WHISPERS IN THE LOGGIA – B16’s weekend integration of Cardinal Peter Turkson into his top team was just the latest instance of this pontificate’s significant trait for drawing senior Curialists from among the ranks of diocesan bishops.
For the record, that’s Joseph Ratzinger’s keen commentary on a longstanding complaint of ordinaries the world over — namely, that the Roman Curia had enjoyed a too-heavy hand in the oversight of their local churches during the reigns of his recent predecessors.
Almost five years since his election, nearly three-fifths of Benedict’s picks to head the global church’s 24 cabinet ministries — ten of the 17 he’s named — have come from the trenches… and with Turkson’s appointment now finally put to bed, one of Australia’s leading papers is running buzz that Down Under’s leading churchman could be next:
Catholic circles in Rome and Australia are abuzz with speculation that Pope Benedict XVI will shortly appoint Australia’s Cardinal George Pell to a prestigious job in the top echelons of the Roman Curia.
Cardinal Pell’s experience as Archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne, and his service on a range of Vatican organisations, is seen as an ideal background to take on a senior Vatican job.
Cardinal Pell, who was ordained in 1966, served as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge.
He is also a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and president of the Vox Clara Committee, which advises the Vatican on English translations of liturgical texts used at Mass.
One possible senior job becoming vacant in Rome is the powerful position of Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, which helps advise the Pope on the appointment of new bishops across the world.
Its Prefect, Cardinal Battista Re, who has held the job since 2000, reached the retirement age of 75 this year.
To be sure, speculation on a potential Pell-to-Rome move has been bandied about since the weeks following last summer’s World Youth Day in Sydney; talk linking the fiercely outspoken prelate to the Bishops post was reported on these pages last March. As one Oz op put it at the time, Pell “has done everything you could do here,” indicating that the 68 year-old cardinal — who once famously remarked that he didn’t “think a Christian can say ‘I’m a lover, not a fighter'” — isn’t one to rest on his laurels.
On a related note, only in recent days were the traditional post-WYD papal honors conferred on several of the top planners behind Sydney’s staging of the church’s “Olympic event.”
In its report, the Australian already took to proffering two potential successors to Pell at the helm of the 580,000-member Sydneyside church; Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra, a former Melbourne auxiliary and lead player on the Roman Missal project, and the Oxford-trained Sydney auxiliary Antony Fisher, a onetime barrister, leading moral theologian and Pell protege long seen as a rising star of the English-speaking church worldwide.
That said, Fisher earned scorn during WYD’s first days by characterizing the family of a dead abuse victim who garnered a high profile in the event’s run-up as “dwelling crankily on old wounds.”
In the incident’s aftermath, the 50 year-old prelate maintained that he was taken out of context, terming the quote’s fallout “very hard.”
“It taught me not to criticise the media,” Fisher told a local paper, “because they’ll get you back.”
Since the internationalization of the Curia began in earnest under Paul VI, there is a history of Australians serving in top Vatican posts; a former archbishop of Melbourne — Oz’s largest diocese — Cardinal James Knox ran two dicasteries (including the Congregation for Divine Worship) before his 1983 death, and Cardinal Edward Cassidy held the influential post of Sostituto in the Secretariat of State before becoming head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1990. (Now 85, Cassidy chose to retire to his homeland.)
The latter’s successor at the ecumenical office, Cardinal Walter Kasper, is one of four Curial heads currently serving past the retirement age; alongside Re, Cardinals Franc Rode (prefect of the “Congregation for Religious”) and Paul Josef Cordes (president of Cor Unum, which handles humanitarian affairs) both turned 75 last month.