Rorate Caeli

The College of Super-Cardinals

It would be hard to overstate the importance of the new body gathered by the Pope - the one that, due to its characteristics and direct dependence on the Pontiff, we chose to name the Pope's "Privy Council".

It is a characteristic of bureaucracies to expand indefinitely: "Parkinson's Law works everywhere," as Mikhail Gorbachev once wryly remarked. If it is confirmed, as it seems likely, as a permanent feature of the reorganized structure of the auxiliary organs of the papacy, after the approval of the reform this new organ itself will study, then its position will depend on what exactly the new arrangement of the Curia will be. Will most existing organs be extinguished, or will they linger on as merely or mostly decorative positions, as so many curial offices once relevant?

It is very likely this new Council will subsist - it was obviously something very much in the mind of the voting Cardinals in the past conclave. Was its establishment part of the electoral negotiations?... A future and more detailed history of the conclave will probably one day reveal it.

To understand what structure mostly inspired the creation of the new Council, one does not have to look further than the Society of Jesus itself. As it is currently constituted, the "Jesuit Curia" is composed of "general counsellors" the majority of whom are Regional Assistants:

When Father General is in Rome, he begins every day meeting with his “General Counsellors”.

The election of those counsellors shows a balance of power between the newly elected Superior General and the General Congregation who has elected him.

Fr. General is the one who appoints (now nine) Regional Assistants, and several other General Counsellors.

The General Congregation elects four Assistants “ad providentiam”. Their function is to assist the Superior General on behalf of the whole Society. The assistance called for deals with external matters “such as clothing, food and any expenditure touching upon the General’s person”, preventing him “from going beyond measure in labours or excessive severity”, and attending “to his soul in case necessity might arise”.

Among the General Counsellors there is a Counsellor for Formation and Fr. General’s Delegate, responsible for the governance of the international Jesuit houses in Rome.

One curiosity? While some form of continental representation was obviously on the Pope's mind as he assembled his Privy Council, as it happens in the Jesuit Curia, the three nations with the largest number of (nominal) Catholics  - Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines - are not represented in this group of Super-Cardinals.

[Note: image just a (not very) artistic rendition.]