December 11, 2019

Pope Francis, does the appointment of Tagle at Propaganda Fide begin the race for the next conclave?

By Andrea Gagliarducci
Cardinal Tagle at a press Conference on Share the Journey, a Caritas International initiative, Holy See Press Office Sep. 27 2017 - credit Daniel Ibáñez/CNA
Cardinal Tagle at a press Conference on Share the Journey, a Caritas International initiative, Holy See Press Office Sep. 27 2017 - credit Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Pope Francis on Sunday appointed the 62-year-old Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle as Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The move is more than a major curial appointment: it seems to  open the way toward preparations for the papal succession.  Not by chance, the veteran Vatican watcher Sandro Magister immediately made a list of papabili, that is, of cardinals eligible to be the next Pope.

The transfer of Cardinal Tagle to Rome has been rumored for a long time. Pope Francis never hid the fact he likes  the archbishop of Manila. However, Cardinal Tagle garnered consideration step by step. He was created cardinal in Benedict XVI's last consistory. It was a particular consistory: Benedict XVI created only six new Cardinals, all of them non-Italian. 

Cardinal Tagle already had good press at the time. He was a scholar of the so-called ”Bologna School” — a group of scholars gathered in Bologna that wrote a comprehensive history of the Second Vatican Council. The Bologna scholars interpret the Second Vatican Council through the twin lenses of discontinuity and rupture. Benedict XVI, au contraire, always read the Second Vatican Council in continuity with the tradition of the Church. However, Benedict XVI was not biased by Cardinal Tagle's participation in the works of the Bologna School.

In 2015, Cardinal Tagle was elected president of Caritas Internationalis, the Holy See umbrella organization for some 160 Catholic relief service in the world. That position strengthened Cardinal Tagle's international appeal. Cardinal Tagle has never been too vocal or overexposed, but he has always cultivated a public presence and persona.

Pope Francis called him to be president delegate of the 2015 Synod on the Family and among the participants of the 2018 Synod on Youth. During this latter, thanks to a video where he danced with young people, Cardinal Tagle got even more popular.

Pope Francis considers that the Roman Curia is less important than the local Churches. To Pope Francis, diocesan bishops are more important than the top officials of the Roman Curia.  Cardinal Tagle's appointment, however, is the first of a series of new appointments that will revolutionize the Curia offices. All of these appointments will come along with the finalization of the much awaited Curia reform.

Cardinal Tagle will be at the helm of what draftsmen of the curial reform law, Praedicate Evangelium, say is to be the “first dicastery”..

According to the reform, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples will be renamed as "Dicastery for the Evangelization." The evangelization dicastery will keep its responsibilities for mission territories, and will likely keep its economic autonomy. It will also absorb the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization, whose president is currently Archbishop Rino Fisichella.Since its foundation in 1622, Propaganda Fide has enjoyed independence in terms of money so that they could directly provide to the needs of the missions. The Propaganda Fide patrimony also includes 957 real estate properties.

Cardinal Tagle will replace Cardinal Fernando Filoni. The Pope appointed Cardinal Filoni as Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. This is a prestigious but mostly honorific position, that is usually given to retired or almost retired Cardinals.

Cardinal Filoni is only 73, and his second mandate as prefect of Propaganda Fide was going to expire only in 2021 when he is 75. Why did the Pope not wait for two years? That is not a significant amount of time by Catholic Church reckoning.

Some explained Cardinal Filoni’s transfer as a punishment because of his straightforwardness, or because he expressed his doubts on the confidential agreement with China for the appointment of bishops. More likely, Pope Francis decided he wants to give a sharp cut with the past.

Pope Francis will have to reshape the Curia ranks in the upcoming months substantially.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, turned 75, but he seems the only one of retirement age that will likely keep his position for some while more.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, is 76. According to rumors, the next prefect will be Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Archbishop Pizzaballa gained much credit when Pope Francis asked him to organize the prayer for peace in the Vatican Garden in 2014.

Other rumors say that the Pope could also look to the US and choose as new prefect the eparch of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, Gregory John Mansour, who was recently appointed chairman of Catholic Relief Services.

There will also be a new prefect at the Congregation for Catholic Education. The current prefect is Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi: he turned 76, one year more than the retirement age set at 75. After the reform, the Congregation will absorb the Pontifical Council for Culture. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council, is 79, and Pope Francis prorogated his mandate at the helm of the dicastery until he will be 80.

It is hard to foresee who will be the new prefect of the Congregation. There might also be a new secretary, since Archbishop Vincenzo Zani could be moved to the position of Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences to replace Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, now 77.

Cardinal Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, turned 78, and is now three years beyond the retirement age. He is considered one of Pope Francis' most trusted men, and for this reason, Pope Francis will have a hard time  replacing him. His successor will also give clues about how Pope Francis is going to govern in this phase. Among the possible candidates for the succession is Cardinal Blaise Cupich, archbishop of Chicago.

