Saturday, December 17, 2005

Nuntius Washington

The title above is the telegraph address for 3339 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, the Apostolic Nuntiature to the United States. And by this time next month, it'll have a new occupant.

As we've been predicting here for what seems like eons, Benedict XVI has continued both his own diplomatic trend and the repeated pattern of Popes since 1939, moving quickly to name a representative after his own mind to the United States. This morning, the Pope accepted (for reasons of age) the retirement of Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo as Apostolic Nuncio to Washington, naming Archbishop Pietro Sambi, heretofore the papal representative in Israel, Cyprus, Jerusalem and Palestine as his successor.

Before all else, two historical notes: unlike his predecessors, Montalvo is the Holy See's first US representative to leave the Washington post due to an age-limit retirement and not for a job in the Roman Curia. And, as opposed every one of his predecessors excepting Jean Jadot (still alive and kicking in Belgium at the blessed age of 96), Montalvo -- a kindly man with a stern mien who will long be remembered for his hand-rolled cigarettes -- will likely not get the cardinal's red hat which has been almost understood to be one's reward for tending the vast complexities of church and state which make Washington the most challenging post in papal diplomacy.

And now, the fun begins. Judging by my inbox, two questions predominate: 1. What does this all mean? and 2. Is Nuncio Sambi a liberal? (The latter being, without doubt, the most insipid question of all time.)

That said, I'm doing my best to answer both in a comprehensive way. An analysis will be released in due course.