vrijdag 20 januari 2012

The new cardinals

Pope Benedict XVI announced on Jan. 6 the creation of 22 new cardinals, including 18 under the age of 80 and hence eligible to elect the next pope. Given that the bulk are Vatican officials (10), Italians (seven) and Europeans (13), news reports styled it as a crop reinforcing the conservative, and curial, stranglehold on the College of Cardinals.

First of all, this isn't likely to be a celebrated consistory on the Catholic right. This isn't the crop of November 2010, which featured conservative lions such as Cardinals Raymond Burke of the United States and Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka. Instead, this group is composed mostly of ecclesial equivalents of Mitt Romney, meaning center-right pragmatists who inspire little ideological fervor.

Consider Archbishop Dominik Duka of Prague, a Dominican and a biblical scholar. Duka reportedly has called the older Latin Mass "a Baroque artifact for Baroque times" and has signaled openness to in-vitro fertilization if the destruction of embryos could be avoided. Archbishop Giuseppe Betori of Florence has tried to heal the historical divide between the progressive and conservative camps among Italian laity, and for his trouble, a traditionalist commentator has labeled Betori a "paleo-liberal," charging that he's part of a subterranean bloc of cardinals opposed to Benedict XVI. There's also Brazilian Archbishop João Bráz de Aviz at the Congregation for Religious, a friend of the Focolare who's had a good relationship through the years with the liberation theology movement in Latin America.

These guys may not be anybody's idea of a flaming liberal, but they're also not hardcore conservatives.

Second, the assumption that naming a lot of Italians and Vatican officials automatically makes the College of Cardinals more "Roman," in the sense of more insular and less in touch with the wider world, is open to question.

Take, for instance, Italian Archbishops Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and Giuseppe Bertello, president of the government of the Vatican city-state. Both are veteran diplomats who have served all over the world. Filoni was assigned at various points to Sri Lanka, Iran, Brazil, Jordan, Iraq and the Philippines, in addition to spending 1992-2001 in Hong Kong heading up a study mission on China. Bertello has served in Sudan, Turkey, Venezuela, Mexico, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Rwanda.

To be clear, these weren't pleasure cruises. Filoni was in Baghdad in April 2003 when the U.S.-led invasion began, while Bertello was in Rwanda in 1994 at the height of the genocide. As most Western diplomats fled, Filoni and Bertello both stayed on the job, insisting they couldn't abandon the local church or the missionaries. Both won high marks for their humanitarian and diplomatic efforts, even if both were ultimately powerless to stop the bloodshed unfolding around them.

In the abstract, is it really the case that Italians and Vatican officials such as Filoni and Bertello are bound to have a more narrow outlook than, say, a residential prelate from North America or Africa who's rarely traveled outside his comfort zone?

If you want an actual newsflash from this consistory, Filoni and Bertello hint at the headline: "Triumph of the Diplomats."

Five of the 18 new cardinal-electors named by Benedict XVI -- notably, the first five names on the list -- come out of the Vatican diplomatic corps. In addition to Filoni and Bertello, the former diplomats include:

- Portuguese Archbishop Manuel Monteiro de Castro, now running a Vatican court, who's previously served in the Antilles, El Salvador, Honduras and South Africa;
Spanish Archbishop Santos Abril y Castelló, who replaced Cardinal Bernard Law as Archpriest of St. Mary Major after spending much of his career in Cameroon, Bolivia, Argentina and Slovenia; and
- Italian Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliò, currently heading the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Refugees, who's spent time in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Lebanon and Kuwait.

All this is striking in light of the traditional Vatican rivalry between the two heavyweight departments that tend to dominate the place, the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In oversimplified terms, it's a contrast between diplomats and theologians -- between outward-looking figures focused on geopolitics and dialogue, and more inward-looking figures concerned with Catholic identity and doctrinal fidelity. (In theory, of course, these two instincts can be complementary, so the tension is usually a question of where one puts the emphasis.)

The 2005 election of Benedict XVI, whose previous job had been running the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for a quarter-century, was seen as a big win for the theologians. When the new pope tapped a former aide from the doctrinal office, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, as his Secretary of State, it seemed to put a slammer on that conclusion.

In that light, the consistory of 2012 shapes up as a good day for the diplomats -- and, perhaps, for the cosmopolitan, dialogue-oriented and practical mentality long associated with the world's oldest diplomatic corps. How that plays out in practice remains to be seen, but it's at least a fresh question to ponder.

(Source: John L. Allen Jr, in - NCR, jan. 20, 2012)