By Catholic News Agency's Vatican Observer, Andrea Gagliarducci

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe: Controversial thinker and new Vatican consultant

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP, speaks at England's National Congress for Catholics working with young people, Feb. 27, 2010. Credit: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk.
Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP, speaks at England's National Congress for Catholics working with young people, Feb. 27, 2010. Credit: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk.

.- Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, a Dominican priest who led his order for ten years and has stirred controversy in the past for his stance on certain ecclesial issues, was appointed May 16 as a consultor of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Consultors to the pontifical councils are officially appointed by the Pope, and while it is not formally acknowledged, such appointments are typically made at the suggestion of the heads of the councils. With Fr. Radcliffe, the number of consultors of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace comes to 14.

The pontifical council's goal is to “promote justice and peace in the world in accordance with the Gospel and the social teaching of the Church,” and its consultors “can be called upon to participate in working groups on specific topics.”

The appointment of Fr. Radcliffe as a new consultor is an impromptu one, as Benedict XVI appointed nine consultors to the body  on Sept. 29, 2012, almost completely renewing the list of consultors in doing so.

Consultors are appointed to five-year terms, and since the nine appointed by Benedict XVI in 2012 will conclude their service in only two years, Fr. Radcliffe’s appointment sounded strange to some.

A source in the top ranks of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace stressed to CNA May 20 that “the Pontifical Council is always seeking new collaborators,” and that “when you find a good one, you don’t want to lose him.”

The source added that “Fr. Radcliffe has already collaborated with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.”

According to another source in the same Vatican office, Cardinal Peter Turkson – its president – had intended Fr. Radcliffe as the successor to Bishop Mario Toso.

Bishop Toso was the pontifical council's secretary: its number two position. Bishop Toso had served from 2009-2014, and was appointed Bishop of Faenza-Modigliana on Jan. 19. According to a Vatican source, Bishop Toso had been offered the chance to continue on in the Vatican after curial reform, but he himself preferred to become a bishop of a diocese.

In fact, the appointment of a new secretary at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is stalled, as the curia reform underway is almost certain to touch upon its structure and functions.

The pontifical council is expected to merge with the Pontifical Councils Cor Unum, for Migrants, and for Health Care Workers, to form a Congregation for Charity, Justice and Peace, which would be composed of five secretariats: Justice and Peace, Charity, Migrants, Pastoral Healthcare and Human Ecology.

Waiting for any decision to come, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace asked the Pope to enroll Fr. Radcliffe among its consultors, as a first step toward a more important commitment within the anticipated congregation.

According to a third source in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Fr. Radcliffe is intended to take over the department of human ecology, as he was “entrusted last summer by Cardinal Turkson’s office to draft a first draft of Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on ecology.”

The source added that “ever since then, Fr. Radcliffe has been consulted more and more by Cardinal Turkson’s office, and at one point it had become clear that Cardinal Turkson thought of him as the ideal candidate to take over the post of ‘number 2’ in the dicastery.”

Ordained a priest of the Dominican order in 1971, Fr. Radcliffe has authored several books, including “What is the Point of Being a Christian?” From 1992 to 2001 he was head of the the Dominican Order, and has been a long-time contributor to Vatican Radio.

His statements, particularly those on homosexuality, have invited controversy in the Church, often challenging traditional teachings or attitudes. His prominent social justice work has been overshadowed at times by his comments on homosexual relationships.

He has also spoken up in support of the German bishops' desire admit the divorced and remarried to Communion, a contentious suggestion which has been recently opposed by the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, as it was by Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II.

Last year EWTN chose not to cover Ireland's Divine Mercy Conference, as it customarily does, because Fr. Radcliffe had been chosen as a keynote speaker at the event.

And in 2011, Fr. Radcliffe was scheduled to speak at the general assembly of Caritas International, a confederation of worldwide Catholic charities. The Vatican intervened to prohibit his address, and he was replaced by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the pontifical household.