What is Pope Francis’ problem with Eastern Europe?

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Recently, Pope Francis announced a new consistory selections for cardinals. This consistory marks the first for the Argentine pope since 2020 and possibly his last if recent rumors of his impending resignation or failing health are true. After almost a decade of pontificate, Pope Francis reserves few surprises in his selections. On the contrary, the new cardinals simply reinforce what we have always known.

In this summer consistory, Pope Francis once again snubbed Eastern Europe of new cardinals. During his entire time as pope, Francis has appointed only one cardinal from Eastern Europe, namely Cardinal Konrad Krajewski of Poland in 2018. He does so despite the fact that Eastern Europe ‘Est has been wearing the mantle of Catholicism in Europe for some time now, although that may be the point. Francis would rather elevate, for example, the German Church, which advocated intercommunion with Lutherans and blessing for same-sex unions, as opposed to the Church of Poland or Hungary, which still upholds Orthodox Catholicism.

Pope Francis has shown a particular contradiction in his choices regarding the question of Ukraine. As war still ravages the country, Pope Francis rightly expressed his support for Ukrainian Catholics, while calling on the Church to pray for them. However, the pope once again refused a red hat to the major archbishop of Kyiv, Sviatoslav Shevchuk. This came even after the pope went so far as to praise Archbishop Shevchuk’s decision to use the basement of the Resurrection Cathedral in Kyiv as a bomb shelter.

One would imagine that in these times of great need in Ukraine, the elevation of the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church would be seen as a sign of the Pope’s great support for the war-torn nation. However, even though the Ukrainian president shows a progressive leaning, the Ukrainian people themselves remain traditional and religious. Pope Francis would never elevate a man of such background to the College of Cardinals.

For most of the 20th century, Catholics in Eastern Europe resisted the two great regimes of the century, Communism and Fascism. Through brutal persecution, people like the Poles repelled the atheistic regimes of Hitler’s Nazis and Stalin’s Soviets. Such persecutions brought great saints to the Church, like St. Maximilian Kolbe, who took the place of a man in a line of fire at Auschwitz; Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, who had stones tied to his feet and who was thrown into a reservoir by communist agents; and Pope St. John Paul II, who was a key world leader behind the fall of communism, among others.

From now on, Eastern Europe is repelling the predations of the third great regime of modern times.: liberalism and its promotion of atheism, the destruction of the family and the government by “the expert”.

While the German Church promotes unnatural “marriages”, the Church of Poland promotes traditional teaching on human sexuality. The Church in Poland still produces people like Jakub Barylathe boy who blocked a pride parade with a crucifix in his hand. Meanwhile, the German Church has managed to get away with promoting same-sex unions without even a fraction of the criticism that Pope Francis directs at, say, American “restaurateurs”.

While countries like Italy are seeing their birth rates plummet, Hungary is implementing pro-family policies that have helped push up birth rates. Churches in Eastern European countries continue to promote Orthodox Catholic teachings. Yet the pope continues to send shivers down their spines.

Forty-one cardinals of voting age from Africa, Asia and the Pacific region will enter the college. These selections are intended to reflect the growing Catholic populations of these regions. Most conservative and traditional Catholics will welcome more cardinals from places such as Africa, as previous selections such as Cardinals Arinze and Sarah have proven bulwarks against the Church’s liberal agenda.

However, one should err on the side of caution, as Pope Francis will likely do his best to find more Cardinal Turkson types among African bishops. Yet most of the selections from the aforementioned regions remain largely unknown to Western media sources, so we can always hope that Pope Francis has made choices he will regret.

Pope Francis has also promoted Germanic-Brazilian Archbishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner (not exactly a Portuguese surname) to the College of Cardinals. Archbishop Steiner represents Manaus in Brazil, and he was a key figure in organizing the disastrous Amazon Synod in Rome, which saw the Pachamama idol brought to the Vatican. Archbishop Steiner represents a relatively recent trend of expatriate German-born Brazilian bishops of dubious origin. These personalities helped bring German liberal theological traditions to Latin America and create new theological strains, such as liberation theology.

Many conservative and traditional Catholics watch the recent consistory with a sense of despairthinking that the next pope will be a Francis 2.0, since Pope Francis has selected nearly 60% of cardinals of voting age. Yet, as mentioned earlier, many of the new cardinals come from more conservative parts of the world, and many of them remain unknown to the West. So we can still hope that the “God of surprises”, as the pope likes to say, will give the Church something that no one expected.

One can think of the papacy of Blessed Pope Pius IX, who many believed would become a great liberal reformer in the Church. Although he was more liberal in spirit at the beginning of his pontificate, Blessed Pope Pius IX became a defender of orthodoxy in the Church, published the Syllabus of Errors condemning 80 heresies and dogmatized the teaching of the Church on the Immaculate Conception. So perhaps the Church can expect a hypothetical “Pope Francis II” to succeed the current Pope Francis, but we can always hope that another Blessed Pope Pius IX awaits in the College of Cardinals.

[Photo: Pope Francis met with Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv, Nov 11, 2021 (Vatican Media)]

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