There might be changes also in the Congregation of Bishops. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect, recently turned 75. A deep connoisseur of Latin America, Cardinal Ouellet is also considered a papabile. His position at the helm of the Congregation might be prorogated.

However, the secretary of the Congregation might change. Monsignor Fabian Pedacchio Leaniz left the position of Pope Francis' secretary and is now in full time at the Congregation for Bishops, where he has been working part-time since the election of Pope Francis. He might be appointed secretary and elevated to the rank of archbishop.

The current secretary, archbishop Ilson Montanari de Jesus, might be appointed archbishop of San Salvador de Bahia, primatial diocese of Brazil. The current archbishop of Salvador de Bahia is Murilo Sebastiao Ramos Krieger, who turned 76. As archbishop of Salvador de Bahia, Montanari could also get the red hat.

The Curia is not Pope Francis' only field of action. Francis has been working to change the profile of bishops. In particular, he focused his attention on two specific Churches considered among the most conservative: the US Church and the Italian Church.

Regarding the United States, the possible candidature of the Jesuit Fr. James Martin as Archbishop of Philadelphia created turmoil. Father Martin is known for his dialoguing position with the LGBT community; his statements have been often labeled as controversial.

Observers say that this is just a rumor, and that Fr. Martin's appointment as archbishop of Philadelphia is unlikely. However, if Fr. Martin made it to Philadelphia, this would be a considerable shift for one of the most senior archdioceses of the US. Philadelphia has been until now under the guidance of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who just turned 75. Archbishop Chaput is strong on doctrine and cultural issues and has been a real mentor for generations of American Catholics.

Regarding Italy, two archdioceses will experience major overhauls: Genoa and Naples.

Genoa is now led by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, who is also president of the Council of the European Bishops Conferences, and served until 2017 as president of the Italian Bishops Conference. Cardinal Bagnasco turned 75 in 2017. Pope Francis prolonged his mandate by two years. In January, he will turn 77, and Pope Francis will select his successor. One of the primary candidates for the post seems to be Fr. Giacomo Costa, Jesuit, currently director of the magazine Aggiornamenti Sociali. Fr. Costa was very much appreciated in the Vatican as special secretary of the 2018 Synod on Youth and as secretary of the Commission for the Information of the 2019 Panamazonian Synod.

A Jesuit could administer even the Archdiocese of Naples. Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe will turn 77 next year.His ecclesiastical career developed under John Paul II pontificate before his appointment as Archbishop of Naples under Benedict XVI. Now, it is retirement time for him and time for a shift for the archdiocese. Water cooler talk hasFr. Antonio Spadaro SJ, editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, in the running for the spot. Spadaro is considered one of Pope Francis' most trusted advisors.

Fr. Spadaro might carry forward from within the Italian bishops conference his project of a "Synod of the Italian Church" . This project was sponsored by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano but actually did not get much traction among the Italian bishops. Pope Francis backs the plan, while Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, currently president of the Italian Bishops Conference, does not. However, Cardinal Bassetti is already 77. He might end his mandate as president of the Italian bishops and also retire as archbishop of Perugia – Città della Pieve.

In this case, the race would be open for a new president of the Italian Bishops Conference. One of the strongest candidates might be Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna. Pope Francis likes him a lot. Coming from the Sant'Egidio movement, Cardinal Zuppi's profile goes, in fact, beyond the movement he belongs to. For this reason, he might be a strong candidate in a conclave, along with Cardinal Tagle.

If everything goes according to rumor, one can conclude that Pope Francis decided to look within the Jesuits to face a moment of crisis and prepare the future. Pope Francis also appointed the  Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves SJ as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. Fr. Guerrero will not be ordained bishop and will go back to the Jesuits at the end of his mandate.

This decision also gives us a glimpse of the Curia reform. According to new rules, no one could be in a Curia position for more than two mandates, which is ten years.

It seems that the big maneuvers for the next Pope have already begun, and that the main indication is that the next Pope should be chosen in Asia.

Cardinal Tagle is the second Filipino at the helm of a Vatican congregation, after Cardinal José Tomas Sanchez, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy from 1991 to 1996.

It is striking that Cardinal Tagle is called to Rome in the year when Dominicans elected a Filipino as General Master, Fr. Gerard Timoner, the first Asian at the helm of the Preachers. It is a coincidence. However, it is also true that religious orders have  always been a key to reading and anticipating the signs of times – and the Order of Preachers have always read attentively and generally anticipated shrewdly.

By the end of 2020, the Curial map will be revolutionized. With Cardinal Tagle's appointment, Pope Francis gave a sort of indication for the next conclave. It is not granted that cardinals will follow his indication. Benedict XVI moved Cardinal Angelo Scola from the position of Patriarch of Venice to that of Archbishop of Milan, in a move that was read as a clear indication for his succession. The 2013 conclave, however, elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

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

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