Merger number two, as the new Curia takes form

Another week, another dicastery. Today, Pope Francis announced the upcoming merger of four Pontifical Councils into one new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Quite the impressive title, and in today’s world it’s mandate should be equally impressive. The Apostolic Letter Humanam progressionem, which announced the establishment of the dicastery today, summarised it as follows: “This Dicastery will be competent particularly in issues regarding migrants, those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture.”

The new dicastery – once again neither a Congregation nor as Pontifical Council – will take over and combine the mandates of four separate Pontifical Councils from 1 January 2017. These are the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace, “Cor Unum“, for Pastoral Care for Migrants and Intinerant People and for Health Care Workers. Judging from this, the dicastery will not only have responsibility for people in need, but also for those who try to help them: aid workers, disaster relief personnel, hospital staff and the like.


The new dicastery will be led by a Curia veteran, Cardinal Peter Turkson, today the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. A secretary and possibly an undersecretary are forthcoming. Cardinal Turkson has been working in Rome since 2009. Before that, he was archbishop of Cape Coast in Ghana.

The mergers have little effect on the presidents of the other Pontifical Councils set to be suppressed in the new year. “Cor Unum” has been without a president since Cardinal Robert Sarah was appointed as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2014; Cardinal Antonio Vegliò of Migrants is 78 and will therefore enter retirement; and Health Care Workers has also been without a president since Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski died in July of this year.

With this new dicastery, as well as the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life established earlier this month, the Roman Curia is slowly changing its appearance. Previously largely made up of Congregations and Pontifical Councils, with the Secretariat of State at the top (and rounded out with several smaller offices as well as the three canon law tribunals), a new structure is now emerging. There are now three secretariats: of State, for the Economy and for Communications, but these do differ greatly in mandate and influence. The nine Congregations remain unchanged, while the Pontifical Councils decrease in number from twelve to five. New is the category of the dicastery, which is a general term denoting a department of the Curia. Exactly where these fit in the structure of the Curia remains to be seen. They are led by prefects, one of whom is a cardinal and the other a bishop, but are not called Congregations, which are what prefects normally head. Neither are they Pontifical Councils, which is what they were formed out of.

On the day of the announcement of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, its prospective prefect was in the Netherlands, speaking at the Christian Social Congress in Doorn, east of Utrecht. His talk is available online. In it, Cardinal Turkson describes via quotes from Gaudium et Spes how the involvement of Christians in the world is a necessary condition of the Christian life, which is, ultimately, why the new dicastery exists:

“The pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et spes, opens with a resounding embrace of the lived realities of humankind: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men and women of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (GS §1). And to truly follow Christ, we must accept our “earthly responsibilities”. The followers of Christ understand that their faith is incarnated in the world: “by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation.” Conversely, it is entirely erroneous for people to “imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life” (GS §43.1). The only true path is that which unites faith and action.”

Integral human development is not only something that we should strive for for ourselves, but for humanity as a whole, especially for those who need it most, “those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture”.

Guessing at the future – what the new Curia may look like

cardinals curiaThere are persistent rumours that the reforms of the Roman Curia will soon enter a new phase as several councils will be merged into two congregations. And the preliminary steps for the new phase have already been taken in recent months.

Rumours are rumours, and we should be careful with them. We don’t know when and if changes will take place,nor do we know what they will look like. But we can guess…

Two recent personnel changes shed some light on possible future changes in the Curia. Cardinal Robert Sarah was moved from the presidency of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” to become Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and Bishop Mario Toso left his position as Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to become bishop of Faenza-Modigliana. Neither prelate has yet been succeeded in their previous positions, and it may be that there will not be a successor. Both “Cor Unum” and Justice and Peace are rumoured to be merged into a larger Congregation for Justice and Peace, together with the Pontifical Councils for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers.

turksonCardinal Sarah and Bishop Toso have been reassigned, but that leaves several other prelates without a clear place to go. For now at least. Candidates for the position of Prefect of the new congregation would, in my opinion, be Cardinal Peter Turkson (pictured), who now heads the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, or possibly Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, who is now the president of the Health Care council. Both are about the same age (Turkson is 66, Zimowski 65) and about the same number of years in the Curia behind them. The other option for both of them is a return to their native country, something that Pope Francis seems to prefer. In Ghana, Cardinal Turkson’s native country, the only vaguely likely option is a return to the Archdiocese of Cape Coast, where he was archbishop from 1992 to 2009. Cape Coast’s current Archbishop, Matthias Nketsiah, turns 75 in 2017. Not a very likely prospect, in my opinion.

zygmunt_zimowskiIn Poland, where Archbishop Zimowski (pictured) comes from, there is the enticing option of Kraków, which should become vacant very soon. Cardinal Dziwisz, the current archbishop there, turns 76 in April. Solely judging from these options, Cardinal Turkson would seem to be more likely to remain in Rome and head a new Congregation for Justice and Peace.

