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VATICAN LETTER Dec-19-2008 (820 words) Backgrounder. xxxi

Continuity you can count on: Curial nods reflect past relationships

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With a series of recent appointments and several more expected in coming months, the Roman Curia's "Team Benedict" is finally coming into focus.

Naming top Vatican administrators is a task Pope Benedict XVI has tackled with patience and deliberation. For a number of key positions, he has turned to people he knows best -- old colleagues from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The pope made it clear after his election in 2005 that he would not be cleaning house at the Vatican, and for the most part he's let the officials appointed by Pope John Paul II work up to their retirement.

In this sense, the transition could not be more unlike the selection of Cabinet members by a new U.S. president. If the Vatican had a slogan, it would be "continuity you can count on," not "change you can believe in."

In 2008, the Roman Curia saw the balance tip when, for the first time, more than half of the Vatican's 21 major agencies were headed by Pope Benedict appointees. With five more positions currently held by older cardinals, 2009 is likely to see a flurry of new appointments.

The heads of Vatican congregations and councils in or near the retirement zone include:

-- Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who turns 75 in January.

-- German Cardinal Walter Kasper, 75, a theologian who heads the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

-- Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, 75, who has been president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry since 1997.

-- Italian Cardinal Renato Martino, 76, who heads two agencies, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.

The Rome rumor mill has been fairly quiet on replacement candidates for these posts, although during the October Synod of Bishops there was speculation that Cardinal Peter Turkson of Cape Coast, Ghana, was under consideration to head the Christian unity council.

Pope Benedict's most recent appointments illustrate his inclination to look to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when it's time for a talent search. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the pope headed the doctrinal congregation for 24 years and made some lasting relationships with staff and bishop members.

In July, he named Italian Archbishop Angelo Amato, his No. 2 man at the doctrinal congregation for several years, to head the Congregation for Saints' Causes.

In November, he appointed Spanish Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera as head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. Cardinal Canizares has been a member of the doctrinal congregation since 1995, and he's known to colleagues as "Little Ratzinger" -- a nickname the cardinal attributes to their common thinking on doctrine and, perhaps, their comparable heads of white hair.

Two earlier appointments had similar connections: In 2005, the pope named U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, a longtime member and former staffer at the doctrinal congregation, to be its head. In 2006, he chose Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, for many years his right-hand man at the doctrinal congregation, as his new secretary of state.

Although many have doctrinal experience, the pope's appointees do not fall into easy categories. In June, for example, he chose Italian Cardinal Ennio Antonelli to head the Pontifical Council for the Family, bringing in a man known for his moderate pastoral style to succeed the late Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who made headlines with his blunt talk on issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, contraception and the use of condoms in AIDS prevention.

Pope Benedict at times has reached around the globe, naming a Brazilian to head the clergy congregation, an Indian to head evangelization and a Frenchman to run interreligious dialogue. At the same time, six major department-head appointees -- and several others in lesser positions -- have been from Italy, pleasing Italians and restoring some of their influence in the Roman Curia.

What do curial retirees do with their time?

Some write books. At a Vatican gathering Dec. 16, Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the former secretary of state, and Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, who recently left as head of the worship and sacraments congregation, presented new volumes and spoke about future projects.

Cardinal Sodano said he finally has time to comb through the Vatican's archives for material on his favorite historical subjects. Part of Cardinal Arinze's time will be taken up by speaking engagements in the United States, where he's been a popular lecturer for years.

Cardinal Arinze pointed out that although cardinal prefects must submit their resignation from Vatican positions at age 75 they remain members of various Roman Curia agencies until age 80. Cardinal Arinze is a member of eight such agencies, so he's going to be spending part of his retirement in that favorite curial pastime: attending meetings.


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