Beliefs Institutions Politics

Pope Francis charges cardinals to oppose ‘any discrimination’

Hundreds of bishops and cardinals look on at St. Peter's Basilica, as Pope Francis formally appoints 19 new cardinals on Feb. 22, 2014. RNS photo by David Gibson

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis created his first batch of new cardinals on Saturday (Feb. 22) and used the ceremony to launch a new appeal for peace amid the violence racking so many countries.

 Hundreds of bishops and cardinals look on at St. Peter's Basilica, as Pope Francis formally appoints 19 new cardinals on Saturday (Feb. 22). RNS photo by David Gibson

Hundreds of bishops and cardinals look on at St. Peter’s Basilica, as Pope Francis formally appoints 19 new cardinals on Saturday (Feb. 22). RNS photo by David Gibson

Francis focused his remarks on the plight of Christians, but in an extemporaneous addition to his prepared text he also called on the church “to fight any discrimination” and “exclusion.”

“The church needs your compassion, especially at this time of pain and suffering for so many countries throughout the world,” Francis told the 18 new cardinals who were present in St. Peter’s Basilica, along with hundreds of other cardinals and bishops whose colorful vestments and diverse origins offered a grand tableau of global Catholicism.

Adding to the drama of the day, retired Pope Benedict XVI was an unexpected participant at the ceremony, making his first public appearance at a Vatican rite since he resigned the papacy on Feb. 28 last year.

It was the first papal retirement in six centuries and paved the way for the election of Francis two weeks later. Benedict, who lives in a monastery on the Vatican grounds, had pledged to remain “hidden from the world” to avoid making himself a distraction.

But Francis has periodically visited the retired pope, and the two have been photographed together, including unveiling a statue last summer in the Vatican gardens. Benedict had never taken part in a public liturgy, however.

In an amusing sign of the potential awkwardness of such a transition, the Vatican’s media guide for Saturday’s consistory reproduced the oath of fidelity that the new cardinals make to the pope, but had them swearing obedience to Benedict rather than Francis.

The mistake was not repeated in the official oaths, although each of the new cardinals immediately went to greet Benedict right after receiving the distinctive red hat, or biretta, from Francis.

The Chair of St. Peter, an elaborate creation of the baroque artist Bernini to conserve a wooden throne said to have been used by Peter himself. Pope Francis created 19 news cardinals in St. Peter's Basilica on Saturday (Feb. 22), the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. RNS photo by David Gibson

The Chair of St. Peter, an elaborate creation of the baroque artist Bernini to conserve a wooden throne said to have been used by Peter himself. Pope Francis created 19 news cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday (Feb. 22), the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. RNS photo by David Gibson

The 86-year-old Benedict, who was smiling and seemed in good health, was greeted with applause when he entered the basilica from a side door, walking with the aid of a cane. In a sign of respect to his successor, Benedict stood and removed his own skullcap as Francis warmly embraced him before the beginning of the service.

Throughout the hour-long ceremony, Benedict sat in front of the main altar with the rest of the churchmen – a slight figure dressed in white amid a sea of scarlet and purple.

Amid the pageantry, however, Francis delivered a sobering talk that began with a call for the cardinals to work together and support the pope — a potent line given the dissension that undermined Benedict’s papacy.

“Whenever a worldly mentality predominates, the result is rivalry, jealousy, factions,” Francis told them.

He then shifted the focus abroad, stressing the duty of the new cardinals and the entire church to support “all Christians suffering from discrimination and persecution.”

Francis also went out of his way to broaden his appeal to include “every man and woman suffering injustice on account of their religious convictions.”

Looking up from his prepared text at one point Francis added: “We have to fight any discrimination.”

Telling the cardinals to be peacemakers, he concluded by asking for “peace and reconciliation for those peoples presently experiencing violence, exclusion and war” – again adding the word “exclusion.”

Throughout his nearly year-long papacy, Francis has made it clear that he wants the papacy and the church to have a voice and a role in international diplomatic efforts to end the violence that has often hit minority Christian populations especially hard.

Francis made a major push last year for a ceasefire in Syria, and he has repeatedly amplified those efforts and extended them to other conflicts.

A day earlier, in fact, Francis had opened a meeting of some 150 cardinals who were meeting to discuss church teachings on the family and sexual morality by asking them to endorse a joint appeal for peace in Ukraine, Nigeria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Francis’ off-the-cuff reference on Saturday to fighting exclusion and “any discrimination” was also notable in that bishops in Africa in particular have been divided over supporting or opposing efforts in some countries to pass especially harsh laws against gays.

In Nigeria, the law was welcomed by top Catholic leaders even though it prompted a wave of violence against gays after it passed.

Of the 19 cardinals appointed by Francis on Saturday, 16 are under 80 and are therefore eligible to vote in a conclave – or be elected pope – should Francis die or resign.

The other three over 80 received their red hat as “princes of the church” as an honor for their lifetime of service; one of them, Cardinal Loris Capovilla, is 98 and at the last minute could not travel from his home in northern Italy because of declining health. Capovilla still officially became a cardinal, the oldest living member of the College of Cardinals.

