Observations about the newly named Cardinals. Fr Z briefly rants.

You know what an atomizer is, right?  Think of those bottles of perfume with little squeeze bulbs that send out poofs.

To atomize means to break down into discreet parts, to separate something into tiny bits.

That’s what is happening to the College of Cardinals.

The last few consistories point to the possibility that Francis is trying purposely to atomize the College.

Today the names of the new members of the College were announced.  They were a mixture of the unremarkable.  The list is a combination of the expected and the seemingly random, as if a dart were thrown at map with the light switched off. [UPDATE: A reader sent a positive remark by email about the Archbp Jean Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg.]

How does atomization enter into this?

One Cardinal told me some time ago that the cardinals don’t know each other anymore.

It was always going to be the case that not every cardinal knew all the others.  However, there were always a goodly number who had worked in the Curia, who had studied in Rome and met others.  There were many more occasions when the College was brought to Rome and they had a chance to meet each other.

Hence, when a cardinal says that the members don’t know each other, that means that College is being atomized.  That means that previous blocks have been broken down.

Also, the fact that men to whom Rome is truly a foreign concept are being made cardinals, who don’t have their own sense of the Roman thing, of Romanità, of how things work and how to network, power blocks will coalesce around well-known, even famous, cardinals, whose names are in the news all the time, movers and shakers: Tagle, Marx, Maradiaga, Baldisieri, etc.   The newbies and relative outsiders will gather magnetically to the Big Names in the College.  It stands to reason.

The seemingly random – dart in the dark – method is described as an attempt to reflect the missionary dimension of the Church.  Okay.  The result within the College is that no one knows the others.  Atomization.

There are other matters in the list which prompt concern.   One popped – or rather poofed – out at me.

It is not at all usual that the Italian see of Bologna would have a cardinal’s hat.  Remember that the late Dubia Cardinal Caffarra was in Bologna.  As if to snuff out the very memory of the man who sent in the Dubia and who had, previously, founded the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, and who had received the note from Sr. Lucia saying that the Enemies last battleground was the family, a certain Archbp. Matteo Zuppi was appointed to Bologna.

Zuppi wrote the forward to the Italian translation of the infamous homosexualist manifesto by the Jesuit James Martin.

He also called for the building of mosques and Islamic celebrations in schools.

So, what we have now is a rather odd, seemingly random – and yet not – poofing of the College into ever smaller fragments.  And just as in the case of an atomizer which is poofed upon a mirror on the wall, the droplets will eventually coalesce into the bigger drops.

As soon as I started to pen something about this, I received an email from a smart priest who made the same observations I intended now to add.  For his sake, I won’t name him here, but here’s the gist of our common concern.

My priestly correspondent noted, “the revolution now is secure for at least another century – with worse to follow.”

I am reminded of the definitions of a Pessimist and an Optimist.

The Pessimist is one who says, “Things can’t possibly get any worse!”, while the Optimist brightly responds, “Oh, yes they can!”

Ohhhhh… yes.  They can.  As the Fat Man put it in The House of God, “They can always hurt you more.” (Law VIII)

In the matter of the College, and therefore as far as any future conclave is concerned, I place the Church where the Church has always really been: in the glorious nail-gouged hands of Christ.

Christ went through His fearful Passion. Therefore, it is necessary that the Church go through a fearful Passion.

Pain wracked every joint and nerve and limb of the Lord. Therefore, it is necessary that the Church too be agonized in every member.

The weight of sins was loaded upon His shoulders in propitiation for the foreseen days in which we are now living.

I say, therefore, since it seems to be God’s will that we will not avoid this chalice which we are to receive in the near future, then…


We have our spiritual weapons for this spiritual warfare.

This means that more and more people will start to see what is going on and will rise up to our new spiritual challenge.   The rest will choke in the dust of their errors and, eventually, will be left behind on the field.

Go to confession and gird up your loins.

This isn’t going to be pretty.

