Pope Francis may be getting ready to pull up the curtain on his shiny new curial reform. It’s been a long time coming, and we’ve been promised before – several times – that the draft is basically done and the finished product about to be unveiled. So, there’s no need to wait with ’bated breath. Still, there is one big thing that happened last week, which suggests something could be in the offing, with bearing on the next conclave as well as the new curia.
There was a lot of noise last week about other doings in the Vatican – the maxi-trial of Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu et al. and the already infamous responsa ad dubia from the Congregation for Divine Worship regarding Pope Francis’s ill-considered motu proprio restricting the Latin Mass were the big stories in Catholic Land – so getting late to the other big news that dropped last week is perhaps forgivable.
I mean the announcement that Pope Francis has named an “administrative delegate” to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
That’s the Vatican shop to which Pope Francis named Manila’s popular cardinal-archbishop, Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle, two years ago this month. The conventional wisdom was – is – that bringing Tagle to Rome was designed to show favor, especially with a view to the next conclave.
The next conclave will be extraordinarily difficult to handicap, for a host of reasons better explored in a separate column.
Suffice it to say that the appointment of a delegate – essentially a political commissar – is a pretty transparent attempt either to distance Cardinal Tagle from his principal or to distance the principal from Tagle, or both, and also in view of the next papal election. There is no “safe money” in the big race this time around, but it is fair to say that Pope Francis wants his guy to have a shot and understands that being perceived as “Pope Francis’s pick” is not going to increase his chances.
That said, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples is already a behemoth, and is poised by all accounts to get bigger under the new disposition. Prop[aganda] fide – as the dicastery is known in curialese – controls untold wealth, and jealously guards its books.
There’s nothing necessarily nefarious in that, mind, since the Congregation’s mission profile requires it to have resources and freedom to dispose of them. Prop fide supports struggling Churches in places the Gospel is not always welcome, and helps missionary Churchmen deal with frequently hostile local leadership. That is expensive work, and only part of what the Congregation does to assist missionaries as they navigate fraught waters to develop self-sufficiency, and to help in choosing leaders for missionary Church jurisdictions.
For its part, the Vatican has taken a “nothing to see here” line on the appointment of Benjamin Estevez Dominges – a Spanish layman and telecom engineer who founded a business-to-business e-commerce outfit earlier in his career and had most recently been the general director of economic affairs for the Jesuit-run Pontifical Comillas University in Madrid – and there may, indeed, be nothing to see here.
Still, Pope Francis has “visitors” and/or commissars to several curial dicasteries recently, including the Congregation for Divine Worship and the super-Dicastery for Integral Human Development. He has also named commissars for the Basilica of St. Mary Major and the St. Peter’s Fabric, not to mention his successive commissars – technically Special Apostolic Visitors, Archbishop Henryk Hoser in 2017 and Archbishop Aldo Cavalli last month, following Hoser’s death – for Medjugorje.
The departure of Cardinal Robert Sarah followed on the heels of a visitation to CDW, and Cardinal Peter Turkson is rumored to be on his way out of Integral Human Development after Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago visited the offices earlier this year. Two upper-level officials departed IHD in the wake of Cupich’s visit earlier this year.
In fairness, things at IHD had been impractical from the get-go. The dicastery had no clear mandate. Pope Francis welded it together from the former offices dedicated to justice and peace, charity (cor unum), migrants and itinerants, and pastoral health care. He gave a red hat to one of the under-secretaries – Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ, the pope’s point man for migrants and refugees – and left him in place. Frankly, it was difficult to see how the arrangement wasn’t designed not to work.
Government-by-commissariat may be a temporary thing, a stop-gap in the in-between period of the lame duck curia, but it is certainly a feature of modes and orders in Rome under Pope Francis.
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