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 John-Henry Westen / LifeSiteNews

ROME, September 5, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) —In an unexpected move, Pope Francis on Sunday named 13 new cardinals, including a Spanish archbishop tasked with implementing the controversial Abu Dhabi document, a Portuguese prelate who has openly endorsed “Europe’s most radical nun,” and an Italian bishop who has been praised by Fr. James Martin for his support of “LGBT” Catholics.

The new cardinals, 10 of whom will be eligible to vote in a future conclave, will receive their red hats during an Ordinary Consistory (a formal meeting of the College of Cardinals called by the Pope) on Oct. 5, the eve of the Oct. 6-27 Synod on the Amazon. 

Three controversial cardinal electors

While some observers view Pope Francis’s picks as consistent with his desire to go out to the peripheries and lift up the developing world, others see the new group as the “most liberal group ever assembled.”

Pope Francis’s list of new cardinals includes Archbishop Matteo Zuppi. In 2015, Pope Francis appointed Zuppi to succeed Cardinal Carlo Caffarra as archbishop of Bologna. According to veteran Italian vaticanist, Aldo Maria Valli, Archbishop Zuppi is “very popular in the Vatican.” He has close ties to the Sant’Egidio community, having served as a parish priest at Rome’s Santa Maria in Trastevere parish from 1981-2010, and then as ecclesiastical general to the community. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him an auxiliary bishop of Rome. 

In a full-length profile piece on the new cardinals, Vatican reporter Edward Pentin noted that he is “known as a ‘priest of the streets’ for his outreach to the elderly, immigrants, gypsies and drug addicts” and has also “participated in Sant’Egidio peace initiatives in Africa, in particular its mediations to liberate kidnapped missionaries and its successfully brokered peace deal in Mozambique and Burundi, working with Nelson Mandela.” 

Valli adds that he is also a “champion for receiving migrants,” which has been a top priority of Pope Francis. During the Pope’s visit to Bologna two years ago, Archbishop Zuppi transformed a local basilica “into a large restaurant” where he hosted a lunch for the Pope with the city’s poor. The political left in Italy rejoiced at the news that Archbishop Zuppi would be given the red hat, crying out: “We have a cardinal!”

Yet Archbishop Zuppi has drawn the most controversy for having written the preface to the Italian edition of Jesuit Father James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge, which, according to America Magazine, endorses a “new pastoral attitude toward LGBT Catholics.”  Following the Pope’s announcement on Sunday, Fr. Martin took to Twitter, tweeting out: 

However, according to Pentin, Archbishop Zuppi’s supporters “told the [National Catholic Register] that his position is more nuanced than Father Martin has made it out to be … and that while the archbishop calls for a more sensitive pastoral approach in his foreword, he reasserts the Church’s teaching on the issue and calls faithfully Catholic outreach groups such as Courage ‘instructive.’”

The Italian traditionalist blog “Messa in Latina” also noted in Archbishop Zuppi’s defense that he “has always, when asked, celebrated the Tridentine Mass.” 

The pope also appointed Archbishop José Tolentino de Mendonça, the archivist and librarian of the Holy Roman Church since June 2018. According to Pentin, the Portuguese prelate has had “a meteoric rise.” He was “virtually unknown outside Portugal until the Pope chose him to preach at his Lenten retreat last year,” Pentin writes. The 74-year-old archbishop, who holds a doctorate in biblical theology, was appointed a consultor of the Pontifical Council of Culture and soon after elevated to archbishop. 

Yet Archbishop Tolentino de Mendonça is also a highly controversial figure, having written the introduction to a book on feminist theology by Benedictine Sister Maria Teresa Forcades. Labelled as “Europe’s most radical nun” by the BBC, Sister Forcades is known for promoting “queer theology” and supporting abortion and the morning-after pill. She also advocates women’s ordination. Stridently anti-capitalist, she was dubbed by The Guardian as “one of the most outspoken … leaders of southern Europe’s left.” In 2015 Forcades received permission from her superior and the Holy See to leave behind her habit in order to enter the political realm and lead the Procés Constituent movement.

In his introduction to her book, then-Father Tolentino de Mendonça stressed that the apostolate of Forcades must be taken as a model to “free” Christianity from the dogmatic ties of the past and present. The merit of Sister Forcades, stressed Tolentino de Mendonça, is “having highlighted the importance of a morality of relationships which is free from rigid and codified rules.”

Another appointment is 67-year-old Sevillian Archbishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, a Comboni missionary who has served as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue since May 2019. Appointed to the dicastery by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, Archbishop Ayuso Guixot speaks several languages, including Arabic. 

Before his appointment as head of the pontifical council, Archbishop Guixot served as president of the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies in Rome. In this role, he was in charge of overseeing the dialogue between the Vatican and the prestigious Al-Azhar mosque and university in Egypt, considered the Vatican of the Sunni Islamic world. Archbishop Ayuso played a key role in drawing up the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” co-signed in early February by Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar, in Abu Dhabi.

The document has drawn considerable controversy for stating that the “diversity of religions” is “willed by God.” Despite Bishop Athanasius Schneider's appeal to Pope Francis to officially correct the text, last week, the Vatican announced that a “Higher Committee” had been established in the United Arab Emirates to implement the uncorrected document. Members of the seven-member (Catholic and Muslim) commission include Pope Francis’s personal secretary, Fr. Yoannis Lahzi Gaid, and Archbishop Ayuso Giuxot.

A full list of 13 new cardinals appointed by Pope Francis on Sunday may be viewed here. The Pope made the announcement at the Sunday Angelus, after being stuck in an elevator for 25 minutes due to a power failure, until the Vatican fire department rescued him.

Raising the number of cardinal electors

Pope Francis’ new appointments will raise the number of cardinal electors to 128, eight more than the maximum number set by Pope Paul VI in 1975. Pope John Paul II also exceeded the 120 limit on occasion, Pentin noted. He also pointed out that the new number “is to swiftly decline in the coming months.” 

“Three electors — Congo Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Italian Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli and Indian Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo — are soon to lose their eligibility to vote, as they turn 80 later in October, with others exceeding the voting age next year,” he said on Monday.   

After the creation of the new cardinals at the Oct. 5 consistory, the College of Cardinals will include 67 electors (i.e. those who can vote at the next conclave) created by Pope Francis, 42 chosen by Pope Benedict XVI, and 19 appointed by Pope John Paul II. With his sixth consistory, Pope Francis will therefore have appointed over 50% of the cardinal electors.

On Sunday, Pope Francis said that the national origin of the new cardinals “expresses the missionary vocation of the Church, which continues to proclaim God’s merciful love to all people on earth.”

Although their addition will further internationalize the College of Cardinals, Pentin further noted that “with the exception of Bologna, Francis continues to overlook other episcopal sees historically headed by a red hat — in Italy, most notably the Patriarchate of Venice, Palermo and Turin; and in the United States, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.”