Downsizing – Pope Francis announces his first Curia merger

Since virtually the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis has been expected to start reforming the Curia by eliminating and merging dicasteries. Until now he has created a few new ones (the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the Secretariat for Communications, to name two), which has increased rather than decreased the size of the Curia. This week, however, comes the first announcement of a merger.

The Pontifical Councils for the Laity and the Family, as well as the Academy for Life, are to form a single dicastery for Laity and Family. What form and status this will take (a new Pontifical Council or, as I suspect, a Congregation) remains to be seen, as does the personnel assigned to them. The Academy for Life would seem to be remain as it exists now, but under the auspices of the new dicastery.

clemensThe Pontifical Council for the Laity is currently led by Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, with Bishop Josef Clemens (pictured) as secretary. At 70 and 68 respectively, neither of these are about to retire, so if they do not remain in the dicastery, new appointments will have to be sought for them. Bishop Clemens is especially interesting, as the choice may be made to send him home to a diocese in Germany. At 68, he would be a transitional bishop, which would not go down well in the eastern German dioceses (of which Dresden-Meißen is vacant), where bishops have criticised the apparent use of the eastern dioceses as a “railway shunting yard for bishops”. Originally from the Archdiocese of Paderborn, Bishop Clemens has been working in Rome for the past three decades, so if he is the suitable candidate for a new assignment in his native country, where Limburg also remains vacant and Aachen will soon be, remains to be seen.

pagliaThe Pontifical Council for the Family is led by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia (pictured) as president and Bishop Jean Laffitte as secretary. Archbishop Paglia, although recently investigated and acquitted of financial mismanagement when he was bishop of Terni-Narni-Amelia, is also the organiser of the recent World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, which, to all appearances, was a great success. At 70, he is also still 5 years away from retirement. Bishop Laffitte, 63, was recently appointed prelate of the Order of Malta in addition to his duties in the Pontifical Council. A Rome veteran like Bishop Clemens, it remains to be seen of a return to his native France, where Saint-Etienne is vacant and four ordinaries are close to retirement, is in any way likely.

If the new dicastery is a congregation, it will need a prefect and one or more secretaries, if a pontifical council there will be a president and one or more secretaries. Pope Francis may choose to appoint someone with experience to start up the new dicastery, which means Cardinal Rylko and Archbishop Paglia are good options. As both are five years away from retirement, they would be suitable to lead a transition and start-up phase. In the end, we’ll have to wait until December to find out what the Holy Father chooses to do.

The streamlining of the Curia may, as the rumours have it, continue with a merger of the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace and Pastoral of Migrants and Itinerant People sometime in the future.

A cardinal in name alone

cardinal o'brienPope Francis yesterday took the unusual and rare step of remoing a cardinal’s rights and duties, and on the cardinal’s own request. Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, retired archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh asked for the removal of all his rights and duties in the wake of a report about the accusations of sexual abuse against him which appeared several years ago. In 2013 this was also reason for him to retire as archbishop and not to attend the conclave that elected Pope Francis.

There was some confusion as to whether Cardinal O’Brien was still a cardinal, but it would appear that he remains one by name only. He no longer has any duties in the Curia (he was a member of the Pontifical Councils for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples; for Social Communications; and for the Family), including the right to attend and vote in future conclaves (although, being 77, the chances of Cardinal O’Brien taking part in the election of a new Pope were slim anyway), or to attend any future consistories. also indicates that he has lost his title church, Santi Gioacchino ed Anna al Tuscolano.

Cardinal O’Brien is not the first cardinal to have lost his rights and priviles that come with the red hat, although it hasn’t happened since 1911, when French Cardinal Louis Billot, who asked Pope Pius IX to accept his resignation as cardinal, allegedly since he supported the nationalist Action Française movement, which the Pope had condemned.

Other cardinals resigned their titles for rather different reasons. Intitially, back in the fifteenth century, a number of pseudocardinals (cardinals created by a pope who was not accepted as legitimate) lost heir titles for supporting an antipope. Other cardinals wanted to lead a simple life of solitude, mostly in a monastery or other form of religious life. The most recent example of this is Carlo Odescalchi, who resigned because he wanted to enter the Jesuit Order. He did so in 1838, three years before his death.

