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New Vatican appointments: Slight shift to center


In what amounts to a shuffle of senior cabinet officials, Pope John Paul II has appointed a theological conservative whose primary language is English to the church’s top liturgical post, and put two moderate-to-liberal prelates in line to join the college of cardinals.

In terms of potential impact on the next papal election, the Oct. 1 appointments seem to confirm the front-runner status of two longtime favorites, but also to shift the balance of power slightly in favor of a more wide-open race.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, a Nigerian who has served as the pope’s top officer for interreligious dialogue since 1984, was tapped to head the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He replaces Chilean Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, an Englishman and since 1991 Arinze’s chief Vatican aide, will succeed him at the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Archbishop Renato Martino, an Italian who has been the Holy See’s delegate to the United Nations since 1986, will return to Rome to lead the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

The Apostolic Patrimony of the Holy See, the office responsible for Vatican finances, gets a new head in Archbishop Attilio Nicora, a longtime force in the Italian bishops’ conference on issues of finance and church/state relations. It was Nicora who oversaw the 1984 revision of the concordat, or basic agreement, between Italy and the Vatican.

The pope also upgraded one of his closest former aides, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, to the status of “cardinal-bishop,” the highest of the three grades within the rank of cardinal. Re remains head of the Congregation for Bishops.

Both Arinze, 69, and Re, 68, have long figured prominently among the papabili, or cardinals mentioned as candidates to be the next pope, and their new appointments amount to further signs of papal favor.

Although Arinze does not have an extensive background in liturgy, he taught the subject in Nigeria for two years in the early 1960s at the Enugu seminary. In 2001, he published a collection of meditations on the Mass called The Holy Eucharist published by Our Sunday Visitor.

Sources close to Arinze say he stresses preparation in liturgical practice, and patience in reform. “The work of an enthusiast done overnight does not last,” he once said.

During Medina’s term the Congregation for Divine Worship became controversial, above all in the English-speaking world, by insisting on greater uniformity in liturgical practice, based on Roman models, and by asserting control over agencies and processes previously run by bishops and bishops’ conferences. The struggle over the International Commission on English in the Liturgy is the best-known example.

Sources who know Arinze, widely seen as a theological traditionalist, do not expect him to bring significant changes in philosophy. His African background, however, may make him slightly more sympathetic to the case for “inculturation,” or allowing worship to be influenced by the customs of the surrounding culture.

One early test may be whether Arinze extends Medina’s policies to other language groups. Sources told NCR that French-speaking bishops recently received a request from Medina to retranslate liturgical texts in light of the May 2001 Vatican instruction Liturgiam Authenticam, which demanded a much more literal approach to the Latin originals. Liturgists will be watching to see if Arinze pushes the question or allows it to drop.

Both Fitzgerald, 65, and Martino, who turns 70 Nov. 23, are seen as theological moderates and social progressives. If both men become cardinals, a traditional rank for Vatican officials who occupy the posts they now hold, they would bolster the small center-left wing in the College of Cardinals. Its leading figures now include two Germans, Cardinals Walter Kasper and Karl Lehmann, recently retired Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, and American Cardinal Roger Mahony.

Fitzgerald is a member of the Missionaries of Africa. He was widely mentioned a year ago as a candidate to succeed Cardinal Basil Hume at Westminster, a job that eventually fell to Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

Nicora, 65, known as an able administrator, is conservative theologically. As bishop of Verona in 1996, he instructed his clergy not to cooperate with efforts of the “We Are Church” group to collect signatures on a petition supporting measures such as women priests, recognition of homosexual marriages and the repeal of mandatory clerical celibacy.

National Catholic Reporter, October 11, 2002