Musical chairs in the Curia – some thoughts about the latest changes

There’s much to say about Pope Francis’ most recent Curia reshuffle, and a lot has already been said. But, whether you think the changes are good or bad, they are most certainly interesting.

Cardinal-BurkeThe most visible change is of course the transfer of Raymond Cardinal Burke from the Apostolic Signatura to the Order of Malta. Many see this as a demotion, and in a way that is understandable. As Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura his influence on what the Church does with marriage annulments and other difficult legal issues was great. Now he is the Patron of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, a body which offers medical and emergency aid to people all over the world, boasting about 20,000 medical personnel and 80,000 volunteers to make a major difference in disaster areas and for refugees and the sick. The Order retains a level of independence from the time when it was sovereign over Rhodes and later Malta. It has the status of Permanent Observer at the United Nations and issues its own passports. Cardinal Burke has become the Patron of this order and as such does not lead it (that is the duty of the Grand Master of the Order), but is responsible for the spiritual wellbeing and its relations with the Holy See.

There have been Patrons of the Order of Malta only since 1961, and all were cardinals who ended their career in the Church in this position. Cardinal Burke is 66, and many say that his career should be far from over, so this position seems hardly fitting for him. So has Pope Francis promoted Cardinal Burke away because he was an obstacle? The simple answer is that we don’t know, because neither the Pope nor the cardinal have made statements about it. Cardinal Burke did announce that his transfer was coming up (which is unusual in itself), but that is about as far as it goes. However, there are plenty of grounds to make assumptions, and many have done so. I don’t want to that, because, quite frankly, it doesn’t interest me to do so and I think that assumptions and gossip do more bad than good.

Cardinal Burke has been quite present in the media before, during and after the Synod, and he has been a consistent defender of the Catholic faith. It is sad that many don’t hear him because, in my opinion, his communication skills are less than optimal. Too often have there been statements which just begged to be misunderstood, such as when he said that there are faithful who feel as if the Church is sailing without a rudder. Many have seen this as outright criticism of Pope Francis, something that Cardinal Burke has denied. And a reading of his words support this, but that’s not what the audience hears. Subsequent corrections rarely reach their target. That has been a major problem for Cardinal Burke in recent months. It’s not that his words are wrong or his intentions are bad, on the contrary: he deserves to be heard, for what he says is valuable and wise. But communication is difficult, especially via the media. It is never objective, and people for images of people. Cardinal Burke, sadly, has generally become to be seen as a mean old traditionalist who hates mercy and doesn’t understand people. Fro what I gather from certain people who personally know the cardinal, that is far removed from the truth.

This, at least, gives a bit of a bad taste to his transfer, but it’s not all bad. When we heard from Cardinal Burke, it was rarely because of his function at the Signatura. And as Patron of the Order of Malta he is as free as ever to speak, explain and comment, even when his focus is on the charity work of the Order and the spiritual needs of its members.

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tn_giobbe_gifMuch has been made about the fact that Cardinal Burke is very young to be named Patron of the Order of Malta. But is that really true? When we look back at previous Patrons, we see that 66-year-old Cardinal Burke is only slightly on the young side. Below I list his predecessors since the position was created in 1961, and their age upon their appointment:

  • Cardinal Paolo Giobbe, Patron from 1961 to 1969, aged 81 (pictured at right)
  • Cardinal Giacomo Violardo, Patron from 1969 to 1978, aged 71
  • Cardinal Paul-Pierre Philippe, Patron from 1978 to 1984, aged 73
  • Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, Patron from 1984 to 1993, aged 71
  • Cardinal Pio Laghi, Patron from 1993 to 2009, aged 71
  • Cardinal Paolo Sardi, patron from 2010 to 2014, aged 76

So yes, Cardinal Burke is the youngest Patron to date, but the difference in age between him and the three next youngest is only five years. And even when we look at the number of previous assignments and offices held, Cardinal Burke does not stand out. He has held six previous offices, which is more than Cardinals Sardi, Philippe and Violardo. Only Cardinals Laghi and Baggio have held significantly more positions before being made Patron of the Order of Malta.

So, according to the numbers, Cardinal Burke stands out only slightly when it comes to age. The patronage of the Order of Malta has a reputation as being an end station with little importance. The members of the Order will perhaps conclude otherwise, and there is always the example of Cardinal Baggio, who combined it with the office of Chamberlain of the Church…

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But the other two appointments that make up this round of Curia changes are also worth the attention as they raise their own questions and conclusions.

mambertiReplacing Cardinal Burke as Prefect of the Supreme tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (and also as President of the Supreme Court of the Vatican City State) is Archbishop Dominique Mamberti. The Morocco-born French archbishop is a career diplomat, which makes his new appointment somewhat unexpected. As a diplomat, Archbishop Mamberti was Apostolic Nuncio to the ‘difficult’ countries Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia before being called to Rome in 2006 to become the second man at the Secretariat of State, the Secretary for Relations with States, often described as the Vatican ‘foreign affairs minister’. In recent years he has been especially concerned with the plight of Christians and other persecuted minorities in the Middle East. Archbishop Mamberti is titular archbishop of Sagone, and may well be a future cardinal. What the experienced diplomat will bring to the ecclesiastical courts remains to be seen, but a wide outlook influenced by various cultures and societies across the globe seems to be one aspect.

gallagherIn the final act of this curial musical chairs, the new Secretary for the Relations with States comes from England by way of Australia. Archbishop Paul Gallagher is the first Anglophone foreign minister and although he is also fluent in Italian, French and Spanish, his being a native English speaker should be a boon to the international outlook of the Secretariat of State and the Holy See.