It won’t be pretty, but in the end it will be beautiful.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Pò sì jiù, The Coming Storm, The Drill, The future and our choices. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Taylor Marshall addressed the issue of the College a while back in one of his podcasts. He discussed how in earlier times the College was a practically speaking a relatively close group of advisors of the Pope IN ROME. It seems like in many things that Francis is moving away from the traditional model.

  2. acardnal says:

    And again, no Chaput.

  3. Lurker 59 says:

    This isn’t going to be pretty but it shall be petty.

  4. PostCatholic says:

    If you and James Martin ever find yourself in the same city with an evening to spare, I hope you’ll get together and talk with each other padre a padre. I’ll pick up the bar tab for that night.

    [Look for the Parousia around that time. But it’s a nice offer, in any event.]

  5. Emilio says:

    @acarnal: Were you still hoping he would be named a Cardinal by this Pope? The Archbishop has been discreetly, and not so discreetly, saying his good-byes for several weeks now. We are a mere days away from his 75th birthday, and it is entirely reasonable for his resignation to be accepted the moment he submits it.

  6. Luminis says:

    I live on Archdiocese of Philadelphia. We will miss dear Archbishop Chaput. He has been a good shepherd to the flock here.
    We are nervous about what is coming.

  7. robtbrown says:

    I am not nearly so discouraged. We don’t know what the next conclave will do.

    1. JPII & BXVI papacies began in 1978 and ended in 2013. For almost 35 years they named the Cardinals. And yet the conclave elected Cardinal Bergoglio.

    2. Complacency with the compromise of the neo-con Church of JPII seemed obvious. There were pro Ratzinger miters who approved if his defense of doctrine but had little use for true liturgical reform. Further, they understood that it was unlikely that any Church wide reform would happen.

    3. In fact, there was little cooperation with what BXVI wanted to do. The pope brought in his own man as Prefect for Worship . . . who proceeded to do nothing.

    4. If nothing else Francis has clarified the validity of SSPX absolutions and marriages.

    5. Jesuits are given neither to compromise nor to finding theological and philosophical balance–by and large, they are radicals.

    6. Perhaps it shall be seen after the next conclave whether Newton’s 3rd Law applies to the Bergoglio papacy.

  8. Semper Gumby says:

    Emilio: The intent of your comment is not quite clear.

    From the Register:

    “Archbishops Fitzgerald and Temkevisius and Bishop Dal Corso [all three are emeritus], are over the age of 80, and therefore ineligible to vote in a conclave, but who, Pope Francis said, “have distinguished themselves for their service to the Church.””

  9. Semper Gumby says:

    robtbrown: I always read your comments with interest. I’m curious about the following, particularly the use of “neo-con”:

    “Complacency with the compromise of the neo-con Church of JPII seemed obvious.”

  10. Philmont237 says:

    I just think this is cool.

    In case anyone needs to learn how to gird their loins, here is a handy illustrated guide: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/how-to-gird-up-your-loins-an-illustrated-guide/

  11. Rob83 says:

    God will eventually bring the Church out of its present troubles, but it seems we are not heading for as peaceful a resolution as the biological solution, wherein the vile elements simply pass away from old age.

    I have no idea what chastisement lies in store, but it would not be surprising if God were to make a statement one of these days on Rome itself in rather dramatic fashion.

  12. Geoffrey says:

    Well I’m depressed.

  13. Kathleen10 says:

    In the same way an exorcism confirms the faith, it’s just so bad now it does the same thing.
    God will answer, God will answer.

  14. The Astronomer says:

    Actually, Fr. James Martin will do his best to ensure everything IS very pretty.

    He has lots of Lavender-themed allies in high places.

  15. TonyO says:

    The Pessimist is one who says, “Things can’t possibly get any worse!”, while the Optimist brightly responds, “Oh, yes they can!”

    Yes, although I heard the definition the other way around:

    An optimist is one who believes that we live in the best of all possible worlds.
    A pessimist is sure that this, sadly, is quite true.

    (I.E. the pessimist is sure that this world’s past, with its fill of evils up till now, has been the best that is possible, and in all probability it can only get worse from here.)

