June 30, 2020

Pope Francis, a Jesuit at the helm of the Congregation for the Clergy?

By Andrea Gagliarducci
Bishop Daniele Libanori, auxiliary of Rome - credit: diocesidiroma.it
Bishop Daniele Libanori, auxiliary of Rome - credit: diocesidiroma.it

Bishop Daniele Libanori, Jesuit and auxiliary for the diocese of Rome, might be appointed next Friday as the successor of Cardinal Beniamino Stella as Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy. Rumor of the appointment has been in the Vatican corridors, strengthened by the fact that Pope Francis received Libanori in private audience on June 26.

The news of the appointment must be treated with all the due conditionals since Pope Francis might always decide otherwise. If the guess should prove correct, however, Libanori would be the first Jesuit at the helm of the dicastery that has responsibility for all the non-religious priests in the world. 

With Libanori, Pope Francis would again tap a trusted man at the helm of the Congregation for the Clergy.

Libanori would replace Cardinal Beniamino Stella, one of the most trusted of Pope Francis' hidden advisors. Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Stella to Clergy on September 21, 2013. It was one of Pope Francis' very first appointments in the top Curia offices. 

The Pope created Stella a cardinal during the February 22, 2014 consistory, and kept Stella at his post until now. Stella will turn 79 in August, while the retirement age is set at 75. Stella was also confirmed after his five-year term mandate, which expired in 2018.

Daniele Libanori was chosen by Pope Francis as auxiliary bishop for the diocese of Rome on November 23, 2017, and was ordained a bishop on January 13, 2018. Since 2017, he is also the delegate of the diocese for the Clergy and the seminaries.

Born in 1953, Libanori hails from the archdiocese Ferrara-Comacchio, in Northern Italy. He was ordained a priest in 1977, and he later joined the Society of Jesus in 1991. He is licensed in Theology of the Evangelization and has a Ph.D. in Theology of Christian Life.

From 1982 to 1991, he was the rector of the seminary of the archdiocese Ferrara-Comacchio. After he pronounced the first vows as Jesuit in 1991, he was the university chaplain at L'Aquila, in central Italy, from 1993 to 1997. He then spent a year in the Jesuit community of Naples. From 1998 to 2003, he was the university chaplain at La Sapienza University in Rome.

In 2003, he took final vows as Jesuit. From 2003 to 2016, Libanori served as rector of the Chiesa del Gesù in Rome. He has been rector of the church of San Giuseppe Falegname al Foro Romano since 2017. He is also a well-known exorcist in Rome.

During the emergency caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, Bishop Libanori was vocal and visible. In particular, Bishop Libanori took the stage on the debate about the prohibition of celebrating Masses with the people.

As known, some of the priests complained about the government's decision to forbid any gathering, be it religious or civil. Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, The Pope's Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, even decreed the shuttering of churches, following Pope Francis' suggestions. The day after the decision, by the way, Pope Francis decried the possibility of "A Church without people," thus compelling his Vicar to backtrack.

The Pope always asked the faithful to respect government indications. On June 20, the Pope met the doctors of Lombardy, the most COVID-stricken Italian region. On that occasion, the Pope also pointed the finger at "the teenager priests" that advocated for  Masses with the people.

Bishop Libanori’s position has been the Pope's position, and it is possible Pope Francis noted and appreciated that.

In particular, Libanori expressed his point of view in a letter he addressed on March 19 to the priests of the sector of the diocese of Rome he administers. The letter was then published in the issue 4076 of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Jesuit-run Italian magazine vetted by the Vatican Secretariat of State.

La Civiltà Cattolica titled the letter “Faith at the time of Covid 19”. In the letter, Libanori noted that "many complain that the closing of the churches is part of the restrictions," but he warned that "it is the State, not the Church, that must legislate in terms of public health."

Bishop Libanori then asked to find "new ways" to nurture the faith in a time of emergency. He conceded that "an open church might also be a sign of comfort." However, he added, "if it is just a sign, it is enough that only the Cathedral remains open."

He added that "the True Church, made of men, thank God can live without churches, as it happened during the first centuries and as it is still happening in many places of the world."

Bishop Libanori then asked whether "the protest, also vivid, against the shutdown of churches is animated by faith or rather by a religious sentiment that needs to be purified." The bishop also invited "not to be taken by the false zeal," since "behind the too insistent request for Eucharist often lies a sincere, but not mature, faith."

Bishop Libanori showed a total consonance with Pope Francis, and perhaps his position on the matter might be decisive for him to take the post.

The appointment of a new Prefect Clergy will begin the significant reshuffle of the top ranks in the Roman Curia. 

While the Curia reform is still awaited, five prefects out of nine already turned 75. Beyond that, there are other top slots in the Curia that are going to be vacant.

The Congregation for Clergy will experience a significant overhaul when the reform does come. Also, the secretary of the Congregation, Archbishop Joel Mercier, turned 75 in January. In March, Bishop Fernando Vergez Alzaga, general secretary of the Vatican City State administration, turned 75.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, turned 75 in April. Quite surprisingly, Pope Francis confirmed him donec aliter provideatur (until it is differently decided). 

The other prefects who surpassed the retirement age are Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who turned 75 last June; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, also 75 since June 2019; Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, who is 76; and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for  Eastern Churches, also 76.

If Libanori does get the job, it will be the second time the Jesuit Pope selects a confrere for a top-ranking Vatican position, after the appointment – last year – of Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. 

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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