The third cardinal involved, Antonio Maria Vegliò, president of the Council for Migrants, is already 75, and should retire fairly soon. The various secretaries and undersecretaries of the Councils that are set to merge into the new Congregation will either continue their work or be given new assignments in Rome or in the countries they are from. The most senior of these is Bishop Joseph Kalathiparambil, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care for Migrants. His dicastery serves a role that is close to Pope Francis’ heart, so perhaps we can see him as secretary under Cardinal Turkson?

A second new Congregation that is said to be created is that of Laity and Family, composed of the current Pontifical Councils of the Laity and of the Family, and the Pontifical Academy for Life.

rylkoAgain, there are two most likely candidates to head this new congregation: Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko (pictured), President of the Council for the Laity for the past twelve years; and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Family Council. Again both are the same age (69), but Cardinal Rylko has far more Curia experience (12 as opposed to 3 years). Should Cardinal Rylko be appointed to his native Poland, there really is no other place for him to go than Kraków, and we already have the option of Archbishop Zimowski going there. Two other Polish archdiocese which will fall vacant within the next few years, Warmia and Przemysl, really don’t have the stature and history for an experienced Curial cardinal. Then again, nothing is set in stone in these matters.

The rumoured merger of the Pontifical Council for the Laity into a Congregation for Laity and Family opens another interesting possibility: that the current secretary of the Laity Council, Bishop Josef Clemens, returns to his native Germany, to one of the vacant dioceses there. As we know, Limburg, Hamburg and Berlin are still vacant, and we don’t know who’s on the list for any of them.

The president of the Academy for Life, lastly, Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, is 77 and will likely be allowed to retire without playing a role in a new Congregation.

Just some educated guesses. Reality, as ever, may well turn out radically different.

As the rumours continue, Cardinal Sarah comes to the CDW

cardinal_robertsarahThe first ripple of an expected major shake-up of the Curia arrived today, as Pope Francis appointed a new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament, the dicastery that oversees all expressions of worship in the Church, most importantly the liturgy, as well as the sacraments. He is Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Guinean prelate who was once one of the youngest bishops ever, as St. Pope John Paul II appointed him Archbishop of Conakry at the age of just 34 in 1979.

Cardinal Sarah follows in the footsteps of Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, wh returned to his native Spain as Archbishop of Valencia in August, but perhaps even more so in those of Cardinal Francis Arinze, who led the Congregation from 2002 to 2008. Cardinal Sarah is the second African to lead this office since it was created as the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1588.

Cardinal Sarah previously led the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, which coordinates the Church’s efforts in aid and charity, and which is expected to be merged with various other dicasteries soon. Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal in 2010. Before that, Cardinal Sarah was the Archbishop of Conakry in Guinea from 1979 to 2001 and Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples from 2001 to 2010.

The appointment of Cardinal Sarah is unavoidably notable in the light of the Synod of Bishops and the impression of Pope Francis’ priorities. Cardinal Sarah, like many of his African colleagues, has little time for deviations of the Church’s  teaching nor, especially important in his new function, for the western tendency for liturgical experimentation.

For the Congregation for Divine Worship, or CDW for short, this means the start of a new era in leadership. After the departure of Cardinal Cañizares, the Congregation also saw two of its undersecretaries, British Father Anthony Ward and Spanish Msgr. Juan Miguel Ferrer Grenesche, resign, leaving only the secretary, English Archbishop Arthur Roche. Pope Francis did appoint a new undersecretary, Italian Fr. Corrado Maggioni, earlier this month, and with Cardinal Sarah the Congregation seems to be off to a new and refreshed start.

Cardinal Sarah is a hands-on kind of man, and in his previous duties for “Cor Unum” he frequently travelled to those places where the Church’s aid was most needed. In the photo below he is seen visiting the Philippines after Typhoon Yolanda hit last year. The upcoming papal visit, by the way, was in part inspired by the same disaster.