  16. Mightnotbeachristiantou says:

    I am not sure what the end result will be, but is might not be bad. As @robtbrown stated the College knew each other and we got Francis. This might mean that it will be hard for either side to come in swoop in and get the man they want. The Cardinals coming in are up for grabs and may not like the style of politicking they are seeing and form a third group. It might not be a bad thing. It might not be good either. It all depends on how or even if the those who are old timers try to reach out to those that are new.

  17. Gab says:

    Geoffrey says: Well I’m depressed.

    Me too! And then I remembered what a wise priest once told me, in no uncertain terms, that ” Be instructed: Where there is life and breath, there’s hope. We honor at the altar saints who were once wicked or tepid or confused before something happened to them. Who knows?” and he exhorted prayers and Rosaries.

    So we must amp up our prayers for the Pope and the Cardinals and Bishops, as well as our priests. And do penance for them and remember that God always has a plan.

  18. Say 9 times in one sitting. It is St. Mother Teresa’s Flying Novena. I pray this a lot and believe me, she answers me swiftly. ?

    Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.

    Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy clemency hear and answer me.


  19. robtbrown says:


    Neo-con Catholics are fine with Catholic moral doctrine, esp. sexual, but are also fine with the Novus Ordo state of liturgy, vernacular versus populum, as long as there’s not foolishness.

  20. robtbrown says:

    Mightnot . . . ,

    I didn’t say they knew each other. I said almost all of them had all been named by JPII and BXVI, which means that they wouldn’t have been known lefties.

  21. TonyO says:

    My priestly correspondent noted, “the revolution now is secure for at least another century – with worse to follow.”

    Yes, this seems to be the case. With Francis’s clearly using the power of the papacy to appoint cardinals like himself in theology and sympathies, he trying to create a leadership that would never go back to someone like JPII or Benedict, much less Pius XII or Pius IX. From here, it is impossible to clearly foresee the termination of such a programme. One can foretell in general terms, naturally, that these forces have built-in the seeds of their own demise, but how it will come to fruition is difficult to say. Only that they will cause much suffering before it gets better.

    I didn’t say they knew each other. I said almost all of them had all been named by JPII and BXVI, which means that they wouldn’t have been known lefties.

    robtbrown, this unfortunately is not true. JPII and Benedict were responsible for appointing Cardinal Marx, for example. And Cardinal Carlo Maria Montini. They appointed several members of the St. Galen mafia. Although Cardinal Daneels was appointed by Paul VI (I think), JPII appointed him to 5 or 6 different Vatican congregations over time.

    The sad reality is that both JPII and Benedict failed to (a) make any major correction to the process of choosing new bishops to ensure that they were sound, and (b) turned a blind eye to the notion that they should sift through the lists of potential appointees with a “political” lens (using “political” not in the ordinary sense, but in the theological sense that there are “sides” in the theological debate and there are thus partisans for this or that theological side). They seemed determined to pretend that there ARE NOT “sides” in the Church, and that they don’t have to pick a side do their jobs well. The problem with this point of view is that there were more and more modernists inside the Church, (using “modernist” in the way St. Pope Pius X used it), thus any side that teams up with modernism is per se wrong, and making sure they stay out of the positions of power is a strict obligation of those given the positions of power in the Church.

    Pope Francis, unfortunately for us, has no problem picking new bishops and cardinals who see things just the same way he does, and equally has no problem rejecting sound and wholesome bishops as appointees for the cardinal’s hat. He is perfectly willing to use his power to further his side of the divide.

    So under good popes, the college of cardinals got slowly worse because of their being a-political, and under the current pope it is becoming quickly worse because of his being political. The only possible correction must involve some future pope determinately getting rid of the bad ones, and correcting the process itself so that good bishops (only) advance to the red hat.

  22. It seems to me that “atomization” can be overcome, and 21st century technology makes it easier than ever.

    Further, I think it is probably the case that just because Pope Francis is making his cardinal picks in a significantly different way, that does not equal liberal, liberal, liberal. Neither the pope nor his advisors can know all the men they are picking to be bishops, or even all those they rely on from the locale for advice. If, as it seems, Pope Francis is picking many of these as symbolic or expressive appointments, it seems rather likely the successful candidates are not uniform in their views. That would be rather difficult.

