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Gerard O’ConnellMarch 07, 2023
Pope Francis greets Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston during an audience with members of the Papal Foundation at the Vatican May 10, 2019.  (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis has renewed the Council of Cardinal Advisors that he first established soon after his election on March 13, 2013, to assist him in the governance of the universal church. The Vatican announced this today, March 7, and said the pope has renewed its mandate.

This means the council will again have nine members. Four of them were already members while five have received their first appointment today.

Pope Francis had already decided on the creation of the council and its membership (at least one from each continent) by March 17, 2013. The proposal for such a body had been made in the pre-conclave meetings of the cardinals, and Francis took up the charge. It was the new pope’s first major decision. The council was tasked with serving as an advisory body to the new pope, and this would give him a freedom from the Roman Curia that for centuries his predecessors did not have. As I report in my book, The Election of Pope Francis, the Vatican took almost one month before announcing the creation of the council, on April 13, 2013.

Pope Francis has renewed the Council of Cardinal Advisors that he first established soon after his election on March 13, 2013, to assist him in the governance of the universal church.

Francis formally established the council on Sept. 28 of that same year with a decree assigning to it the task of assisting him in the governance of the universal church and in studying the possibility of the reform of the Roman Curia. The latter task was completed on March 19, 2019, with the publication of the constitution “Predicate Evangelium,” but the implementation of the constitution continues. Francis, in the chirograph, also said he would consult the council “about issues that I consider worthy of attention.”

Only Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Bombay, India, and former president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, and Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston and president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, have been a part of the council from the beginning, when there were only eight members. At the time of its formation, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, was not named as a member, though he attended the meetings regularly. Francis appointed him as a full member in July 2014, thereby bringing the total number of cardinal advisors to nine.

In fact, however, the number of cardinal advisors has ranged from six to nine over the past 10 years, because of terminations of their services on reaching the age of 80 or for other reasons. The most significant resignation was that of Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, S.D.B., the archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, whom Francis appointed as coordinator of the council of cardinal advisors from day one but who reached the age of 80 on Dec. 29, 2022, and is no longer the coordinator.

Today’s announcement shows that Francis has retained one former member in addition to Cardinals Oswald, O’Malley and Parolin: Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, O.F.M., the archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. He appointed Cardinal Ambongo, the president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar, on Oct. 15, 2020.

Only Cardinal Oswald Gracias and Cardinal Seán O’Malley have been a part of the council from the beginning.

Today, he has added five new members: cardinals Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, L.C. (Spain), the president of the Governorate of the Vatican City State; Juan José Omella Omella, the archbishop of Barcelona, Spain, and president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference; Gérald C. Lacroix, the archbishop of Québec, Canada; Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., the archbishop of Luxembourg and relator general for the Synod of Bishops; and Sérgio da Rocha, the archbishop of São Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, and former president of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference.

The council does not currently have a member from Oceania (Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands). The last representative from that region was the late Cardinal George Pell, whose membership in the council was terminated by the pope along with that of two other cardinals in December 2018.

Francis has renewed Msgr. Marco Mellino, the titular bishop of Cresima, Italy, as secretary of the council. He was first appointed as adjunct secretary on Oct. 28, 2018.

Pope Francis has not yet said who will be the new coordinator of the council. The Vatican said the next meeting of the council will be held on April 24.

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