Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Kingmaker

Above all on this busy morning, there's a new sheriff in town -- the world's 5,000-plus high-hats have a new overseer.

In a move without precedent, a Canadian prelate has been named to lead one of the nine Congregations of the Roman Curia. Yet on an even more seismic plane, for the first time in history the Vatican's "Big Three" dicastery chiefs -- State, CDF and Bishops -- are dominated not just by two North Americans, but two non-Europeans.

A 2pm press conference will take place in Quebec as Cardinal Marc Ouellet reacts to his appointment as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. For the rest, here's the feed compiled earlier this month as reports of the move began to surface.

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The pick to enter the Vatican's "Big Three" and head up the celebrated Thursday Table that votes to recommend episcopal appointees to the pontiff has long enjoyed Benedict's high regard and solid trust.

A veteran of the Communio school (and still a member of the journal's editorial board), Ouellet is no stranger to the Curial world. A product of the Gregorian and onetime professor at the Lateran, in 2001 the dogmatic theologian was ordained a bishop and made secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, from which post he was sent back to Canada's mother-see 18 months later and, within a year, given the red hat long denied his predecessor. In the time since, among other things, the Sulpician was touted as papabile at the 2005 Conclave, won high marks for his turn as relator (spokesman) at the 2008 Synod of Bishops dedicated to the Word of God, and has been spoken of since this pontificate's early days as a member of B16's "kitchen cabinet."

Over recent weeks, the cardinal's been at the center of a heated debate over abortion up North, one sparked after he echoed church teaching by calling the procedure a "moral crime" irrespective of its circumstances.

After protests ensued from politicians and women's groups and he was branded an "ayatollah" in the press, Ouellet said that "there is a legitimate debate about promoting human life, about respect for the unborn."

Canadian society "is very weak on that," he added.

A forceful voice in a Quebecois square where he recently observed that "the church... has no power anymore," the cardinal's resume likewise includes extensive experience in the secondary area of competence long entrusted to the oversight of the Congregation for Bishops, having served a decade in South America as a student, professor and seminary rector in Colombia.

The prefect of Bishops has simultaneously held the presidency of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America since 1969. Ouellet is already a longtime consultor to the Southern task-group.

Lastly, one task Ouellet will likely tackle with relish in his new post is an impending reinvention of the hierarchy in Quebec -- no fewer than half of the province's 19 dioceses will "open" over the next two years as their incumbents reach the retirement age of 75.

Of course, that work now begins at the top -- with the choice of his successor.