    That is even more true if you consider that the pope isn’t necessarily pursuing an easily categorized ideological agenda, which would be the case if he really is a kind of ecclesiastical Peron. Don’t give too much credence to those leftists who claim he is their guy; people on the outside always make such claims, either as wishful thinking or to boost their own profile. Reagan was never as conservative as connected conservatives claimed, hopefully, and the same was true about Bill Clinton from the liberal angle.

    I am not saying Pope Francis has no agenda, I am saying it may not fit into neat categories, and even when it does, there are all manner of ways the agenda gets frustrated by various necessary compromises or human frailties.

    Or to put it another way, your opposition may want you to think it is a monolithic juggernaut, but that doesn’t mean it is, or even is trying to be; and even if it did try to be, that is really hard to pull off, humans being human.

  23. Benedict Joseph says:

    At once a blisteringly painful, realistic and faith filled analysis. This won’t be “righted” while we walk the earth. It is impossible to omit saying that some very wise men allowed this atrocity to transpire by taking consolation in naïveté and falling into cowardliness.
    The human condition is agonizing to behold.

  24. robtbrown says:

    Tony O,

    Note that I said KNOWN lefties.

    It was well known that German bishops were infected with low grade Lutheranism. Years ago Cardinal Ratzinger warned the Curia about the situation in Germany. The inner circle (read Sodano, Dziwisz, and Re) thought he was exaggerating.

    (Imho, there were two reasons for doing nothing. First, Rome was so concerned about a united Europe that they didn’t want to do anything that might delay it. Second, Italians knees knock at the mention of Germany.

    German bishops aren’t lefties, primarily interested in overthrowing authority. They just want to do what they want and keep the coffers full.

    Keep in mind that Ignatius Press, hardly a lefty publishing house, published at least one book by Kasper. I read two of his non Ignatius books and thought him a theological putz.

  25. Les Buissonets says:

    Father, is it accidental that ‘poof’ in British English, is (or was – I’m in my sixties) a slang term for a somewhat effeminate homosexual?

  26. Semper Gumby says:

    robtbrown: Thanks

  27. Gaetano says:

    On the bright side, the list of cardinals once again failed to include Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B, who at age 83 would be a non-voting member.

  28. seeker says:

    Angelo Roncalli said his Guardian Angel prayer several times a day, including when he was Pope John 23rd. He would pray to his guardian angel when he had difficult meetings and send his GA to meet with the other person’s. He wrote to his niece, Angela, a nun, and recommended she do the same.
    There are 215 cardinals (upon information and belief) so maybe that would be an effective way to lobby them.

  29. “Also, the fact that men to whom Rome is truly a foreign concept are being made cardinals, who don’t have their own sense of the Roman thing, of Romanità, of how things work and how to network, power blocks will coalesce around well-known, even famous, cardinals, whose names are in the news all the time, movers and shakers: Tagle, Marx, Maradiaga, Baldisieri …”

    No offense, Father, but … Tagle? A power broker??

    Have you met the man? I have. I’ve MC’d for him twice. I never met a prelate less inclined to wield a big stick (or crozier, in this case) with anyone. He would be completely out of his element anywhere beyond the see of Manila, unless he could take enough of them with him.

    No, he’s no Benedict, but he’s no Francis either.

    [No, he is neither. But what Tagle is, besides charming and a polyglot, is the head of Caritas International. Think about it.]

  30. Tooksam says:

    How are we to take Pope Francis seriously when he makes pro life speeches and then does this?

  31. G1j says:

    Elections of Cardinals as we have just seen and are being discussed in this thread are bold signs of where the RC Church is heading. They reek of modernism and unfortunately will do nothing in the future to bring unity back to our faith. Fr. Z spoke of “Uniting the Clans” last week and these elections are nothing but an upper level assault on traditional Catholic teachings and will bear fruit of creating greater division in the future. Pay, Pray, and Obey is becoming increasingly difficult to conform to. Our beautiful faith is under siege.