But Francis’ picks for the 16 new cardinal-electors were notable for beginning to shift the composition of the College of Cardinals toward the global South where the majority of Catholics live and worship.

Francis, an Argentine who is the first pope from Latin America, also made it clear that he wants to name cardinals from poorer parts of the world — like Haiti, the Philippines and Nicaragua — rather than giving red hats to Europeans who have traditionally enjoyed the title.

He also wrote each of the new cardinals last month and stressed that the new title “does not imply promotion” and he asked them to refrain “from any expression of worldliness or from any form of celebration contrary to the evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty.”


About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • Who could disagree with someone on the world stage who speaks loudly against discrimination? Not me.

    But the Catholic doctrine against homosexuality must be disposed of.
    Otherwise his words are hollow. His continuing fight against contraception and women’s reproductive rights are another abomination. I understand the position against abortion – but contraception? and while we are at it – masturbation? Ridiculous.

  • Don’t worry, Atheist Max. Pope Francis is already on your side when it comes to “disposing of the Catholic doctrine of homosexuality.” He’s just doing it on a de facto basis to minimize any opposition while he’s putting his people in power.

    You heard what Francis said — “ANY discrimination.” That was the magic code phrase right there, and every gay activist on this planet (if not the entire solar system) understood immediately what the Pope was signaling.

    Pope Francis isn’t going to re-write the Official Catechism. That would be too obvious a move. Instead, the Pope is clearly working to silence — no joke — to ** silence ** all Catholic opposition to legalized gay marriage and civil unions, particularly at the bishop level.

    He’s definitely out to silence the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (who have been the primary or near-primary source of opposition to America’s gay marriage movement), and Francis has already sent his man to the USCCB to politely tell them to shut up and find other topics.

    So yeah, Atheist Max, THIS new Pope, the gay-marriage Pope, is the Pope you’ve been waiting for. He’s the answer to your prayers (or whatever it is you do). He’s doing your bidding; he’s just doing it on a de facto basis.

  • If you don’t like what the Pope is doing, don’t be Catholic. After a number of centuries the church is pretty clear on the subject. The Pope is the last word on any subject of policy. They make a big deal over that. Its called their infallibility doctrine.

    If those within the Church hierarchy don’t like what he is saying either they can break off and become Protestants or they can try to arrange another “retirement” in secret like they did for Pope Adolf.

  • Larry there is one other option, they can simply choose to not follow that part. It seems to work for Christians when choosing what to follow in the bible, why not this?

    Religion poison the way humans think, forcing them to discard honesty to oneself, and adopt faith for explanations for things they know can’t possibly be true, so why not select those things that are easier for them to accept.

  • I don’t know where you folks are getting the idea that Pope Francis wants to legalize gay marriage. If there is anything that the Catholic church has taught me in these 23 years of my life is to except everyone no matter what ethnicity,gender,religion, etc. The church has never condemned anyone from stepping inside a Catholic Church and not allowing them to accept God. I think he just wants to let homosexuals know that we don’t agree with their lifestyle, we still love them and they will always be loved by the Lord.

  • You do realize that the church teaches that men should not use contraception either. Also the church teaches there is a purpose to our bodies and “REPRODUCTIVE” organs, would you suggest that the church fights men’s reproductive right also?

  • dan, The list could be quite extensive, but to wrap it up in a package, it is religious belief.

    All religious belief requires faith to believe. It is a poison which allows humans to be dishonest to themselves. It replaces the innate ability of humans to reason things out through the use of logic, with irrational compromise for the illogical. It is the worst kind of dishonesty; dishonesty to yourself.

    dan, All religion is poison to humans!

  • Kat Liz,
    Suppose someone said to your Mother:

    “I hate the way you breath! The way you breath with deep breaths is disgusting and your sick desire to breath that way is also deeply disgusting. It is so revolting that you must not do it, you must not talk about it, and you must never share that part of yourself with me or anyone near me or near my friends.”

    “But I love you.”

    Homosexuality has been PROVEN to be a natural occurrence in people. It is NOT a choice. To criminalize homosexual love is disgraceful. Your callous, cruel and ignorant religion is a burden to this world. Not a help.

  • the catholic doctrin does not need to be disposed of. Everything we say is strait from the bible which God gave us to be better people an to now what is a sin and what is not a sin.

  • This whole war on sexuality is typical of religion.

    The people who designed religion knew that men and women would always want sex and that they would insist on doing it from time to time. So how do you make sure that they are always in sin? Make it a sin to think sexual thoughts!

    Men and women – especially women – have learned to escape the slavery of religion by using contraception…. and it works great! There is nothing wrong with sex. And that is why men and women WILL DO IT regularly. Because it is a GOOD thing.

    Look at the way religion uses you to promote itself. Like a virus.
    It is so transparent!
    “Don’t have sex – or you need to repent!” This can’t be real. It can’t be.

  • If you really desire to understand Catholic theology on sexuality then you would have to read John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, or another author who explains it. It is an excellent teaching on the Divine design regarding men and women.