ROME – Pope Francis raised 13 new cardinals to the highest rank in the Catholic hierarchy Saturday and immediately warned them not to use their titles for corrupt, personal gain, presiding over a ceremony marked from beginning to end by the coronavirus pandemic.
Two new “princes” of the church, from Brunei and the Philippines, didn’t make it to Rome because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, though they were shown on giant screens watching it from home in the nearly empty St. Peter's Basilica. Throughout the socially distanced ceremony, which clocked in at an unusually quick 45 minutes, cardinals new and old wore protective masks.
Most removed their masks when they approached a maskless Francis to receive their red hats, but Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the first African-American cardinal, kept his on. Gregory also was one of the only new cardinals who kept his mask on when the group paid a singing courtesy visit to retired Pope Benedict XVI.
During his homily, Francis warned the new cardinals against falling into corruption or using their new rank for personal advancement, saying that just because they have a new title, “Eminence,” doesn’t mean they should drift from their people.
His comments reflected Francis’ constant complaint about the arrogance of the clerical class, as well as his current battles to fight corruption in the Vatican hierarchy.
“Let’s think of so many types of corruption in the life of the priesthood,” Francis told the new cardinals, deviating from his prepared text. If they think of themselves so grandly, “you won’t be pastors close to the people, you’ll just be ‘Eminence.’ And if you feel this way, you’ll have strayed off the road," the pope warned.
The ceremony, known as a consistory, is the seventh of Francis’ pontificate and once again reflected the Argentine pope’s effort to name cardinals from places that have never had them before or whose service to the church he wants to highlight. Nine are under age 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope, further solidifying the majority of Francis-appointed, voting-age prelates in the College of Cardinals.
Gregory, the new archbishop of Washington, told The Associated Press ahead of the ceremony that he viewed his appointment as “an affirmation of Black Catholics in the United States, the heritage of faith and fidelity that we represent.”