  32. gretta says:

    Back in 2009, John Allen wrote a book called “The Future Church.” I have found it to be both insightful and prescient. It posits what happens if/when the Church moves from being Eurocentric to Global in its leadership and priorities. It particularly reflects on what happens when the global south becomes more of an influence, because they have ecclesiastical priorities that do not necessarily mirror the priorities of Europe and the English-speaking world. With international Cardinals being chosen that are not Roman-trained in outlook, the Church’s leadership is going to reflect more of the Global South’s concerns and priorities – priorities that do not fall easily into our categories of conservative/liberal/modern, etc. It is an enlightening read, even ten years later. It also reflects what Fr. Fox said above, that these Cardinals likely are not easily put into our categories and that the lens we are using to evaluate them may not be accurate.

  33. Emilio says:

    One has to be careful with using the term “neocon” condescendingly. Most “trads” at EF coffee hours will sneer at me for the simple reason that I also love reverent OF Masses, the Ordinariate, the Eastern Liturgies. Not being exclusive to the EF is enough to earn one’s fair share of acid from some among EF communities. Many of us in the bad ole days of the pre-Summorum indult were in the trenches alongside our “trad” brethren, enduring the mockery and fighting for the rights that culminated with Summorum Pontificum. This “neocon” grew up with EWTN, and I prefer my OF like Pope Benedict prefers his, thanks very much. If BOTH Forms are good enough for him, they are good enough for me. The wise will stop contributing to the division amongst ourselves and will find ways to close ranks, once again. The times call for them, and I think we can all rise above the pettiness.

  34. RLseven says:

    I am not writing off the Holy Spirit. I believe the Spirit was at work in Francis’ election as much as any other pope’s. If we don’t believe this, we might as well find a new election process. Francis was chosen by God for a reason, and I put my trust in that. Is he all you want him to be. Clearly not. Has he been faithful to the Gospel? More often than not, yes.

    Feel your despair or depression, but don’t get stuck there. There is work to do! Focus on the Gospel, not on politics.

    Isaiah 55:9-11

  35. Semper Gumby says:

    Emilio: A fair point.

    Certainly, with all the various usages of “neo-con” or “neocon” (or for that matter with other shorthand references) these days, one can argue until the cows come home about the precise meaning and applicability.

    Though, having read robtbrown’s comments for several years, I think robtbrown is being candid or straightforward with his outlook rather than condescending or inflammatory.

  36. Geoffrey says:

    ‘One has to be careful with using the term “neocon” condescendingly. Most “trads” at EF coffee hours will sneer at me for the simple reason that I also love reverent OF Masses, the Ordinariate, the Eastern Liturgies. Not being exclusive to the EF is enough to earn one’s fair share of acid from some among EF communities…’

    I agree, though I am not holding my breath. I thought name-calling was something only children engaged in.

  37. Semper Gumby says:

    Geoffrey: Your usage of “name-calling” in the context of quoting Emilio is unclear, it can refer to the “trads,” robtbrown, or to Emilio.

    While we’re at it, in the quote you reference notice the use of “most” followed by “some.”

  38. robtbrown says:


    1. I am not a trad, “trad”, tradie, or Trad. I am a Thomist in intention, education, and personal/public practice–who understands the importance of Latin in the Church.

    2. The first time I ever heard “neocon” used in an ecclesial sense was by my students, most of whom are now priests. It still is a good way of making certain distinctions.

    3. No doubt that there are Novus Ordo Masses that are said with reverence. I am concerned, however, with liturgy rather than reverence, which is subjective. The historical Roman Rite better expresses the essence of the Eucharist than does the Novus Ordo (even without its later additions, e.g., Communion in the hand).

    4. You object to my comments as divisive. Reverence, however, is an individual act, thus itself is divisive. For example, the common use of Entrance (or Communion) Songs instead of singing the Introit or Communion antiphon is non liturgical and intended to produce reverence devotion.

    And I might add that Latin is Catholic, by definition the vernacular is not (catholic means universal, vernacular means local). Thus, the vernacular is the source of the divisiveness that so concerns you.