Cardinal Sarah’s name was not among those most frequently mentioned for the CDW top spot. Many were the fears that the position would go to Archbishop Piero Marini, erstwhile MC for St. John Paul II and the first years of Benedict XVI and generally considered rather a liberal. It just goes to show that the eyes and focus of Pope Francis are elsewhere, on the world’s peripheries, and the young and growing Church of Africa may yet harbour more surprises.

Day two – meetings and a rousing homily

On the second full day of the ad limina visit, the Dutch bishops were first received at the Congregation for Catholic Education by the Prefect, Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, Secretary Archbishop Angelo Zani and Undersecretary Father Friedrich Bechina, whose language skills allowed him to speak Dutch with the bishops. The second visit was to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the prefect, received them with Secretary Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer and Adjunct Secretary Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia. About this visit, Bishop Jan Hendriks blogs:

“A fair amount of attention was given to the procedures regarding sexual abuse. A positive part of that discussion was that a first and preliminary judgement of the Congregation on the general guidelines to prevent sexual abuse – which the bishops’ conferences had prepared and presented to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – was extremely favourable.”

Some bishops later also visited the Pontifical Councils “Cor Unum”, for the Family and for Justice and Peace.

The day began, however, with Holy Mass offered at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Pope’s cathedral. Bishop Frans Wiertz, ordinary of Roermond and in age the most senior member of the conference (except for Bishop van Burgsteden, who is retired but retains some duties in the conference), gave the homily. Bishop Wiertz was clearly much inspired by yesterday’s audience with Pope Francis, and he spoke about the importance of evangelising by witnessing as the saint we celebrate today, St. Francis Xavier, did.

bishops vesting before Mass at St. John Lateran

About this saint, Bishop Wiertz said:

“What is notable in this young missionary is his zeal and his drive to proclaim the Gospel. When he had been in India for about a year, Francis wrote: “Throngs of people here do not get into contact with Christ for the simple reason that there is no one ready […] to tell them about it.” There were too few labourers for the harvest. But that did not stop Francs Xavier from continuing his holy mission and proclaim the Gospel. You could wonder what he thought to be able to do in that immense country of India.

wiertz homily st. john lateranAfterwards he went to Japan, which at that time was most certainly an unassailable fortress. But he managed to reach the emperor and was even permitted to proclaim his faith. Francis Xavier would certainly have been aware of the fact that he could not convert the entire world. And he must have realised that not everyone he baptised was as enthusiastic in putting his faith into practice. But that did not stop him from wanting to continue witnessing of Christ.

In that respect he is a great example for us. His words, “Throngs of people here do not get into contact with Christ”, could have been about our country in 2013. The statistics of Church attendance and reception of the sacraments could be dejecting. But dejectedness does not help us forward. Continuing in patience with expressing the Gospel does.

I recall that during our previous ad limina visit then-Cardinal Ratzinger kept repeating one word: “Patienza, patienza!” Patience, patience! Not the stream, but the drop of water wears down the rock.”

All this, Bishop Wiertz explained, must be an encouragement  to the bishops to do nothing more or less than this: to make Christ present in society, in all aspects of their ministry: liturgy, proclamation and certainly also in diaconal ministry: the pastoral care for the poorest and marginalised.

“A patient and loving sound that it can be different. That our existence does not need to end in loneliness, but that there is a God who is interested in us and cares for us. That may be crystal clear to us. But I don’t need to tell you that there are entire generations in our country who have never heard of Christ and His loving message.

It is our duty to do what we can to change that. To witness of Christ’s message. Like Francis Xavier did. Just about alone in those enormous Asian nations. It seemed an impossible task. But he started it! Convinced as he was of God’s Spirit guiding him.”

Inspiring, rousing words, even.

Photo credits: [1] The bishops vesting for Mass, Bishop Jan Hendriks, [2] RKK – Christian van der Heijden

An “advocate for heaven and earth”, Bishop Puff consecrated in Cologne

A bit late, but I wanted to look back at the consecration of Bishop Ansgar Puff, last Saturday, as auxiliary bishop of Cologne and titular bishop of Gordus. Doing the consecrating honours were Joachim Cardinal Meisner, archbishop of Cologne; and Bishops Manfred Melzer and Dominik Schwaderlapp, auxiliaries of the same archdiocese. From Rome, German Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, attended the consecration.


