Monday, June 25, 2007

Interreligious's Diplomatic Hand

The gradual reshuffle of B16's Roman Curia has taken a new turn.

In the latest round of Curial chair-shifting, announced this morning, the Pope named the French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Prior to the move, Tauran, 64, had served since 2003 as Archivist and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church, overseeing the Vatican's priceless collection of historical manuscripts and the other printed treasures of its extensive patrimony.

The post overseeing the Vatican's interreligious brief, however, passes from one Frenchman to another. But not until September 1, the Vatican announcement said, will the Bordeaux-born Tauran succeed Cardinal Paul Poupard as head of PCID. Alongside his duties as president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Poupard, 77 in August, has served as the Holy See's chief liaison to the interfaith community since early 2006, when Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald was named papal nuncio in Cairo. His successor at Culture is likewise expected shortly.

For the 12 years prior to his appointment to the Vatican archives, Tauran was the Holy See's "foreign minister" as undersecretary for Relations with States in the Secretariat of State. Contrary to prior speculation which had tipped the papal confidant Archbishop Angelo Amato SDB, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's outspoken second-in-command, for the PCID post, Benedict has instead entrusted the interreligious portfolio to the gentler hand of one of Rome's most skilled diplomatic operatives.

As the church's relations with Islam will, arguably, overshadow the council's work -- a reality whose impact shook the Holy See following the controversy over the papal address at Regensburg last September -- it doesn't hurt that among the new president's assignments over
his days on the nunciature circuit included four years in Lebanon and a special mission to Syria.

Behind the scenes, the appointment stands as a clear signal of the Pope's goodwill toward the former Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who kept the Frenchman at his side for the lion's share of his time overseeing the Vatican's geopolitical apparatus. A year after his retirement was announced and his successor named, Sodano's influence is said to still be keenly felt in the offices of the first dicastery, where he chose Tauran to take the post he vacated on his 1990 promotion to its top office. The French prelate was also a special favorite of John Paul II, who broke the customarily strict protocol of consistories by tapping Tauran as the first designee of his last class of cardinals, giving him precedence over several higher-ranking officials on the biglietto of 2003.

To succeed Tauran at the archives' helm, Benedict promoted the cardinal's #2, Bishop Raffaele Farina, who now becomes an archbishop. Like Amato and the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Farina is a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco. As the church's librarian is an ex officio member of the College of Cardinals, Farina assures the Salesians of at least one additional red hat at the next consistory. Elevated to the episcopacy only last November, the new librarian and archivist turns 74 in September.

Visiting the Vatican Archives this morning to announce the appointments, the Pope addressed its staff, allowing himself a bittersweet confession in the process.

On his 70th birthday, Benedict said he "so desired that the beloved John Paul II would have allowed me to dedicate myself to the study and research of the interesting documents and reports" contained there, calling them "true masterpieces that help us to retrace the history of humanity and Christianity.

"In his providential design," he went on, "the Lord set out other plans for me, and here I am today, with you, not as the passionate scholar of ancient texts, but as the pastor called to encourage all the faithful to work together for the salvation of the world, each fulfilling the will of God in the places where he puts us to work."

Next month, the library and archives will close for a three-year renovation project.... The Curial Reshuffle Desk, however, won't be quieting down for long.