The extraordinary consistory to be held on August 29-30 will be the first of its kind convened by Pope Francis since 2015. Previously, it was customary that, once the cardinals had been summoned to Rome to the creation of the new red capsIn addition, an extraordinary consistory, i.e., a meeting of all the cardinals on topics of common interest, will be held.
Pope Francis had maintained this practice for the Consistory of 2014 and that of 2015. In 2014, the theme was the family, saw the report of Cardinal Walter Kasper and introduced the great debate on the topic of the Special Synod on the Family. In 2015, the theme was instead the reform of the Curia, and saw several reports from the cardinals involved in the reform, as well as a wide-ranging debate.
After the 2015 Consistory, Pope Francis called cardinals from around the world for the creation of new red birettas in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Five more consistories, which, however, did not then have a general meeting. In the meantime, the work on the reform of the Curia continued and was completed. And at the same time, the College of Cardinals was being profoundly modified.
Now Pope Francis is resuming this custom of the extraordinary consistory, but everything has changed. Starting with the very face of the College of Cardinals. Let's see how.
Changes in the College of Cardinals
At the 2015 Consistory, Pope Francis had created 15 cardinal electors and 5 non-electors. In the following consistories, he created 73 more cardinals, of whom 48 are electors. The face of the College of Cardinals has changed profoundly in recent years, but the cardinals have not known each other.
After the August consistory, there will be 132 cardinal electors, 12 more than the limit of 120 set by Paul VI. By the end of 2022, six more cardinals will turn 80, thus losing their right to vote in the conclave. In total, Pope Francis will have created 82 of the 126 cardinals. This means that, in a possible conclave, the cardinals created by Pope Francis will be slightly more than 65%. The quorum for the election of a pope is two-thirds, or 84 cardinals. The cardinals created by Pope Francis will therefore be only two less than the quota needed to elect the successor at the end of 2022.
As can be seen, this is a profoundly changed College of Cardinals. The debate on the reform of the Curia will serve, more than anything else, to allow the cardinals to get to know each other and to know where they stand on certain issues. The Extraordinary Consistory of August 29-30 is also expected for this purpose.
The modalities of the Consistory
However, the Extraordinary Consistory will be profoundly different from what we have been used to so far. There are no papers, no reports, and only an open debate is scheduled for the morning of August 30. All the cardinals have received a report on the reform of the Curia, drafted by Msgr. Marco Mellino, secretary of the Council of Cardinals, and already published in L'Osservatore Romano, as well as presented at the last interdicasterial meeting.
In his 11-page report, Bishop Mellino dwells on some particular aspects of the reform. Among the interesting details is the fact that the text of the "Praedicate Evangelium" -that is the name of the apostolic constitution that regulates the competencies and tasks of the offices of the Curia as of June 2022- is firmly in the hands of the Pope since 2020, and that therefore any subsequent changes must be attributed only to the Holy Father, in his role as supreme legislator.
Then there is the question of the role of the laity, who now - as we know - can become heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia. Mellino thus interprets the canon that provides for the cooperation of the laity in the power of ordained ministers as a "having part" of the same power, understanding that there are tasks and prerogatives that can only concern ordained ministers.
Mellino also explains the emphasis placed on the theme of evangelization, as well as that of Charity. For this reason, it was decided to transform the Apostolic Almonerate into a true dicastery of the Roman Curia.
The text, however, is only an introduction, and many cardinals are already preparing their comments. In general, from what can be gleaned from various conversations, the cardinals are focusing on substance rather than functionality. The question is no longer how the Curia is organized, but whether this organization can really support evangelization. Will there be room for a debate on this question?
Differences with the last extraordinary session
All remains to be seen. In 2015, 164 cardinals from around the world participated in the Consistory. There was a first extensive report on economic issues, with reports from Cardinal George Pell, then Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy; Cardinal Reinhard Marx, President of the Council for the Economy; Joseph F.X: Zahra, Vice President of the Council for the Economy; and Jean-Baptise de Franssu, President of the Board of Superintendence of the IOR.
Then, the following day, there was a report from the Council of Cardinals (then C9) on the reform of the Curia. Cardinal Sean O'Malley then spoke about the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which had just been created.
This time, apart from Bishop Mellino's report, no other report is planned. Instead, the cardinals will be called to divide into language groups, each group with a moderator, and only in these small groups will the discussion take place. A bit like what happens at the Synod, after all.
In the morning debate on August 30, the moderators will present the conclusions of the groups and there will be space for discussion. But it will remain a debate of limited duration. In the afternoon, the Pope's Mass with the new cardinals will conclude the three days of appointments.
To get to know each other, the cardinals will have two lunches and two dinners together, and some discussion on the sidelines. They will comment on the reform of the Curia, but conscious that the reform is already a reality and already structured: it cannot be changed, or at least not substantially.
A new type of consistory?
Certainly, it is a strong break with the tradition of the consistories. Consistories were especially important in the Middle Ages as a governing body, and also served as a court of justice. Pope Innocent III went so far as to convene three meetings of the cardinals per week.
After the reform of the Curia by Sixtus V in the 16th century, the consistories lost their governing weight. The cardinals assisted the pope in the government of the Church through their work in the Vatican congregations, while the consistories were convened to give solemnity to certain important moments of the Church.
It must be said that the consistory acquired a renewed importance after the Second Vatican Council. Father Gianfranco Grieco, Vatican historian for L'Osservatore Romano, in his book "Paul VI. Ho visto, ho creduto" ("I have seen, I have believed"), recounted how Pope Montini always wanted the cardinals gathered in the consistory to wait for him upon his return from an international trip, to exchange with them the first opinions of the journey.
John Paul II convoked six extraordinary consistories during his pontificate, which dealt with various topics such as the renewal of the Curia, the Church and culture, the financial situation, the Jubilee, threats to life, the challenge of sects.
Benedict XVI also used to precede the consistories for the creation of new cardinals with moments of exchange. It remains to be seen whether this new format desired by Pope Francis is only an extraordinary way of organizing consistories or whether it will be formalized as a new modality. Certainly, the next extraordinary consistory has its own particularity that must be taken into account.