Thursday, August 17, 2006

The English Desk Is Open

Another day, another dollar, another Philadelphian elevated to the episcopacy.

This morning, Pope Benedict named local boy Msgr James Green, head of the English-language desk at the Secretariat of State, as apostolic nuncio in South Africa and Namibia, and apostolic delegate to Botswana. The appointment comes with an elevation to the archiepiscopal rank, and Green has been assigned the titular see of Altino.

Coming but three weeks and a day after the Ordination of the Century, it seems the Holy Father wants to drown our town in celebration or something.

Archbishop-elect Green, 56, was ordained a priest of Philadelphia in 1976. From 1977-82, he served as private secretary to the late Cardinal John Krol, and shortly thereafter was sent to the Accademia.

In the diplomatic service of the Holy See, Green served in Papua New Guinea, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, the nunciature in Scandinavia (based in Copenhagen), and spent a year in Taiwan as charges d'affaires before being brought to Rome as head of the English desk in late 2002. Green's appointment continues the longstanding trend of the post as launching pad for episcopal careers: his predecessor, Bishop Brian Farrell, LC, is the current secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and for a decade the desk was led by Msgr Justin Rigali of Los Angeles, who was made an archbishop and the first American president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in 1985.

The archbishop-elect is the second Philadelphian among the current nuncios of the Diplomatic Corps; the nuncio in Zimbabwe, Archbishop Edward Adams, is the other. Adams received his first assignment as a mission chief a decade ago this month, when he was sent to Bangladesh. Six other Americans head up Vatican embassies, two of whom were not diplomats prior to their appointments.

The move of San Damaso's top English-language official comes less than a month before the 15 September audience at which the Pope will introduce his new Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Bertone's lack of familiarity with English adds to the import of the English desk as a major strategic opening, and makes for the second key post in the dicastery's upper ranks which the incoming Cardinal-Secretary must fill. The other is the Secretariat for Relations with States, vacated by Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo's appointment as head of the Government of the Vatican City State, the Governatorato.

While Green's friends in Rome and the US had hoped he would end up succeeding Lajolo in light of his native language, this morning's appointment doesn't dim the priority of naming an English speaker to the post which directly oversees the Vatican's diplomatic relations. Several Anglophone prelates have been mentioned; notable among these are Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin (a former nuncio despite his lack of Accademia credentials) and Bishop Lawrence Brandt of Greensburg, a veteran of the Corps who left it in 1981 to return to his home diocese of Erie.

The Pope is said to remember Brandt distinctly from the latter's stint at the nunciature in Bonn, during which Joseph Ratzinger served as archbishop of Munich and Freising. If the Italians seek to keep it "della famiglia," a popular choice would be that of the nuncio in Brazil, 65 year-old Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri.

New apostolic nuncios are traditionally ordained to the episcopacy in Rome at the hands of the Secretary of State, unless some extraordinary reason (usually an elderly parent who can't make the trip) moves the venue to the nominee's home diocese.

That said, we here in Philly wouldn't mind another party.