More from Pentin on the Pope’s appointments

Edward Pentin has the second part of his series about the Holy Father’s appointments up today at the National Catholic Register. We were, we confess, a little disappointed with this installment. Here’s a selection:

Within the Roman Curia, the Pope has been lauded for a number of appointments. These include making the accomplished diplomat Cardinal Pietro Parolin secretary of state and choosing Archbishop Paul Gallagher, a respected Holy See diplomat with experience in Burundi and Australia, as his secretary for relations with states. Many of Francis’ most prominent successes have been in diplomacy, helped in no small part by the quality of papal diplomats he has chosen.

But he has also courted controversy, most notably in his decision in 2014 to remove Cardinal Raymond Burke, first from membership of the Congregation for Bishops (where other members were opposed to the cardinal’s insistence that orthodox bishops be appointed) and then as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. The latter action reportedly was largely due to the U.S. cardinal’s opposition to streamlining the annulment process. 

Prior to Cardinal Burke’s removal, the Pope had already dismissed Cardinal Mauro Piacenza as prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, as well as the congregation’s secretary (deputy), Archbishop Celso Morga Iruzubieta, a well-respected prelate who had served 27 years in the Roman Curia. Cardinal Piacenza was appointed prefect of the Apostolic Penitentiary; Archbishop Morga became coadjutor archbishop of Mérida-Badajoz, Spain.

Sources say both of their departures were to avoid the congregation hindering bishops from acting in accordance with Francis’ vision.

(Hyperlink removed and emphasis supplied.)

We are a little disappointed because this reporting tells us, essentially, what we already knew. A bunch of Curial cardinals—including Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, who is not mentioned in Pentin’s piece—were reassigned, often into less prominent positions, ostensibly because they did not fit the tone of the Holy Father’s pontificate. Cardinal Burke is, of course, the most notable example of this process, being dismissed as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura and given essentially a sinecure position. (Of course, Cardinal Burke’s schedule has been freed up considerably to speak and write about issues affecting the Church, which he has done with great regularity.) And other officials of the Curia have found themselves sidelined; for example, Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca—a brilliant intellect, a fine administrator, and a friend of tradition—was transferred from post of secretary of the Governorate (where he succeeded Archbishop Viganò) to under-secretary of the Apostolic Signatura. Not quite a promotion, by any stretch of the imagination.

But this has been discussed at length for some time now.

What has been less well discussed, we think, is how the successors have been administering their dicasteries. For example, Cardinal Mamberti, the new prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, was a Vatican diplomat under John Paul II and Benedict XVI before being elevated to the Church’s sort-of supreme court. It would be interesting to get some analysis of how Cardinal Mamberti has transitioned into his new role at the Signatura and whether he has marked out any significant changes from the course Cardinal Burke set. Likewise, the new prefect for the Congregation for Clergy, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, is another career diplomat who has found himself swept up by the wind. (One could write an interesting article—we think—about how influential Sodano-era diplomats have wound up being in this pontificate.) You take our point.

Certainly, the general narrative has been that Francis has sacked conservatives and replaced them with moderates or liberals more sympathetic to his overarching program. But it seems to us that that narrative makes some assumptions about the appointments the Pope has made. And in some cases, those assumptions are easily justified. But in other cases, it seems to us that we are lacking enough information to say one way or the other what has happened. It will be interesting, then, to see if Pentin—or anyone else—follows up on this inquiry, examining the administrations of the “new men” in greater detail.