Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Red Roster, '08 Edition

After the longest "honeymoon" in recent memory, last November's intake of new cardinals finally got their dicastery assignments from Pope Benedict this morning.

As the entire college of cardinals is charged aiding the pontiff in overseeing the global church, each member of the papal "senate" is, regardless of home-base, traditionally given a slate of Curial memberships to bring their respective strengths and expertise to the service of the Holy See's universal mission, both within and outside the church's walls.

Among other highlights of the list:
  • Not a single soul was added to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Don't ask why.
  • Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa -- the president of the Italian bishops' conference -- emerged as the slate's closest thing to a "big winner," picking up memberships on three influential congregations: Oriental Churches, Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and the all-powerful Congregation for Bishops, to which B16 also named Cardinals Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris, Vatican City's governor Giovanni Lajolo and the Laity Czar Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko.
  • Already mentioned as a potential successor to Cardinal Agostino Vallini after the expected transfer of the church's "chief justice" later this month to the vicariate of Rome, Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona was named to sit alongside Vallini as a member of the church's highest tribunal, the Apostolic Signatura. (A noted canonist, Martinez was named to the other legal dicastery -- the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts -- last month, along with US Archbishops John Myers of Newark and Raymond Burke of St Louis.) The Barcelona cardinal, 70, was also named to the Pontifical Councils for the Laity and the Family, heading to the latter with Vingt-Trois.
  • Celebrated for his excellent relations with Ulster's Protestant community, the primate of All Ireland Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh nabbed a slot on the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, while the church's highly-regarded leader in Muslim-dominant Senegal, Cardinal Theodore Adrien Sarr of Dakar, was left off the list for the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, being named instead to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the office overseeing the church's mission efforts.
  • With the positio recently completed and amid swirling rumors that the beatification of Pope John Paul II could come as early as next spring, two of the late Great's inner sanctum were given seats on the body tasked with green-lighting the Polish Pope's movement toward sainthood, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Alongside Rylko -- Cardinal Karol Wojtyla's backup secretary during the two conclaves of 1978 -- Saints sees the arrival of Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the archpriest of St Peter's who, so it's said, John Paul's Polish circle would've favored as his successor... had he been a member of the college at the time of his death. A staunch advocate of the JP cause who recently floated the possibility of moving his remains from the subterranean grottoes to the Vatican basilica's main floor, Comastri was the lone red-hat to join Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow -- Wojtyla's secretary of four decades -- for the tomb-side vigil to mark this year's anniversary of the pontiff's 2005 death. "People are convinced that John Paul II is already a saint and that therefore he can intercede for them to God," Comastri said in a late 2005 interview with the Italian bishops' daily paper, Avvenire.
  • At its essence, liturgy's all about communication, so it's appropriate that Philadelphia's own Cardinal John Foley -- long the Vatican's "great communicator" and now grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem -- was named to Divine Worship. A missionary in his own right given his life's work of improving the church's accessibility and openness to the press, the Columbia J grad was likewise named to the Propaganda Fide.
  • And, lastly, the church in Texas' longstanding advocacy in defense of immigrants got an even firmer stamp of papal approval with the appointment of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston to the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerants. Having reportedly hoped for a light Roman docket given the time he's already spending away from home, the South's first red-hat got his wish -- he was the class' only member given a single assignment, and the only one of the new intake named to Migrants. Three other Stateside prelates (namely, Cardinals Adam Maida of Detroit, Theodore McCarrick of Washington and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn) might already sit on the council, but the combination of the Houstonian's location at ground zero of the national debate over immigration reform and a seat on the Vatican body that handles the church's response to the movement of peoples could just mean that Benedict's tapped his designated hitter on the issue for the American audience.
And lastly, a related stat that's been floating around of late... possibly not without reason.

Under usual circumstances, the US appointment docket will likely see a bit of movement between the days following this weekend's USCCB meeting in Orlando and mid-July's effective suspension of Vatican business for the summer. (For the record, as of this writing, eight American dioceses stand vacant, with another ten whose ordinaries are serving past the retirement age of 75 and holding on for successors.)

But more than these, the potential of another milestone of note looms across the water.

Since 1984, when then-Msgr Foley was named an archbishop and president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, at least two US prelates have concurrently led dicasteries of the Roman Curia. The figure first hit a peak of four in 1996, when the then archbishop of Denver, James Francis Stafford, was named president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity (the others: Cardinals William Baum at the Penitentiary, Edmund Szoka at the Holy See's "budget office," and Foley), and again following then-Archbishop William Levada's appointment to the CDF in 2005 until Szoka's retirement a year later.

In the two years since, adding in Foley's 2007 appointment to the Holy Sepulchre post, the figure's been cut in half. And now, with Stafford's 76th birthday approaching late next month, the prospect of a lone Stateside dicastery-head for the first time in a quarter-century has become a topic of interest in some rather keen chattering circles... which can't help but muse that some reinforcement's in the offing.

As always, stay tuned.

PHOTO: Reuters