  39. robtbrown says:


    The pope is elected by Cardinals. It is not the teaching of the Church that the man chosen by conclave is God’s choice.

  40. samwise says:

    Crux is unfortunately accurate in reporting the following (Gomez will be next USCCB president):
    The obvious candidate for the Americans waiting at the altar again this time is Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, one of the largest archdioceses in the world and one that’s been led by a cardinal since 1953.

  41. samwise says:

    I am a fan of Gomez, if that wasn’t clear

  42. RLseven says:

    rotbrown– The cardinals gather for Mass pre-election to invoke the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and each prays before casting his ballot. If this is truly a discerning process that it’s meant to be, and the cardinals take that seriously (the guidance of the Holy Spirit, especially), then I think it’s safe to say that God has chosen the pope, through them. I might not like a particular pope or his leanings, but I try to pay attention to the invitation that God might be offering me to listen, consider, grow, and even change.

    Are you suggesting it’s no different than any other election process? Just comes down to politics?Because if that’s the case, then why bother, really? Do you feel also that Benedict and John Paul were not chosen by God? Or do you believe they were– because you agree with them?

  43. robtbrown says:

    No, it’s not safe to say it. Perhaps the following Ratzinger comments will help:

    Ironically, one of the most famous comments about the actions of the Spirit in a conclave came from the person who is now the Pope Emeritus. In 1997, when asked on Bavarian television whether or not the Spirit chooses the pope, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger answered:

    “I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope…I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.”

    Then the German theologian got to the heart of the matter: “There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!”

  44. RLseven says:

    Yes, he’s speaking about discernment in the Holy Spirit, rotbrown. We are saying essentially the same thing. I didn’t imagine the cardinals received emails or text messages from God with a name on it!

    The Scripture authors listened. They did not hear God dictating to them– they felt God’s Word, lived it, explored it, wrestled with it, prayed about it. This kind of listening is the spirit of the conclave.

    “There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!” His opinion. Only God knows.

  45. pjthom81 says:

    I am an incorrigible optimist just the same. Allow me to make an observation. The Eastern Orthodox were once beset by Iconoclasm. For much of the 700s and 800s it appeared that Iconoclasm would prevail. As is well known, it came in two waves. The Iconoclasts appeared to prevail under Emperor Theophilius, however even during his lifetime the movement withered away. Shortly after his death it too past from the stage of history…not with a bang but with a whimper. My suspicion is that the rationale was generational….it surfaced with a youthful generation led by a charismatic Leo III, was dislodged but rose again to prominence as its members reached the age at which point authority must be vested by operation of age. It past with them out of a mixture of philosophical exhaustion and general indifference. I think a similar pattern may exist here. The leadership that directed the various changes….authorized by Rome and not during the course of the 20 years after 1965 have largely past. The foot soldiers of that era have now taken their place in the hierarchy. They would appear to be at the peak of their power. And yet, how many young Catholics believe as they do? How many young Priests? The Catholics I know tend either toward Traditional or Neo-Conservative Catholicism. Those who are liberal have left…and I do not see them returning. Any attempt to return the Church to the trajectory of the 1970s will fail since that version of the Church no longer exists. Those who remain in the West have had to think long and hard as to the culture wars and it will not be possible to simply assure them that this time their concerns are overblown and the teachings of Scripture and Tradition can now safely be changed to suit the mood and ethos of the time.

  46. samwise says:

    Kishore Jabalan of Acton Institute on the Cardinals:
    “We should be skeptical of conspiracy theories, mainly because they assume too much skill and intelligence from conspirators. Experience tells us ignorance and incompetence are much more common among those holding power and influence. ”

  47. Semper Gumby says:

    robtbrown: Great quote by Cardinal Ratzinger.

  48. Semper Gumby says:

    RLseven wrote:

    “Feel your despair or depression, but don’t get stuck there.”

    Some may view this sentence as a bromide.

    “Focus on the Gospel, not on politics.”

    This is an arbitrary command.

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