What Cardinal Tagle's Appointment as "The Red Pope" Means For Him and the Catholic Church
In 2013, before Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was named as pope, Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle or Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, was widely considered as a papabile—someone who is a strong contender to the papacy. He was seen as the young, energetic, and tech-savvy cardinal who had massive following on social media, which he used as a powerful tool to reach younger audiences. The election for a new pope took two days and two rounds of voting, in which Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina was elected, choosing to go by the name Pope Francis. In the months that followed, Cardinal Tagle’s popularity did not waver and became known as the Asian Francis.
Cardinal Tagle: The Asian Francis
Mere days into his papacy, Pope Francis had become a rockstar: He eschewed the ostentatious ways of many men of the Holy Orders, preferring the simpler things, whether in his garments, food, and sleeping quarters. He rejected the palatial quarters at the building of the Roman Curia, preferring to live in a dormitory beside St. Peter’s Basilica. He regularly went out incognito to visit Rome’s poor. He even called out his own priests and bishops who lived lavish lives. He took a more compassionate stance toward LGBT issues, preferring not to condemn its members, but accept them with understanding. It’s easy to see how his ascendance to the papacy electrified the Church.
But there is another man in the east who had been doing and preaching the same stuff. When international media learned that Cardinal Tagle took the tricycle and jeepney going to work, they were astounded. “His compassion for the poor and his unassuming ways have impressed followers in his homeland, Asia's largest Catholic nation, and church leaders in the Vatican,” wrote Daniel Miller in Daily Mail.
Just like Francis’ rockstar status, Tagle enjoys the same in his Manila hometown. He speaks out for migrants and refugees and works silently to feed thousands of the city's poor. Just like Francis, he is easily moved to tears whenever he talks about the poor. In 2015, Tagle was elected by a wide margin of cardinals as the Church’s global leader for Caritas, its charitable arm. His popularity not only among his people but also among the cardinals, is a strong indicator that he could be the next pope after Francis.
Cardinal Tagle’s Compassion for LGBT
In 2017, Tagle was heavily criticized by conservative members of the church when he launched the Lazarus Project with the hashtag #ResurrectLove. Lazarus Project is a video that shows the reaction of people to five different characters in church: an escort, a gay couple, a homeless man, and a transgender attending Holy Mass. The video was meant to promote acceptance and compassion for marginalized members of society people who are often discriminated against.
One of the harshest critics was Michael Hitchborn, founder of the U.S.-based Lepanto Institute, who argued that Tagle shouldn’t be elevated as the Vatican’s Prefect of Propaganda because he is allegedly pro-LGBT. “The video is pure propaganda for the embrace of practicing homosexuals and transgenders as being in full communion with the body of the faithful,” Hitchborn explains.
Despite the criticisms, Tagle remains popular, thanks to his ability to connect with people regardless of age, social status, or gender.
Cardinal Tagle as the Red Pope
On December 8, 2019, Pope Francis elevated Cardinal Tagle to lead the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, one of the top posts in the Roman Curia. The position is so important that its leader is also called the Papa Rosso or the Red Pope. It is the second most important position in the Vatican, next to the papacy.
As the Red Pope, Tagle will be the Roman Curia’s Prefect of Propaganda, which is an understatement considering the amount of power and resources that Tagle will command as its chief. “The department known as Propaganda Fide is something of an empire,” writes Christopher Lamb in The Tablet. As the Red Pope, Tagle will have the power to appoint bishops, and will be responsible for most of the Church’s work in Asia, Africa, and Oceania.
As the Red Pope, Tagle is now solidified as the top contender for the next papacy. Some Vatican analysts view the appointment as Francis’ endorsement of the Filipino prelate as his successor. Historically, cardinals elect papabiles who have experience at the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s governing body.
Tagle’s appointment to the post is also indicative of the Church’s recognition that much of its growth and resources now come from its fastest-growing regions of Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Pope Francis himself has argued that the “de-Europeanization” is starting to bear fruits in Asia, where the Church is maturing. “In Asia, we see the beginning of strong theological thinking. The Philippines are also a clear example of how this is coming to be,” said Pope Francis.
Other analysts view the appointment as Pope Francis’ strategy to surround himself with reformist cardinals like himself, who will not only take on corruption at the Roman Curia, but also aggressively implement crucial reforms that the Church needs.
Although Cardinal Tagle’s appointment to the Vatican’s highest post is a great loss to Manila, we can expect that his new position will not only shake up the Curia, but also give it a new personality that is humble, poor, sensitive, and compassionate.