What is Pope Francis’s Problem with Eastern Europe?

Sviatoslav Shevchuk
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Recently, Pope Francis announced a new consistory of selections for cardinals. This consistory marks the first for the Argentine pope since 2020 and perhaps his last if either the recent rumors of his pending resignation or his failing health are true. After almost a decade of his papacy, Pope Francis provides few surprises in his selections. If anything, the new cardinals simply reinforce what we always knew. 

In this summer consistory, Pope Francis yet again snubbed Eastern Europe of new cardinals. In his entire time as pope, Francis has only ever named one Eastern European cardinal, namely Cardinal Konrad Krajewski of Poland in 2018. He does this despite Eastern Europe carrying the mantle of Catholicism in Europe for some time now, though perhaps that’s the point. Francis would prefer to elevate, for example, the German Church, which promoted intercommunion with Lutherans and blessings for same-sex unions, as opposed to the Church in Poland or Hungary which still defends orthodox Catholicism. 

Pope Francis showed particular contradiction in his selections with regard to the issue of Ukraine. With the war still ravaging the country, Pope Francis has rightly voiced support for Ukrainian Catholics, as well as calling for the Church to pray for them. However, the pope yet again denied 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 Ukraine’s time of great need, elevating 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 bent, the Ukrainian people themselves remain traditional and religious. Pope Francis would never elevate a man from such a background to the College of Cardinals. 

For most of the 20th century, Catholics in Eastern Europe stood up to the two great regimes of the century, communism and fascism. Through brutal persecutions, people such as the Poles pushed back against the atheistic regimes of Hitler’s Nazis and Stalin’s Soviets. Such persecutions brought the Church great saints, such as St. Maximillian Kolbe, who took the place of a man in a firing line in Auschwitz; Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, who had stones tied to his feet and was thrown in a reservoir by communist agents; and Pope St. John Paul II, who was a key world leader behind the fall of communism, among others. 

Now Eastern Europe pushes back against the predations of the third great regime of modern times: liberalism and its promotion of atheism, the destruction of the family, and rule by “expert.” 

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

While nations like Italy see their birth rates plummet, Hungary implements pro-family policies which have helped boost birthrates. The Churches in the nations of Eastern Europe continue to promote orthodox Catholic teachings. Yet the pope continues to give them the cold shoulder.

Forty-one voting-aged cardinals from Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Region will enter the college. These selections are meant to reflect growing Catholic populations from 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 proved bulwarks against the liberal agenda in the Church. 

However, one must err on the side of caution, as Pope Francis will likely do his best to find more Cardinal Turkson types among the African bishops. Still, most selections from the aforementioned regions remain largely unknown to Western media sources, so we can still hope Pope Francis made some picks he will come to regret.

Pope Francis promoted Germanic Brazilian Archbishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner (not exactly a Portuguese surname) to the College of Cardinals as well. Archbishop Steiner represents Manaus Brazil, and he was a key figure in organizing the disastrous Amazonian Synod in Rome, which saw the Pachamama idol brought into the Vatican. Archbishop Steiner represents a relatively recent trend of Brazilian bishops of German expatriate background with questionable origin. Such figures were instrumental in bringing the German liberal theological traditions to Latin America and creating new theological strains, such as liberation theology. 

Many conservative and traditional Catholics look at the recent consistory with a feeling of despair, thinking that the next pope will be a Francis 2.0, since Pope Francis has selected almost 60 percent of the cardinals of voting age. Still, as previously mentioned, many of the new cardinals come from more conservative areas of the world, and many of them remain unknown to the West. So, one can still hope that the “God of surprises,” as the pope likes to say, will give the Church something no one expected. 

One may think back to the papacy of Blessed Pope Pius IX, who many thought would become a great liberal reformer in the Church. Though he was more liberally minded at the start of his papacy, Blessed Pope Pius IX became a defender of orthodoxy in the Church, published the Syllabus of Errors condemning 80 heresies, and dogmatized the Church’s teaching on the Immaculate Conception. So perhaps the Church can expect a hypothetical “Pope Francis II” to follow the current Pope Francis, but we can still hold out hope that another Blessed Pope Pius IX is waiting in the College of Cardinals.

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

By

Thomas Shaffern studied history, philosophy, and theology at the University of Scranton. He is now a high school teacher in Pennsylvania.

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