Archbishop Gallagher comes from Liverpool and was a priest of that archdiocese until joining the Holy See diplomatic service in 1984. He served in various countries, but his first posting as Apostolic Nuncio, to Burundi, saw him succeeding an assassinated predecessor and he himself was the target of a bombing in 2008. He escaped unscathed as he was abroad at the time. He was later Nuncio to Guatemala and most recently to Australia. He is the titular archbishop of Hodelm and will likely remain so, as the position of Secretary for the Relation with States is traditionally not a cardinalatial position.

Once again, these changes show that Pope Francis does not necessarily choose the obvious candidates for the post, but does attach much weight to diplomatic experience. We see that in the choice of Archbishops Mamberti and Gallagher, and even in the transfer of Cardinal Burke, which may well serve in giving him additional international experience.

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Business as usual – Pope Benedict’s last weeks

benedictIn a third press briefing in as many days, Fr. Federico Lombardi shared the schedule of Pope Benedict’s final days as Pope. As indicated earlier it is nothing out of the ordinary (if you can call such a busy schedule normal for a man of almost 86…) and befitting the personality of the Holy Father. His decision to abdicate, momentous as it is, is also an exercise in humility.  And, if anything, Pope Benedict is a humble man, never working for himself, never seeking the spotlight. Reflecting this, Fr. Dwight Longenecker has a lovely anecdote:

“I met Joseph Ratzinger once on a visit to Rome. I was walking across St Peter’s Square when I noticed the famous figure of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith heading across the square wearing a cassock, overcoat and simple black beret. I smiled and bid him good morning. He smiled back politely and nodded and went on his way to the office. He always did seem better behind the scenes.

His farewell this week was rather like my meeting with him. A simple man walking across the public square of history–happy to be headed to the privacy of his study–where he has some work to do.”

Anyway, on to the schedule:

ash wednesday st. peter's squareWednesday 13 February, Ash Wednesday: In his last public liturgical celebration, Pope Benedict XVI will offer Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Thousands of people are already queueing on St. Peter’s Square to attend this Mass, as pictured at right.

Thursday 14 February: The Holy Father will meet with priests of the Diocese of Rome.

Friday 15 February: A meeting with President Traian Basescu of Romania, followed by a group of Italian bishops on their ad limina visit.

Saturday 16 February: Meetings with President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, a group of Italian bishops on their ad limina visit, and Prime Minister Mario Monti of Italy.

Sunday 17 February: Pope Benedict will pray the Angelus with faithful in St. Peter’s Square, and in the evening he and members of the Curia will start their Lenten retreat. Cardinal Ravasi will lead this retreat, and no activities are planned until the 24th.

Sunday 24 February: Pope Benedict will pray the Angelus with faithful in St. Peter’s Square.

Monday 25 February: A meeting with several cardinals.

Wednesday 27 February: Pope Benedict will hold his final general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Thursday 28 February: Following a farewell address to the College of Cardinals, a helicopter will take the Pope to Castel Gandolfo at 5pm. At 8 o’clock in the evening, the See of Peter falls vacant.

Photo credit: [1] l’Osservatore Romano, [2] Catholic News Service

Pope Benedict: “I have felt your prayers”

Today, Pope Benedict spoke to the faithful for the first time since he announced his abdication. At the general audience he was visibly moved by the standing ovation he received from a Paul VI Hall that was completely filled (it fits 7,000 people).

benedict“Dear brothers and sisters, as you know I decided -” [prolonged applause] “Thank you for your kindness. I decided to resign from the ministry that the Lord had entrusted me on April 19, 2005. I did this in full freedom for the good of the Church after having prayed at length and examined my conscience before God, well aware of the gravity of this act.

I was also well aware that I was no longer able to fulfil the Petrine Ministry with that strength that it demands. What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ whose care and guidance will never be lacking. I thank you all for the love and prayer with which you have accompanied me.

I have felt, almost physically, your prayers in these days which are not easy for me, the strength which the love of the Church and your prayers brings to me. Continue to pray for me and for the future Pope, the Lord will guide us!”

For the next two weeks, Pope Benedict is still our Pope, and the rest of the general audience was very much as it usually is: catechesis and messages to and from the various groups gathered in the hall. As Fr. Lombardi indicated yesterday, all planned activities will continue until the Holy Father’s last working day. These include ad limina visits from Italian bishops, the general audiences, today’s Ash Wednesday Mass, a meeting with the priests of Rome tomorrow, the Angelus prayer on Sundays and visits from the heads of state of Romania and Guatemala.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Cheli passes away

cheli_g_cpf_2Called a “zealous pastor” by Pope Benedict XVI, Giovanni Cardinal Cheli swapped the temporal for the eternal last night, after 94 years of life spent for the most part in service to “the Gospel and to the Church”. The College of Cardinals, of which Cardinal Cheli was a non-voting member, now number 209, with 118 of them electors.

