Saturday, April 26, 2008

Musical Chairs

Thursday night, the music-loving Pope attended a concert in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall held to mark his 81st birthday and third anniversary of election.

Hosted by the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano with a program including works of Brahms and Beethoven, B16 was joined by his brother, Msgr Georg Ratzinger, who flew into Rome on Benedict's return from the States.

In keeping with his brother's usual post-travel practice, the Papstbruder -- a former director of the Regensburg cathedral choir -- was to join the pontiff during his recharge at Castel Gandolfo, the papal retreat outside Rome. However, the Castel jaunt had to be scrapped due to the funeral of Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the church's "family czar," who died on Saturday; the Pope presided at Lopez Trujillo's burial liturgy in St Peter's on Wednesday, which was celebrated by the Cardinal-Dean Angelo Sodano.

The death of the Colombian cardinal -- one of the Vatican's lead commanders in the culture wars -- opens just another crucial spot in the Curial ranks, several of which are in for another wave of reshuffling in the short-term future. Of these, though, the vacancy at the Pontifical Council for the Family (the first time a dicastery head has died in office since the saintly Vietnamese Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan passed in 2002) is of special note as Lopez Trujillo had been the Holy See's lone prominent voice from a key section of the Catholic world: Spanish-speaking Latin America.

Two other curial chiefs -- the Brazilian prefect of Clergy Cardinal Claudio Hummes and the president of the Council for Health Care Workers Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan -- might likewise hail from south of the border, but neither could command the visibility that naturally fell to the Roman official whose purview included leading the charge against abortion and gay marriage.

Already, so it's said, the region is being looked to for Lopez Trujillo's successor... and not just because the next World Meeting of Families is scheduled for early next year in Mexico City, quite possibly with Benedict in attendance.

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Beyond the Family, the retirement age of 75 has the Pope in need of new lead-hands at the church's central offices for Worship, Causes of Saints, Justice and Peace and Migrants and Itinerants. (To date, Benedict has named new heads for four of the curia's nine congregations, and five of its eleven pontifical councils.)

Already well-floated in the Italian press, the most current scenario for the top opening has the Vatican liturgy chief Cardinal Francis Arinze being succeeded by the former Cardinal Ratzinger's deputy at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Angelo Amato. Arinze marked his 75th in November.

A Salesian confrere of his predecessor in the CDF post (the "Vice-Pope" Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone) and ghost-author of its controversial 2000 decree Dominus Iesus, prior tippings had Amato in line for the Congregations for Catholic Education or Causes of Saints (particularly the latter after an Easter Sunday lead article in L'Osservatore Romano on the witness of the martyrs). The Pope's high regard for his former deputy is no secret, and a prefect's job (with its ex officio red hat) has been seen as long in the planning for him. What's more, the foreseen move would defuse one of the more tense tandems in the Curia's top ranks; longstanding reports have indicated a level of friction between Amato and his current boss, Cardinal William Levada, with some even musing that the former "Holy Office" is effectively governed by a triumvirate that's seen the California cardinal outnumbered by the two Salesians.

To succeed Amato, the current buzz points to Bishop Rino Fisichella, the Rome auxiliary dubbed the "chaplain to Parliament." Long a fixture of the Urb's media and policy circles, Fisichella and Levada have long enjoyed good ties. Another key post in play is that of the Vicariate of Rome -- the day-to-day operator of the Pope's diocese -- and the long-expected move of Cardinal Agostino Vallini, currently the church's "chief justice" as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, is still perceived as a go. In succession to the all-powerful Cardinal Camillo Ruini (arguably Italy's most influential political player of recent decades) Vallini's selling-point for the post is said to be his reluctance for a high public profile, a trait which would strengthen the hand of Bertone, who's made little secret of his intent to be the church's lead in relations between the Vatican and the Italian state.

Adding to the drama, reports just prior to the Pope's arrival in Washington noted that the controversial #2 at Divine Worship, Sri Lankan Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, had been overheard voicing a desire to skip town. A former Vatican diplomat exiled from the Curia once before, Ranjith, 60, was restored to Rome by B16 shortly after his election and has long been thought the prefect-in-waiting of the dicastery that oversees the Latin church's liturgical rites.

Sharing the Pope's affinity for what's now called the "extraordinary rite" -- the pre-Conciliar Missal of Bl John XXIII -- Ranjith made waves in the aftermath of Summorum Pontificum by chastising the disobedience of bishops over the decree permitting wider celebration of the Tridentine Mass, stoking even further resistance when he advocated a reconsideration of the reception of communion in the hand. (A posture recently banned in Peru's capital by Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima.)

It's been noted that Sri Lanka's largest local church -- the 700,000-member archdiocese of Colombo -- is in need of a new head; Archbishop Oswald Gomis reached the retirement age in December. Ranjith was an auxiliary of the capital see from 1991 to 1995.

So that's the snapshot... for all the rest, stay tuned.

PHOTOS: AFP/Getty(1); Reuters(2)