Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Stato Shake-Up Begins

As foreseen some weeks back -- and even some months ago -- a significant shake-up of the mid-rungs at the Vatican's "clearinghouse" office began this morning as several top staffers of the Secretariat of State were shuffled out and their replacements quickly put in place.

Most notably, the Holy See's "deputy chief of staff" -- Assessore of General Affairs Msgr Gabriele Giordano Caccia -- was named an archbishop and the papal nuncio to Lebanon. As likewise forecast, his successor in the key post is Tulsa's own Msgr Peter Wells, until now head of the famous English Desk through which all material in this language going to or coming from the Pope must pass.

Ordained in 1991 and bureau chief since 2006, Wells, 46, is just the latest Anglophone supremo sent up the rungs from the post; former capi d'inglese include Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, the Milwaukee-born prefect of the Papal Household Archbishop James Harvey, Philly's own Archbishop Jim Green, now nuncio in South Africa, and Dublin-born Bishop Brian Farrell, currently the Holy See's #2 ecumenist and the first Curial bishop drawn from the ranks of the Legionaries of Christ. (Farrell's brother, Kevin, is bishop of Dallas.)

As English chief, Wells was the lone papal aide who sat in for last week's private meeting between B16 and President Obama in the pontiff's study. Alongside overseeing the normal flow of documentation both among the Pope and Curia, however, the Oklahoman's new duties include oversight of both the Holy See Press Office and, indeed, L'Osservatore Romano, whose coverage of the new US administration has come under fire from conservative circles on these shores over recent months.

With this morning's move, Wells joins three Italians and a Frenchman in the group of Stato's top five officials. The oldest organ of the papal court, the Secretariat of State traces its origins to 1487.

All told, three top officials were dispatched from San Damaso in this morning's round, with another set of shifts expected in short order; according to the most-reliable of the "court scribes," Il Giornale's Andrea Tornielli, the next slate will include the appointment of the current "deputy foreign minister" -- the undersecretary for Relations with States Msgr Pietro Parolin-- to the tense posting of the nunciature in Venezuela, thus leading the Vatican's on-ground interaction with the Chavez regime.

And speaking of Tornielli, the journo behind the most prolific record of bullseyes on Vatican moves is rumored to be in for one of his own: a recent floater on a Spanish site said the lead vaticanista of the moment could well end up as the next director of the Holy See Press Office (a post commonly known as the "papal spokesman").

No word on whether it'll actually happen, but the talk alone proves something worthwhile: indeed, there's such a thing as life after leaks.