Saturday, March 11, 2006

Lo Tzunami, Wave One

For those who haven't yet seen, on the closing day of his Lenten retreat Benedict XVI launched into the substance of his renovation of the Roman Curia, taking the first steps toward the consolidation of dicasteries at the second-tier level of the Pontifical Councils, an expectation which was long-ago foreseen on these pages.

This morning, the Pope accepted the resignation of Japanese Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao as president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples. As Hamao is 76, here begins his retirement. To succeed him, Benedict united the council with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, headed by the Italian Renato Martino, who will now serve as president of both.

Rumours which foresaw the elimination of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue have proven themselves unfounded -- at least, pro hoc vice tantum. Its presidency having been vacant since the transfer of Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald to the post of apostolic nuncio in Egypt some weeks ago, the Council's leadership was united with that of the Pontifical Council for Culture in the name of "favoring a more intense dialogue between men of culture and the followers of the various religions." Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Culture council, will serve as head of the twinned entity, but probably not for long; as Poupard turned 75 last August, indicators are that his will be a temporary mandate until the full thrust of the reshuffle comes to light, sometime between late April and June.

The situation of one cardinal-president of two councils has happened before. Through most of the 1990s, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray simultaneously served as head of Justice and Peace and the Cor Unum, which handles the Holy See's humanitarian and relief efforts. So this is, in reality, nothing new. Etchegaray then became head of the planning efforts for the 2000 Holy Year and separate heads were named for the offices. Notably, the Pope received the retired cardinal -- now vice-dean of the College -- in audience this morning.

Both of today's moves note that these consolidations have taken place "per ora" -- "for now." So think of the news as the partial "sneak preview" of something bigger to come.

Beyond this morning's mini-shuffle, the most eagerly-awaited actions involve the future of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Archbishop John P. Foley, the longest-serving Curial head and the Council's president since 1984, is said to be keeping on the mend since surgery last month to remove a tumorous kidney, but how or if the PCCS will become a "mega-council" overseeing the Holy See's media apparati (the Press Office, L'Osservatore, the CTV and Vatican Radio) remain to be seen, as does the appointment of a secretary to it, a post which has been vacant for 13 months.

All the heavy lifting will come via motu proprio. As always, stay tuned.