VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis has announced the creation of 21 new cardinals at a September 30 consistory, including the newly promoted Archbishop Victor Fernández and Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong – a staunch defender of the Vatican-China deal – among the list.
Making the announcement at the end of his Sunday Angelus on July 9, Pope Francis presented the names of the 21 prelates whom he intends to raise to the cardinalate in the September 30 consistory. Of those, 18 are under the age of 80 and thus will have voting rights, while three of them are already too old to vote in a papal conclave.
The list is comprised of some names more unexpected than others, with perhaps the least surprising being that of the newly appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Victor Fernández. After being named only last week to take over the CDF, Fernández was then swiftly and widely anticipated to be named a cardinal at a future consistory.
What is more surprising about his inclusion on the list is the speed with which his elevation to the cardinalate is coming about. Such speed has given rise to speculation from commentators such as Raymond Arroyo of EWTN, Matt Gaspers of Catholic Family News, and Damian Thompson of the Spectator about the perceived need by Pope Francis to implement his desired changes upon the Church. Indeed, in 2015 Fernández stated:
The Pope goes slow because he wants to be sure that the changes have a deep impact. The slow pace is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the changes… You have to realize that he is aiming at reform that is irreversible. If one day he should sense that he’s running out of time and doesn’t have enough time to do what the Spirit is asking him, you can be sure he will speed up.
A notable inclusion is that of Bishop Stephen Chow S.J. of the Diocese of Hong Kong, appointed by Francis to lead the diocese in 2021. Chow has gone on record as looking forward to the day the Catholic Church might “ordain women” to the diaconate or the priesthood.
But Chow has also heavily promoted a cause close to Pope Francis’ heart, namely the secretive Vatican-China deal. While both Francis and Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin have continually defended the deal, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen has repeatedly criticized it very strong terms. He described the agreement as an “incredible betrayal” of China’s Catholics and accused the Vatican of “selling out” Chinese Catholics.
In contrast, Chow has consistently downplayed concerns about the deal – which has led to a heightened increase in religious persecution since it was signed – and has also promoted the Chinese Communist Party’s program of “sinicization.” In April, Chow visited Beijing upon the invitation of Archbishop Joseph Li Shan, president of the Communist state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA). Chow subsequently invited Li to Hong Kong for a return visit, in a move which confirmed fears that Chow was allowing greater CCP control over the region’s Catholics.
Joining Fernández in receiving the red hat is another Roman Curial official, Archbishop Robert Francis Prevost, who became the Prefect of the Congregation (Dicastery) for Bishops in April. Like Fernández, Prevost’s inclusion on the list is not unexpected, given his role as prefect of a curial dicastery.
A similarly expected elevation is that of Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, who has led the Dicastery for Eastern Churches since early 2023.
Two serving apostolic nuncios are also to be made cardinals: Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig, the Swiss-born nuncio to Italy; and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the French-born Nuncio to the U.S. who has been widely noted as a key advocate of Pope Francis’ synodal talking points, and even described as a “devoted Francis sycophant.”
In what could be described as a return favor for his role in the upcoming World Youth Day in Lisbon, Bishop Américo Manuel Alves Aguiar – the auxiliary bishop of Lisbon and organizer of the 2023 event – has been included in the list. The 49-year-old prelate previously served as a council member of his local Socialist Party between 1994 and 1997.
In a recently surfaced video clip, Aguiar’s approach to conversion efforts has been highlighted, as the World Youth Day organizer explained the purpose of the international event, citing Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti:
“Não queremos converter jovens a Cristo”.
Igreja Conciliar resumida num vídeo: pic.twitter.com/CSHKbckP3M
— Rafael da Silva (@AMDG1305) July 7, 2023
His words in the video are translated thus:
Enjoy being with each other. And in the end, we joined hands and said ‘I think differently, I feel differently, I organize my life differently but we are brothers and we are going to build the future together.’ This is the main message of the encounter with the living Christ that the Pope wants to offer young people. We don’t want to convert people to Christ or to the Catholic Church or anything like that. Absolutely!
Aguiar will be the second-youngest cardinal elector in the college, and the fourth Portuguese cardinal created by Pope Francis.
With this upcoming consistory on September 30, Pope Francis will have raised the voting members of the College of Cardinals to 138. A limit of 120 cardinal electors was established by Pope Paul VI, but this number will yet be exceeded for many months, with just seven cardinals reaching the cut-off age of 80 between now and the end of the year – one before the consistory and six after it, including one on October 1.
As of October 1, Pope Francis will have appointed 99 of the 137 cardinal electors then eligible to vote. The consistory will take place just prior to the month-long Synod on Synodality meeting, running October 4–29.