A more secular reason for cardinals to resign was, since they often came from the nobility, the fact that their families had no male heirs. In 1807, Cardinal Marino Carafa di Belvedere resigned for this reason, became the prince of Acquaviva and married.

Political reasons could also lead to cardinals resigning. In 1788, Pope Pius VI made Étienne-Charles de Loménie de Brienne a cardinal, but the latter never went to Rome to accept his red hat and title. He later accepted the terms imposed by the French revolutionairy government. The Pope severely rebuked him for his disloyalty, after which Cardinal de Loménie de Brienne resigned. In 1793 he was jailed, and he renounced his faith for fear of his own safety.

Other cardinal resigned or even refused to be created cardinal since they considered themselves unworthy of the honour or simply too old.

The reasons for cardinals to resign have been varied, but Cardinal O’Brien’s case remains unique in that he has been allowed to keep his title, even if he has lost everything that comes with it.

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.

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 Martino turns 80

One day before the admission of six new members to the group of cardinal electors, the number of that group drops with one to 114. Renato Raffaele Martino reached the age of 80 today and has thus became ineligible to vote in a future conclave.

Hailing from the southern Italian town of Salerno, Renato Martino entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service in 1962, five years after his ordination to the priesthood. He earned a doctorate in canon law in that time. Fr. Martino served in various countries, among them Nicaragua, the Philippines, Lebanon, Canada and Brazil.

In 1980, he was consecrated to bishop and made titular archbishop of Segermes in modern Tunisia. Archbishop Martino was sent to head the diplomatic missions in Thailand, and Laos. In 1981, he also became such in Singapore in addition to his other positions. Brunei and Malaysia followed in 1983.

In 1986, he was reassigned to the high-profile position of Permanent Observer to the United Nations. In his time at the UN in New York, Archbishop Martino was an outspoken critic of the American invasion of Iraq in 1991. Another important call, related to his future functions in Rome, was his call for a safe heaven to be created for Tutsi refugees in Rwanda, to prevent the death of 30,000 people.

Archbishop Martino would continue in this position until 2002, when he was recalled to Rome to become president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. With that position came the red hat, and Cardinal Martino was created in 2003, in Blessed John Paul II’s last consistory. He became cardinal deacon of San Francesco di Paolo ai Monti. As head of Justice and Peace, Cardinal Martino intervened, to no avail, on behalf of Terri Schiavo, in the widely-covered case of her euthanasia. He also spoke out against the death sentence against Saddam Hussein and called for a international peace conference for the Middle East. He was once again openly against American interventions in Iraq. Later, he was involved in peace conferences between Israel and Palestinians, and likened Gaza to a “huge concentration camp”. In another example of his strongly pro-life position, Cardinal Martino  urged Catholics to stop donating to Amnesty International when that organisation decided to advocate abortion in 2007.

From 2006 until his retirement in 2009, Cardinal Martino was also the president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

Following his retirement, Cardinal Martino remained a member of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of People, the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See and the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State. His pro-life attitude was rewarded in 2009 with the awarding of the title of Honorary President of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute in Rome. In 2011, in his last major diplomatic endeavours, Cardinal Martino visited Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, where he met with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Rubiano Sáenz turns 80

In Colombia another cardinal of the Catholic Church reaches the age of 80, thus losing his vote in a future conclave. He is Pedro Cardinal Rubiano Sáenz, and his birthday today means that there are 117 cardinal electors left.

Pedro Rubiano Sáenz was born in Cartago, western Colombia. Studying in Popayán, Colombia and in Québec, Canada, he was subsequently ordained for the Diocese of Cali. As a priest, Fr. Rubiano Sáenz founded several parishes, functioned as chaplain to the Air Force Academy, a clinic and a college. He later was assigned as treasurer of the diocese, which by then had been elevated to an archdiocese, and vicar for pastoral activity. He also worked as vice-rector of a school. In 1971, he was appointed as bishop of the Diocese of Cúcuta, located in the north of Colombia.

