Yaren, Nauru – In his drive to widen the cultural profile of the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis is determined to appoint newly ordained, Paul-James Waqa, of the tiny island nation of Nauru.
Fr. Waqa is the first native Nauran to be ordained to the priesthood, whose Catholic population is just slightly higher than that of the Vatican.
“Truly this is the papacy of firsts,” remarked Vatican-watcher and WSJ correspondent, Henry Lacey. “The second smallest nation state in the world will be sending its native son to the smallest nation state in the world, the Vatican.”
Although the young Nauran has not even been a priest for a full year yet, Vatican insiders have indicated that Pope Francis was eager to have the South Pacific better represented.
Obviously, the agenda here is about fresh blood and reaching out to places that don’t usually have a voice. However, there are other possible consequences to consider of bypassing the usual suspects.
According to a 2007 study by the National Conference of State Legislatures, term limits have weakened legislatures by depriving them of veteran leadership, and correspondingly strengthened the hands of three other actors: lobbyists, the executive branch, and unelected bureaucrats.
Any comparison between the Vatican and an American state house is destined to be inexact, but there are some parallels worth considering.
Prelates who have no Vatican experience, who don’t speak Italian, and who don’t themselves have the experience of running a large and complex ecclesiastical operation, may feel a natural tendency to defer to the old hands — generally meaning the same Vatican mandarins whom Francis recently excoriated for suffering from “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and the “terrorism of gossip.”
There’s also institutional psychology to consider.
Vatican insiders will tell you that when the cardinal of, say, Chicago, or Cologne, or Milan, shows up in their offices, he’s taken seriously indeed. Those are all places where a reigning cardinal presides over an infrastructure and a payroll that are actually much larger than the Vatican’s, where he usually enjoys a high media profile and perceived political clout.
It’s not clear that the cardinal of Tonga or Cape Verde will have quite the same muscle, at least right out of the gate.
The bottom line is that Francis may run the risk of bolstering the old guard rather than cutting it down to size.