Pope meets with cardinals on the future direction of the Church | Way of life

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Pope Francis recently concluded two days of closed-door meetings with around 180 cardinals, many young enough to elect a future pontiff, including discussions on how the governance of the Catholic Church could be made more inclusive.

The sessions focused on a new apostolic constitution which, among other things, allows lay people to lead important Vatican offices, envisioning greater decision-making roles for them, including women.

But since the Church closed the door to women in the priesthood, the most prestigious and ultimately the most powerful roles – including that of pontiff – remain the domain of men.

The reforms also give more institutional weight to efforts to address clerical sexual abuse. The document, made public earlier this year, replaced the constitution drafted by Saint John Paul II in 1988.

On Saturday, August 24, Francis elevated 20 clergymen to the rank of cardinal, including 16 under the age of 80 and therefore entitled to vote in conclave to elect his successor when the time comes.

Until the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in 2013, the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to do so, conclaves in recent centuries had followed the deaths of popes. Francis, who is 85, said resignation can be a valid option for pontiffs who cannot properly fulfill their role as leaders of the world’s more than 1.3 billion Catholics.

But he brushed off rumors that he plans to retire soon despite health issues including a bad knee that requires frequent wheelchair use.

In his homily during a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to close the meetings, Francis gave no details of the discussions this week. But he urged cardinals, known as ‘princes of the church’, to beware of the ‘cancer, the woodworm, of worldly spirituality’.

While in Rome these days, cardinals around the world could gauge each other. Meetings, including informal ones, allow them to see who might have the potential to become a future pope as well as to consider possible alliances between geographic groupings or between like-minded clerics from more conservative or progressive factions.

The Vatican said among the topics discussed were the role of the laity, financial transparency, the management structure of the Vatican bureaucracy as well as how “to announce the Gospel in times like today.”

Francis has worked to reform the finances of the Holy See, including its multi-million dollar investments, one of which is at the heart of an ongoing Holy See lawsuit involving, among others, a Vatican cardinal.

Francis tried to make the church more welcoming to those who might feel unwanted, including LGBTQ Catholics, or undervalued, including women.

On Monday last week, half a dozen female activists demonstrated as cardinals, in their signature red headgear, flocked to the meeting on the grounds of the Vatican. The women held up red umbrellas with slogans saying, “Sexism is a cardinal sin.” Other slogans were: “It’s reigning men” and “Order women”.

One protester, Miriam Duignan, lamented that the cardinals “were going to talk about the future of the church without half the church”.

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