...that is, until today.
This morning, in a move considered both historic and a personal homecoming, the Pope named Cardinal Justin Rigali to the membership of the congregation, the all-powerful Vatican body that oversees the appointment of bishops to non-missionary dioceses the world over.
Then-Archbishop Rigali served as the congregation's secretary from 1989 to 1994, when he was named to the archdiocese of St Louis. Before going to the Midwest, the native of Los Angeles had served in the Roman Curia for three decades, including stints as the senior English-language aide to three pontiffs and the first American to head the diplomatic school of the Holy See, the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy.
Since 2002, when Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as archbishop of Boston and moved to Rome, no resident US prelate has held a seat on Bishops. Not even two weeks after Cardinal Edmund Szoka's 80th birthday -- a milestone that, by law, required the Midwesterner's departure from the congregation's oblong table of 30 cardinals and bishops -- the dicastery's American contingent returns to four members. What's more, its senior English-language staffer is a local product, Msgr Andrew Baker of the diocese of Allentown.
Returning to the table, the Pharaoh joins not a few friendly faces, including his seminary classmate Cardinal William Levada, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and his longtime collaborator in the Secretariat of State Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who as prefect of Bishops runs the congregation's meetings and presents the body's opinions to the Pope in a weekly Saturday audience.
During his days in St Louis, Rigali served as an informal, yet no less effective, kingmaker as multiple priests of the onetime "Rome of the West" were elevated to the episcopacy at a notable clip, whether as hometown auxiliaries or diocesan bishops in their own right. The group includes Archbishops Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas and Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee, Bishops George Lucas of Springfield, Paul Zipfel of Bismarck, John Gaydos of Jefferson City, Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, Edward Braxton of Belleville and Robert Finn of Kansas City-St Joseph.
In large part, the unlikely emergence of the 72 year-old Philadelphia prelate as a voting member of his last curial home can be chalked up to a need to replenish the congregation's membership with keen talent scouts, particularly given the recent difficulties of finding suitable and willing candidates for episcopal appointment in the United States.
The requirement that cardinals step aside from their dicastery memberships at age 80 has done much to deprive Bishops of some of its most experienced hands in recent months. Besides Cardinal Szoka, six other longtime veterans of the table have entered mandatory retirement over the last year: Cardinals William Wakefield Baum, Eduardo Martinez Somalo, Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, Agostino Cacciavillan, Jean-Marie Lustiger and Franciszek Macharski, John Paul II's successor as archbishop of Krakow. The congregation's eighth departure of note for the year comes in late November when Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the former Secretary of State, reaches his superannuation date.
As of this writing, a consistory for the creation of new cardinals is still on-schedule for 24 November. Shortly thereafter, each of the 17 freshly-gazetted princes of the church under the age of eighty will be given seats on differing combinations of curial offices.
Also a member of Vox Clara -- the blue-ribbon commission overseeing the revision of English-language liturgical translations -- Rigali additionally holds the US bishops' most-prominent committee portfolio as chair of its pro-life efforts. In a national message released earlier this week to mark the annual observance of Respect Life Sunday, the cardinal wrote that "the truth about the incomparable dignity and right to life of every human being... is no sectarian creed."
Quoting Pope Benedict's recent homily at the Austrian shrine of Mariazell, the message noted that "If truth does not exist for man, then neither can he ultimately distinguish between good and evil. And then the great and wonderful discoveries of science become double-edged: they can open up significant possibilities for good, for the benefit of mankind, but also, as we see only too clearly, they can pose a terrible threat, involving the destruction of man and the world."