Up close and personal with the Pope's Cardinal advisers

Group has achieved comfort level

It might seem like Pope Francis' Council of Cardinal Advisers hasn't yet delivered many sweeping reforms, but the Pontiff consults with the group on 75-80 percent of all the big decisions he makes, reports Crux.

When one thinks of Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, and Vladimir Putin getting together on a semi-regular basis as members of the G8, it’s easy to imagine clashes between these strong personalities - and, of course, we don’t really have to imagine it, since some of those run-ins are well documented.

A similar expectation of butting heads naturally comes to mind when thinking of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinal Advisers, which since the first year of his election has been meeting to advise him on the reform of the Church’s governing body in the Vatican, the Roman Curia.

Long-time Vatican watchers couldn’t avoid surprise when it was announced that widely differing figures such as German Reinhard Marx, Australian George Pell, and Laurent Monsengwo, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, would all be meeting on average four times a year. It seemed highly plausible that they’d spend a fair amount of their time taking swipes at each other.

Yet according to one of those personalities, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, from India, the group’s diversity is also its main strength.

Speaking at the Casa Santa Marta, the residence on Vatican grounds where the “C9” holds its sessions, Cardinal Gracias said the council is a “collegial body [where] no one dominates, and everybody has a chance to speak.”

“I can see why from the outside some might think differently . . . not all [of us] have the same ideas . . . we would differ, but it has to be like this,” he said. “There’s no one there you can say who doesn’t have a strong personality and strong views, and no one changes them quickly.”

One of those who has a chance to speak, of course, is Francis himself. He attends each session, spending the mornings and afternoons with the group, and one way in which the Pontiff underscores the collegial atmosphere is that he raises his hand when he wants to chime in.

“At the beginning it was a bit weird, to see him putting up his hand,” Cardinal Gracias said, adding that sometimes he has to nudge Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga from Honduras, who co-ordinates the meetings, to notice that the Pontiff has something to say.

The body, which Cardinal Gracias describes as the “cabinet of ministers of the Holy Father,” has become the “sounding board” of this papacy.

With 15 meetings under their belt, the nine cardinals, according to Cardinal Gracias, have achieved a comfort level in which they can tell Francis when they believe he’s said or done something they found inappropriate.

Photo: Pope Francis poses with cardinal advisers during a meeting at the Vatican (CNS/Reuters)

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Going behind the scenes with the Pope’s sounding board

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