VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis, joined by the church’s newest cardinals in Mass on Sunday, warned against mediocrity as well as seeking out “godfathers” to promote one's own career.
Eleven of the 13 new cardinals sat near the central altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, where Francis on Saturday had bestowed upon them the red hats symbolizing they are now so-called princes of the church.
Two of the new cardinals couldn’t make it to Rome because of pandemic travel complications. The freshly-minted cardinals who did come to the Vatican wore protective masks and purple vestments, as the Church began the solemn liturgical season of Advent in the run-up to Christmas.
In his homily, Francis decried what he called “a dangerous kind of sleep: it is the slumber of mediocrity.” He added that Jesus “above all else detests lukewarm-ness.”
Being chosen to head Vatican departments or eventually becoming pope themselves could be in any of these new cardinals’ future. Cardinals often advise popes and pick the next pontiff by conferring among themselves and then meeting in secret conclave to select one of their own to lead the Roman Catholic Church and its roughly 1.3 billion rank-and-file faithful.
Francis has often warned against clericalism during his papacy, and he picked up on that theme in Sunday's homily.
“If we are awaited in Heaven, why should we be caught up with earthly concerns? Why should we be anxious about money, fame, success, all of which will fade away?” the pope said.
Deviating from his prepared text, he added: “Why look for godfathers for promoting one’s career?”
In one of the most shocking illustrations of clericalism's dangers, earlier this month, an internal Vatican report concluded that bishops, cardinals and even popes across decades dismissed or downplayed reports of sexual misconduct by a U.S. churchman, Theodore McCarrick.
McCarrick had risen steadily through the ranks of hierarchy, eventually holding the prestigious post of archbishop of Washington, D.C. McCarrick was stripped of his cardinal's rank and defrocked in 2019 after an investigation substantiated allegations of sexual abuse against him.
While the in-house fact-finding noted the roles of Francis and Benedict XVI, his predecessor in the papacy, in not stopping McCarrick's abuse of his position, much of the fault was laid on John Paul II, the long-reigning pontiff who was quickly made saint after his death in 2005. John Paul appointed McCarrick to the Washington post and made him cardinal despite having commissioned an inquiry that confirmed the U.S. prelate shared his bed with seminarians.
Among those raised to cardinal's rank on Saturday by Francis was the current archbishop of Washington, Wilton Gregory, the first African-American cardinal.
Francis in his homily recommended charity as the way for the Church to stay on mission.
“Some people seem to think that being compassionate, helping and serving others is for losers,” Francis said, after decrying indifference.
“When the Church worships God and serves our neighbor, it does not live in the night. However weak and weary, she journeys towards the Lord.”
Francis also prayed that God “rouse us from the slumber of mediocrity; awaken us from the darkness of indifference.”