Arguably Germany’s tallest bishops, Msgr. Puff still reached to Cardinal Meisner’s shoulders when kneeling for his consecration through prayer and the imposition of the cardinal’s hands. In his homily, Cardinal Meisner said that a bishop is “and advocate of the world to heaven and an advocate of God for the people on earth”.

Bishop Puff is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way and is not afraid to go out in the streets or confront people of different opinions. In the past, as personnel chief of the archdiocese, he has spoken with priests advocating reform in the Church, and in 2009 he participated in the eleven-day “Missionale Düsseldorf”, as one of 70 priests inviting passers-by into conversations about the faith.

Bishop Puff’s area of pastoral responsibility will be the southern part of the Archdiocese of Cologne, which is home to some 600,000 Catholics.

Photo credit: Boecker

Audiences, a glimpse of things to come?

Although the first weeks of a new Pope’s reign are undoubtedly not standard, there are duties which assert themselves fairly soon. Especially this year, the new Pope has had to devote himself to the duties of Holy Week, but there are also other duties related to the government of the Church which are being picked up again. One of these is the regular audiences with members of the Curia, and here we may keep a watchful eye for the future plans of Pope Francis regarding that same Curia.

cardinal-marc-ouelletIn the past few days, four curial prelates have met with Pope Francis: Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”; Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches (and fellow Argentinean); Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Consecrated and Apostolic Life; and Cardinal Marc Ouellet (pictured), Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

Of course, the fact that these cardinals were among the first to meet officially with the Holy Father may be the result of pure chance, but it may also indicate who Pope Francis wanted to speak with most urgently. Cardinal Cordes’ work for the Holy See’s charitable arm certainly fits with the Pope’s concern for the poor and Cardinal Bráz de Aviz could have been on the list because Pope Francis was himself a member of a religious order. Cardinal Sandri’s audience may in part have been held because of their shared nationality, but may also point towards the importance that the Holy Father attaches to the Churches of the East. Cardinal Ouellet’s visit, finally,  could be the most interesting.

Shortly after his election, Pope Francis spoke privately with Cardinal Ouellet, giving him, in the cardinal’s words, very concrete instructions. What these are have not been revealed. Could they indicate a new role for the Canadian cardinal within the Curia?

On the other hand, Cardinal Ouellet and Pope Francis may have simply been discussing the work of the Congregation for Bishops and upcoming appointments and transfers of new bishops.

Photo credit: PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images

Christian anthropology – Pope Benedict tackles the difficult issues

cor unumIn an address to the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum“on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI again referred to his Christmas address to the Curia – which caused such a stir in the Netherlands especially, as local media totally failed to report it correctly – and to the sensitive topic of marriage.

The main topic of the address was the Christian anthropology, or idea of what man is in his deepest nature, and how this should be used in works of charity, which is what “Cor Unum” is engaged in. Quoting the following passage from his earlier address to the Curia, “Man calls his nature into question … From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be”, he warned against an anthropology that is the result of a “materialistic vision of man”. Identifying such an vision as a “shadow that obscures God’s plan”, the pope warned that “[t]his is a radical negation of man’s creatureliness and filial condition, which leads to a tragic solitude.”

Christian anthropology, the Holy Father explained, is based on the idea of “man in his integral dignity, with respect for his twofold vertical and horizontal dimension”. And that is also the direction that the Church’s development programs, many of which under the auspices of “Cor Unum”, are oriented in.

rings“The Christian vision of man is, in fact, a great “yes” to the dignity of the person called to intimate communion with God, a filial communion, humble and confident. The human being is neither an individual subsisting in himself nor an anonymous element of the collective. He is rather a singular and unrepeatable person intrinsically ordered to relationship and sociality. For this reason the Church stresses her great “yes” to the dignity and beauty of marriage as an expression of a faithful and fecund alliance between man and woman, and says “no” to such philosophies as the philosophy of gender. The Church is guided by the fact that the reciprocity between man and woman is the expression of the beauty of the nature willed by the Creator.”

Those last lines, referring to both marriage and gender theory, are linked to the Christmas message, in which Pope Benedict spoke about gender and human nature as created by God (and not, as some would have us believe, about homosexuality and same-sex marriage).