Thursday, February 22, 2007

B16 Goes CEImney-Sweeping

The Pope has begun his shake-up of the CEI -- the Italian episcopal conference -- elevating two of its top officials to the episcopacy this morning.

The all-powerful conference's #3 official, Msgr Domenico Mogavero, has been named to head the diocese of Mazara del Vallo in his native Sicily, and its long-serving head of social communications Msgr Claudio Giuliodori was appointed bishop of Macerata-Tolentino-Recanati-Cingoli-Treia in the Marche, not far from his home of Ancona.

Benedict's "promovere e muovere" (moving by promotion) of two of Cardinal Camillo Ruini's senior lieutenants primes the ground for the 76 year-old prelate's long-awaited replacement as CEI president, ending his impressive 16-year reign at the helm of the Italian church's public policy and communications apparatus. As political complications encompassing both the secular polity and the Vatican had stalled action on the CEI's future in recent months, today's moves strengthen the hand of a new president to install his own people in the conference's nerve center with minimal difficulty, potentially re-molding its approach to political and societal questions in the process.

The deck-clearing can be viewed as a victory for the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who's sought to "revolutionize the CEI" and -- in line with then-Cardinal Ratzinger's musings on episcopal conferences -- tone down the centralized, strongman approach that's made Ruini one of Italy's leading political actors.

Writing last week on Bertone, Benedict and the "war over Ruini's successor," L'Espresso's Sandro Magister indicated the one figure whose job security, or lack thereof, now becomes even more key: the CEI second-in-command Bishop Giuseppe Betori, a "staunch follower" of Ruini's whose departure Bertone has reportedly sought.

In related news, the center-left government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi fell yesterday amid opposition within his own ranks to continued funding for Italian involvement in Afghanistan and the US' request to expand its military outpost in the northeastern city of Vicenza. As Rome was said to be plunged into "political turmoil," Italian President Giulio Napolitano called the leaders of the country's fractious parties together for "crisis talks" slated to extend through the day.

This morning, the Pope received the clergy of Rome for their annual encounter to mark the feast of the Cattedra di Pietro, the Chair of Peter. According to early reports, Benedict told his priests that he'll be signing the widely-anticipated Apostolic Exhortation on 2005's Synod of Bishops for the Eucharist "shortly." The Holy Father expressed his hope that the document might help "in liturgical meditation, whether personal, for the preparation of homilies and the Eucharistic celebration, and also to guide, illumine and revitalize popular piety."

Greeting the pontiff on behalf of his diocese's clergy, Ruini -- the papal vicar for Rome -- thanked Benedict for teaching with "extraordinary clarity the mystery of our faith, in itself and with its many implications for the realities of our time."