ROME January 17, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – This past weekend, the Vatican announced Pope Francis’s choices for his first consistory, the men he has chosen to raise to the Sacred College of Cardinals. The list of new names includes 19 bishops, of whom three are already over the age of 80, making them ineligible to vote in an election of a new Pope.

Several of these bishops are well known for their strong stances on the issues that are dearest to pro-life and pro-family activists.

Among the 16 Cardinal Electors, Pope Francis’s replacement in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Archbishop Mario Aurelio Poli, has been described as the most “Bergoglista” of the group, that is, the one most in line with the pope’s own priorities. Archbishop Poli has most recently opposed the imposition of “gay marriage” on Argentina, and as head of the Catholic archdiocese of the nation’s capital, is said to be maintaining a “respectful but distant” relationship between the Church and the leftist government.

In 2012, Poli denounced the intention of the government to decriminalise abortion. In a homily, Poli said, “We ask God to have mercy on those who are the life line to the culture of death.” Speaking to a group of pilgrims at a shrine to the Virgin Mary, Poli added that decriminalising abortion “is threatening the lives of the most vulnerable and defenseless children who are the unborn”. 

“Despite our warnings, the raising of the voice of the Church, our legislators were deaf. We will continue praying, asking the Virgin to protect all pregnant mothers,” he said.

Another new cardinal-elect who has long been of interest to the pro-life community is Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, the archbishop of Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Archbishop Yeom was prominent in his opposition to the work of an internationally known embryo researcher. In 2005, at the height of the furore over the work of Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk, (which was later discredited as fraudulent) then-bishop Yeom was the head of a committee launched by the Archdiocese of Seoul that raised 10 billion won (US$9.6 million) to fund adult stem-cell research.

Last year, Archbishop Yeom spoke strongly against a proposal by the Korean National Commission of Bioethics to legalise euthanasia. “My opinion on Euthanasia coincides with that of the Catholic Church: I am against it. Death should be a natural process,” the Archbishop Yeom told AsiaNews in August, 2013.

Instead of legalised euthanasia, he suggested practical assistance for patients, including comprehensive hospice and “financial support for the dying patients.” Without these changes, he warned, the recommendation “may cause negative result of approving the contempt for human life”.

Of the three older cardinals on Pope Francis’s list, 95-year-old Fernando Sebastián Aguilar, a theologian and former Archbishop of Pamplona, Spain, stands out as a fierce opponent of abortion throughout his long career. As early as 1985, the year the Spanish government changed the abortion law, Archbishop Sebastián, as secretary general of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, warned that legalising abortion would create a “license to kill” for civil servants whose moral authority it would also “degrade.”

Legalisation, he said, would cause a “demoralization of the Spanish people.” It “facilitates and encourages people to resolve issues that may arise through the expeditious and cruel formula of attacking the weakest.” The “essential reality” of abortion, he said, is “the violent suppression of a helpless human being.”

The reception of the cardinal’s red hat is an event that tends to launch a mere bishop or archbishop, a prelate who is often of only local or national interest, into the stratosphere of global newsworthiness. The source of this increased importance comes from the cardinals’ function as an advisory body and, as such, they are understood to be the highest rank of prelate below the pope himself. But their most important function is the election of a new pope. As such, a pope’s choice of cardinals is always looked upon by Vatican-watchers as one of the most important ways he signals the priorities of his papacy.

Many are observing that the list of Francis’s first consistory has much to do with the economic condition of their locations, with most coming from the developing world. Indeed, most of the names are obscure even in Catholic media and the pope seems to be using the choices to focus attention on his project of elevating his concept of reaching to the peripheries.

Notable also is the absence from the list of a number of politically important or ancient Catholic sees such as Venice, Brussels, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. 

When the cardinal emeritus of a major “red-hat” see is still under 80, his successor’s elevation to the College is often, though not always, delayed, and this is the situation with both Philadelphia and Los Angeles. But not for Archbishop Andre Leonard, the head of the archdiocese of Brussels who replaced the now 80 year-old Godfried Cardinal Danneels. Archbishop Leonard has made international headlines for his strong opposition to abortion and “gay marriage,” and for this has suffered the wrath of opponents who have on several occasions physically attacked him in public.

The pope has also hinted that there will be no formal reception for the actual consistory on February 22nd, normally a lavish public affair where Rome dignitaries and ordinary lay people alike can meet the new appointees. In a letter addressed to each of them released by the Vatican today, Francis told the new cardinals-elect that their role is to be one of “service” and warned them not to hold the traditional lavish parties. They should avoid any response that smacks of “high society or hold celebrations that have nothing to do with the gospel spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty,” the pope said.