Today the Vatican announced appointments and confirmations for one of its most significant governing bodies, the Congregation for Bishops. Among the new members of the congregation, which is responsible for vetting and nominating bishops worldwide, is Washington, DC’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl. The other new appointees are:
Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega, archbishop of Guadalajara, Mexico;
Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez, archbishop of Bogota, Colombia;
Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity;
Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life;
Archbishop Pietro Parolin, secretary of State;
Archbishop Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy;
Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops;
Archbishop Vincent Gerard Nichols of Westminster, Great Britain;
Archbishop Paolo Rabitti, emeritus of Ferrara-Comacchio, Italy;
Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Citta della Pieve, Italy;
Bishop Felix Genn of Munster, Germany
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who was provisionally appointed to the position of prefect when Pope Francis took office last spring, was confirmed in this position. He has served as head of the Congregation for Bishops since 2010, when he was named to the post by Pope Benedict XVI.
John Allen describes the process by which the congregation vets and nominates episcopal candidates:
Under the Vatican’s process for picking bishops, the papal ambassador, or nuncio, in each country is responsible for compiling a list of names of candidates, called a terna, for openings as they arise. That terna is then submitted to the Congregation for Bishops, whose members vote on the final list to be submitted to the pope.
Although all members vote on every nomination, observers say there’s a natural tendency within the congregation to defer to the members who come from a particular part of the world when a vacancy arises in their region. The American members, therefore, tend to be especially influential in shaping picks for the United States.
Although in theory the pope is free to ignore the recommendations, in most cases the pope simply takes the top pick submitted by the Congregation for Bishops.
In addition to the new members named today, 18 current members of the congregation were confirmed in their positions, including Cardinal William Levada, former prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia. The other members confirmed today are:
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B.;
Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski;
Cardinal Agostino Vallini;
Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera;
Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois;
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran;
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri;
Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo;
Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko;
Cardinal Francesco Monterisi;
Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello;
Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello;
Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi;
Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli;
Cardinal Jose Octavio Ruiz Arenas;
Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski
Receiving as much, if not more, attention as the new and confirmed members—from US commentators, at least—is one name missing from the lists above: Cardinal Raymond Burke. Cardinal Burke, who is head of the Vatican’s highest court, the Apostolic Signatura, had served on the Congregation for Bishops since 2009. Some, such as Religion News Services’ David Gibson, are painting today’s announcement as Pope Francis’ rejection of the “culture warrior” Burke in favor of the “more pastoral” Wuerl:
[The Congregation for Bishops] gave Burke a decisive voice in pushing through a number of key stateside appointments, sometimes against the wishes of U.S.-based bishops.
Burke was something of an outlier on that list — a very conservative holdover from the Benedict XVI era and a fan of the kind of high liturgical finery that Pope Francis does not take to, at all.
Today the calculus of the “Top Four” list changed, perhaps decisively, as Francis dropped Burke from the Congregation for Bishops and added Wuerl. The two cardinals are not known to be allies, to say the least. It’s even less likely now that they’ll be exchanging Christmas cards this year.
Thomas Peters, writing at Catholic Vote, has a decidedly different take on the changes at the Congregation for Bishops:
[T]he real reason some are trying to make a big deal of this news is because a) they are trying to create the perception that there is a rift between Pope Francis and conservatives, and b) because they hope Burke’s absence from the congregation will yield more liberal episcopal appointments here in America. …
There is absolutely no sign the Congregation for Bishops is about to reverse the 70 or 80 streak of conservative Episcopal appointments to U.S. dioceses we witnessed under the reign of Pope Benedict. This massive swell of young conservative bishops is already having a huge impact on the Catholic Church in America.
It was these bishops who upset precedent and elected Cardinal Dolan over Bishop Kicanas for USCCB President, and just elected Archbishop Kurtz.