Last week, I reported the appointment of an American religious, Michael Blume, S.V.D., as nuncio to Benin and Togo. What made the appointment unique (and caused even more tumult in an already-antsy San Damaso) is that Blume is not a graduate of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the de rigeur training ground of papal diplomats since before the time of Jesus.
At the weekend, Archbishop Giuseppe DeAndrea -- a naturalized American incardinated into the diocese of Greensburg, in Western Pennsylvania -- retired as nuncio in the Arabian Peninsula four months after his 75th birthday. To succeed him, the Pope named Bishop Mounged El-Hachem, a Maronite diocesan bishop stationed in Lebanon who was the Secretariat of State's resident point-man on the Arab world for 17 years.
Talk about respecting the delicacies of the local situation.
As with the Blume appointment, we can see the roots of a new trend: diplomatic postings being given to prelates with first-hand experience in the places to which they're sent. This turns on its head the previous State convention that the nuncio should be an unblemished arbiter free from prior connections with the place which would affect his objectivity.
Since John XXIII, a consistent thread of a new Pope's efforts to remake the Corps (and, ergo, the local churches) in his own image has been the quick dispatch of a person of his own tastes to head the mission to the United States... I don't think anyone here needs reminding of Archbishop Jadot's rapid ouster by JP....
This precedent is a well-timed one for the outset of the Ratzinger pontificate. Last January, the current nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, reached the retirement age of 75. After arriving from the friendly confines of the Academy, where he was president (in succession to Justin Rigali, himself), it became Montalvo's lot to preside over the fallout of the abuse scandals -- and the resulting exponential increase in background checks which led to a severe thinning of the pool of potential future American bishops. Between the selection vetting and the simultaneous increase in the number of appeals on matters of abuse-related administration going over to Rome via diplomatic pouch from his office, by no means has it been easy work. The nuncio's passage was eased with the promotion of one of his cherished staffers, Sal Matano, to the bishopric of Burlington earlier in the year.
More than any appointment to any American see, who gets the nice house on Massachussetts Avenue is the crucial question for the post-scandal US church, because he's the guy who picks those magic three names that get winnowed down to the one who becomes the bishop of (place name here). The nuncio runs the first half of the selection process, and the way his report sways is the way the Congregation for Bishops votes. Simple as that.
From 1893, when the apostolic delegation was established, every representative of the Holy See to the US was Italian, until Jean Jadot. Every one eventually became a cardinal... until Jean Jadot. Montalvo has done more than enough hard work, remaking the mould of the American bishop in the process, that he doesn't deserve to be left in the cold of history, alone... with Jadot.
But as Nuntius Washington enters the transition phase, it's an open question as to whether, for the first time, a native son of America will return to these shores bearing presentation credentials not from Pennsylvania Avenue, but from S. Pietro.