Giovanni Cheli was born in Turin and was ordained for the Diocese of Asti in 1942, after obtaining a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Lateran University. In Asti, he worked as chaplain to the youth section of Catholic Action, and also taught at the diocesan seminary. In 1952, after a time working in Rome and earning a licentiate in theology, Fr. Cheli entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1952.

His first posting was in Guatemala, followed by Spain and Italy. In Madrid, he performed pastoral work in addition to his duties in the nunciature. In 1967, Fr. Cheli was assigned to the Council for Public Affairs of the Church. In 1973, he became permanent observer to the United Nations, an assignment which was confirmed again in 1976. In 1978, he was once of the few bishops consecrated by Pope John Paul I. Archbishop was renowned as an expert on the Church’s issues in relations with the Communist nations.

Archbishop Cheli was appointed as Pro-President of the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, which would became a pontifical council in 1988, still under the leadership of Archbishop Cheli.

Shortly before his retirement in 1998, Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal, with the deaconry of Santi Cosma e Damiano. Ten years later, Cardinal Cheli became a cardinal priest with the same title church.

Outspokenly critical on many issues, Cardinal Cheli protested the US invasion of Iraq in 2001, the age limits for cardinals and some of the curial appointments of Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Cheli was among the five oldest cardinals of the Church.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Quezada Toruño passas away

Less then three months after his 80th birthday and his departure from the ranks of the cardinal electors, Rodolfo Cardinal Quezada Toruño passed away this morning in a private hospital in Guatemala City.

On the occasion of his 80th birthday, I already write about the late cardinal here. I’ll share here the short overview of his life and career in the Church that I wrote at the time:

Born in Guatemala City in 1932, Rodolfo Quezada Toruño was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Guatemala in 1956, with a Licentiate in Theology from the University of Innsbruck in Austria and a Doctorate in Canon Law from Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University in his pocket. He held several teaching positions and was the first rector of Guatemala’s National Major Seminary of the Assumption.

In 1972, aged 40, Fr. Quezada Toruño was appointed as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Zacapa. In 1975, he was appointed as Coadjutor Bishop of that same diocese. In 1980 he succeeded Bishop Costantino Luna Pianegonda. From 1988 to 1992, and again from 2002 to 2006, he was president of Guatemala’s Bishops’ Conference.

In the 1990’s Bishop Quezada Toruño became a national hero as he led two organisations that played an important role in brokering a peace agreement that ended 36 years of civil war. His assistant in this work, Bishop Juan Gerardi, auxiliary bishop of Guatemala, was viciously beaten to death in 1998.

21 years after his consecration, in the summer of 2001, Bishop Quezada Toruño became the 36th Archbishop of Guatemala, his home diocese. He was created a cardinal in the conclave of 21 October 2003, the last one called by Blessed Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Quezada Toruño is the first cardinal-priest of San Saturnino. On 2 October 2010 he retired as Guatemala’s archbishop.

Cardinal Quezada Toruño was a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

The college of cardinals now numbers 209, with 121 of them electors.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Quezada Toruño turns 80

While last month’s consistory raised the number of cardinal electors to 125 (5 more than the upper limit established by Pope Paul VI), natural processes are starting to bring that number down. Cardinals over 80 are no longer eligible to vote in a conclave, and today Rodolfo Cardinal Quezada Toruño joins that group, which now numbers 89.

Born in Guatemala City in 1932, Rodolfo Quezada Toruño was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Guatemala in 1956, with a Licentiate in Theology from the University of Innsbruck in Austria and a Doctorate in Canon Law from Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University in his pocket. He held several teaching positions and was the first rector of Guatemala’s National Major Seminary of the Assumption.

In 1972, aged 40, Fr. Quezada Toruño was appointed as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Zacapa. In 1975, he was appointed as Coadjutor Bishop of that same diocese. In 1980 he succeeded Bishop Costantino Luna Pianegonda. From 1988 to 1992, and again from 2002 to 2006, he was president of Guatemala’s Bishops’ Conference.

In the 1990’s Bishop Quezada Toruño became a national hero as he led two organisations that played an important role in brokering a peace agreement that ended 36 years of civil war. His assistant in this work, Bishop Juan Gerardi, auxiliary bishop of Guatemala, was viciously beaten to death in 1998.

21 years after his consecration, in the summer of 2001, Bishop Quezada Toruño became the 36th Archbishop of Guatemala, his home diocese. He was created a cardinal in the conclave of 21 October 2003, the last one called by Blessed Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Quezada Toruño is the first cardinal-priest of San Saturnino. On 2 October 2010 he retired as Guatemala’s archbishop.

Cardinal Quezada Toruño is a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

Photo credit: Estudio Esquipulas, via Wikipedia