It’s Sunset Boulevard for the Cardinal Secretary of State
He should be the pope’s foremost collaborator. But for Benedict XVI, cardinal Angelo Sodano is more of an obstacle than a help. Especially after his failed maneuver against cardinal Camillo Ruini
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, March 2, 2006 – For the Vatican curia, the upcoming consistory from March 23-25 will be very Lenten, and really hardly festive at all.
Only three of the curia heads waiting for the cardinal’s purple will receive it. Of those left standing at the gate, the most famous, archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, not only was not promoted as a cardinal, but was demoted as a nuncio in Egypt.
Step by step, with a few well-aimed decisions, Benedict XVI has already expunged two of the bastions in the curia that were opposed to him: the Congregation for the Liturgy, with the appointment as secretary of an archbishop of Sri Lanka in his trust, Albert M. Ranjith Patabendige Don, and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, with Fitzgerald’s dismissal as president.
And now everyone in the curia is waiting – or fearing – for the next blow to fall against the secretariat of state, with the retirement on account of age of its senior office holder, cardinal Angelo Sodano.
Magister is just so much fun to read sometimes...
The reports that the CEI (Italian conference of bishops) would choose itself a successor to Ruini: false.
In 1991, 1996, and 2001, John Paul II, each time before he made Ruini head of the CEI, asked for the advice of the presidents of the sixteen regions into which the Italian episcopacy is subdivided.
But this time – and this was at the end of January – rather than the pope, the secretariat of state extended the consultation to all of the 226 bishops in office. To each one, the nuncio in Italy Paolo Romeo sent a letter under the seal of pontifical secrecy, asking the recipient to “indicate ‘coram Domino’ and with gracious solicitude the prelate that you would like to suggest.”
But there’s more in the letter. It begins by stating in no uncertain terms that “next March 6 the mandate of the Most Eminent Cardinal Camillo Ruini as president of the CEI will come to a conclusion.” And it continues by asserting that “the Holy Father thinks that a change in the office of the presidency is in order.”
On February 6, the nuncio who signed the letter, Romeo, was called by Benedict XVI for an audience. The pope asked him how and why this initiative came about. Romeo left the audience in shambles, but Sodano was the one who was really trembling.
This is not the first example of the Secretary of State doing his own thing and getting burned for it. Aside from such maneuverings crashing and burning, there are other examples of the tsunami of curial change that have been under the radar but are proof that Benedict XVI's pontificate is bearing administrative fruit.
For example, Sodano has always pursued a very submissive policy with China, in agreement with the most pro-Chinese of the cardinals in the curia, Roger Etchegaray of France, the author of a book on this subject that is almost utterly silent on the oppression of which Christians are the victims in that country.
Sodano once said that, in order to establish diplomatic relations with China, he was ready to move the Vatican nunciature from Taipei to Beijing “not tomorrow, but this very evening.” This statement provoked great irritation among the persecuted Chinese Catholics, and in particular with the combative bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, according to whom religious liberty should come before any sort of diplomatic accommodation.
It is bishop Zen who is the most closely watched of the new cardinals chosen by Benedict XVI. He will be the one to suggest the how and the when for a new policy on China for the Church.
Long time readers are aware of my thoughts on the People's Republic and the recent 'thawing' of relations between the Holy See and the communist regime. In case readers have missed those posts, try this search for 'China'. A policy of ensuring change before rewarding China is a much better one than the 30s policy of rewarding dictators for invading demilitarized zones and violating major treaties.
2. Asia in general.
One of these is the archbishop of Seoul, and the apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, who is impatient to enter as a missionary into North Korea and is a staunch defender of life and of the family in a country that is a theatre of reckless experimentation in biotechnology.
Another is the archbishop of Manila, Gaudencio B. Rosales. The Philippines is the most Catholic country in Asia, with millions of emigrants all over the world, many of whom are persecuted on account of their faith in the Muslim countries where they work.
In the science fiction subgenre known as cyberpunk, Asian cultures like Japan and China are often portrayed as the bastions of genetic manipulation. Magister's turn of phrase in reference to Korea only too clearly illustrates that fiction has become reality and the future is now in societies with no moral or legal restrictions on fundamentally changing what goes into being 'human'.
3. Relations with Islam.
[...] In removing archbishop Fitzgerald from the curia, the pope has said the last word on the symposia that he loved to organize with Muslim leaders like sheikh Yussef-Al-Qaradwi or the heads of Al-Azhar, who signed ceremonious appeals for peace with the Vatican and then, the next day, inflamed the crowds by exalting holy war and the suicide terrorists.
[...] Sodano was a great admirer of Yasser Arafat, and is a supporter of the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, who is ardently pro-Palestinian. But pope Ratzinger immediately flanked Sabbah with a more moderate auxiliary who will succeed him in two years, Fouad Twal of Jordan, previously the archbishop of Tunis. And is planning to appoint as the bishop of the Hebrew Christians who live in the state of Israel the present custodian of the Holy Land, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who is viewed very favorably by the Israeli authorities.
At WYD 05 in Cologne, the Holy Father met the Muslim representatives in the unique setting of him sitting with a large cross behind him on the wall. The fact that he is now putting in place the personnel to ensure that his gestures become more than just gestures is heartening to see in a world where cartoons can spark so much destruction.
4. Reforming the clergy.
With him [Cardinal Sodano] gone, also gone will be a barrier to a decision on the fate of the powerful founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel, with whom Sodano is very close. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has completed a thoroughly detailed preliminary investigation of the accusations against Maciel – sexual abuse of his seminarians and violation of the sacrament of confession.
Last Good Friday, shortly before he was elected pope, Ratzinger indicated this sort of “filth” as one of the evils that must be eliminated from the Church.
This search leads to some posts that provide a bit of background on Father Maciel and his case that has been investigated since before Cardinal Ratzinger's election.
The reform of the clery and the elimination of abuse is probably one of the most heart-felt subjects for Benedict XVI and with any remaining obstacles out of the way, the house cleaning will begin in earnest.