Sunday, January 18, 2015

Questions About Cardinals

As I sit at my desk watching the beautiful red cardinal (bird) family that lives in the tree behind my house, I can't help reflecting on their human counterparts.

The College of Cardinals exists to advise the Pope, and assist him in running the Church. Typically, only bishops or archbishops are selected for the College by the Pope, but Catholic teaching affirms that in fact any baptized Catholic may be so appointed. Understandably, this is a fact rarely covered in Sunday homilies, thus many lifelong Catholics may be unaware of it.

Calling for the inclusion of women in the College of Cardinals is thus not an act of heresy. Canadian theologian Michael W. Higgins (past president of St. Jerome’s University, current vice-president for 'Mission and Catholic Identity' at Sacred Heart University, authorized biographer of Henry Nouwen – you get it, not a Catholic lightweight), stated in a 2013 article in the Globe and Mail: “Such an innovation is not a departure from doctrine, does not compromise the church’s authority, and is not a frivolous concession to faddism. More important, it makes eminent good sense.” (

Recently, Pope Francis took steps to diversify the College of Cardinals by selecting 20 new members from 18 different countries. None were from the US, and only one was from within the Vatican bureaucracy. Clearly, he values advice from a variety of voices. However, all the new cardinals are bishops, so there is still work to do to include lay people - both men and women.

Francis had had his struggles with the College of Cardinals as it stood before these new appointments. In 2014, he demoted ultra-conservative Cardinal Burke from his powerful position within the Vatican court. Burke made headlines recently for lamenting the ‘feminization’ of the Church. In late December, Francis also harangued the College for its cliquish behavior and a “catalogue of illnesses” that included “spiritual Alzheimer’s” (yes, he said the words in quotes).

So the time is ripe for change, and the Pope knows it. It is time for women in the College of Cardinals. As I watch the birds twitter, circle each other, and converse against a background of pristine snow, I can only think what a beautiful thing it would be.

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