Aged not yet 40, Bishop Rubiano Sáenz was among the youngest of the nation’s bishops. After almost 12 years in Cúcuta, he was appointed as Coadjutor Archbishop of his native Archdiocese of Cali, succeeding Archbishop Alberto Uribe Urdaneta in 1985. In 1986, he hosted Blessed Pope John Paul II as he visited Colombia. Archbishop Rubiano Sáenz headed the Colombian Bishops’ Conference from 1990 to 1994. In the middle of that tenure, he was transferred to the nation’s capital and became Archbishop of Bogotá.

As Primate of Colombia, Archbishop Rubiano Sáenz would soon be made a cardinal. This happened in 2001, and he became the first cardinal priest of Trasfigurazione di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo. From 2002 to 2005, he once again chaired the Bishops’ Conference. In 2010, Cardinal Rubiano Sáenz retired as Archbishop of Bogotá.

Cardinal Rubiano Sáenz was a member of the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples.

New jobs for new cardinals

In the run-up to the previous consistory, we’ve heard often that one of the duties of cardinals is to aid the pope in all manner of Church-related affairs. Exactly how that takes shape became clear yesterday, as the new cardinals have been appointed to seats on various congregations, tribunals, councils and committees. Here follows a list of the dicasteries and the new cardinals that were assigned to them.

  • Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Cardinals Alencherry, Filoni and Coccopalmerio
  • Congregation for the Oriental Churches: Cardinals Alencherry, Dolan, Muresan, Filoni and O’Brien
  • Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments: Cardinal Vegliò
  • Congregation for the Causes of the Saints: Cardinals Monteiro de Castro and Abril y Castelló
  • Congregation for Bishops: Cardinals Monteiro de Castro, Abril y Castelló, Bertello and Versaldi
  • Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples: Cardinals Tong Hon, Abril y Castelló, Bertello and Calcagno
  • Congregation for the Clergy: Cardinals Eijk and Braz de Aviz
  • Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life: Cardinals Duka and Versaldi
  • Congregation for Education: Cardinals Collins, Eijk, Betori, Woelki, Filoni, Braz de Aviz and O’Brien
  • Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura: Cardinals Coccopalmerio and Versaldi
  • Pontifical Council for the Laity: Cardinal Vegliò
  • Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity: Cardinals Woelki and Coccopalmerio
  • Pontifical Council for the Family: Cardinal Vegliò
  • Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace: Cardinals Duka and Bertello
  • Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”: Cardinal O’Brien
  • Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People: Cardinal Monteiro de Castro
  • Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers: Cardinal Calcagno
  • Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue: Cardinal Tong Hon
  • Pontifical Council for Culture: Cardinal Betori
  • Pontifical Council for Social Communications: Cardinals Collins and Dolan
  • Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation: Cardinal Dolan
  • Pontifical Committee for the International Eucharistic Congresses: Cardinal Braz de Aviz
Both new to the Congregation for Education: Cardinals Thomas Collins and Wim Eijk

All the Church’s cardinals under the age of 80 (and some over 80) have one or more functions within the dicasteries of the Roman Curia. This is in addition to their regular duties as diocesan bishops or curial prelates. In practice it means that they’ll have to be in Rome a bit more often than before.

Our own Cardinal Eijk has been appointed to the Congregations for Clergy (responsible for all secular priests and deacons) and Education (seminaries and Catholic schools). He will than be in Rome for up to four times a year, as these dicasteries meet. Cardinal Eijk will not be needed in Rome for the day-to-day affairs of the Congregations and, even then, he will of course be able to do a significant amount of work from Utrecht.

These appointments form one of two steps that fully integrate new cardinals into the curia. The other step is the official taking possession of their title churches. This can take some time, sometimes up to a year after the consistory in which a cardinal was created.  Of the latest batch, only Cardinals Filoni and Grech have done so. Cardinals Becker, Monteiro de Castro and Tong Hon will take possession of their churches today, and Cardinal Coccopalmerio will follow on Thursday. The dates for the other cardinals are not yet known.

Photo credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images