A cardinal-elect has renounced ordination as a bishop so as to continue being “simple priest” allowed “to die in my Franciscan habit”.

– “What I could do as a ‘fisherman’ I can still do by announcing the word of God”

“I have asked the Pope for a dispensation from episcopal ordination”, 86-year-old Capuchin friar Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa confirmed in a November 17 interview with the Diocese of Rieti.

“The bishop’s job is to be a shepherd and a fisherman. At my age, I could do little as a ‘shepherd’, but what I could do as a ‘fisherman’ I can still do by announcing the word of God. I also have a desire to die in my Franciscan habit”, the religious explained with regard to his decision not to receive ordination as a bishop – a step which in the eyes of canon law would have placed him outside his order.

“The appointment of cardinals over the age of 80 does not imply any particular pastoral commitment”, Cantalamessa, a self-described “simple priest”, added.

“Therefore, thanks to God and the Pope, I will be able to continue to live my life as usual, preaching within the limits imposed by my age, and at this time by the pandemic, and residing… in the Hermitage of Merciful Love in Cittaducale, while I still belong… to the General Curia of the Capuchins in Rome”.

– Preacher to the Papal Household heard the news of his red hat “”like everyone else, listening live to the Pope’s Angelus”

Last month, Pope Francis announced that he would make Cantalamessa a cardinal along with twelve other men in a consistory to be held November 28.

The friar said he received that piece of news “like everyone else, listening live to the Pope’s Angelus on Sunday October 25”. “If I didn’t have such a special name… I would have thought it was someone else!”, the cardinal-elect confessed.

For the past 40 years, Cantalamessa has been the Preacher to the Papal Household, the only cleric with permission to preach to the Pope.

Under Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis, the friar has led the Roman Curia through their annual meditations for Advent, Lent and Good Friday, and also preached to cardinals in the 2005 and 2013 conclaves.

Though Cantalamessa will receive the red hat November 28, he said the Pope still wants him to continue with his preaching assignment in the Roman Curia.

“The Holy Father has informed me that he wants my mission to continue… and I have already begun work on the Advent preaching to be held this year in the Paul VI Hall, to allow the distance required by the epidemic”, the friar explained in that sense.

– Two cardinals-designate forced to scrap trips to Rome due to pandemic

As he prepares his sermons for the Pope for Advent, Cantalamessa will continue residing in Cittaducale, he confirmed, where he accompanies a community of Poor Clare nuns.

From his perspective of 60 years of priesthood, he shared a warning to the Church and the world: “Religion and the gospel risk becoming a pretext for interests that have nothing to do with the gospel and do not really promote concord and unity among believers and among people in general”.

Though renouncing episcopal ordination is the exception rather than the rule for cardinals-elect, it is still a possibility provided for in canon law (CIC can. 351). Two other priests who are also cardinals-elect – Mauro Gambetti, the Custodian of the Sacred Convent of Assisi, and Enrico Feroci, the parish priest of Holy Mary of the Divine Love in Castel di Leva – were both to be made bishops before receiving the red hat November 28.

In the meantime, preparations for the forthcoming consistory are proceeding apace, even if at least two of the new cardinal nominees – Jose F. Advincula of Capiz, in the Philippines, and Cornelius Sim, the apostolic vicar of Brunei – have been forced to cancel their trips to Rome because of the coronavirus pandemic.

More news on cardinals, on Novena:

Pope names 13 new cardinals, announces consistory for November 28

Analysis by Novena US contributor Matt Kappadakunnel: By naming Wilton Gregory a cardinal, the Pope is sending a powerful message that Black Lives Matter


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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.