themselves become pope, but at least they would have an influence in electing a future pope. This would ensure that the Sistine Chapel included not only the voices of the global south but also the voices of the 51% of the human family who are women.
In doing this, the Holy Father would be fulfilling a prophecy for the Church that Pope Paul VI made 56 years ago at the end of the Second Vatican Council when talking about the wider world: “The hour is coming, in fact it has come, when the vocation of women is being fully recognised, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never previously achieved.”