Vatican Diary / The Cardinals Who Hold the Purse Strings
They have the task of supervising the IOR. Four of the five are new. They have been appointed in a surprise move by Pope Francis. Who is now also preparing to remake the international theological commission from top to bottom
by SANDRO MAGISTER
VATICAN CITY, January 28, 2014 – In addition to the organizational structure of the Roman curia and the selection of new pastors for important episcopal sees like Cologne, Madrid, and Chicago, in the year just begun Pope Francis must also attend to the appointment, lesser but of no little significance, of the new members of the international theological commission.
Created by Paul VI in 1969, the commission has been renewed – more or less regularly – on a five-year basis.
The current thirty members whose terms are about to expire were appointed on June 19, 2009, when Benedict XVI was pope and the prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, to which the commission reports, was the United States cardinal William J. Levada.
Now on the chair of Peter is Francis, and at the head of the congregation is the German and Ratzingerian Gerhard L. Müller, soon to be a cardinal.
The task of the commission according to its statutes is to “offer its services to the Holy See and in an especial way to the same sacred congregation [for the doctrine of the faith] in examining doctrinal questions of major importance.”
The latest product of the commission, made public a few days ago, is a document aimed at refuting the accusation that monotheistic faith is in and of itself a cause of violence:
> Church on Trial. The Defense Speaks (21.1.2014)
The members of the commission are “theologians of various schools and nations who are outstanding in the science of theology and fidelity toward the magisterium of the Church.” They are appointed by the pope, “upon the suggestion of the cardinal prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, with previous consultation with the episcopal conferences.”
Benedict XVI had a great familiarity with this institution. As an ordinary professor of theology, he was appointed a member of it for the first and second term by Paul VI, who in 1977 called him to lead the archdiocese of Munich and made him a cardinal. In his capacity as prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, Joseph Ratzinger then presided “ex officio” over the commission from 1981 to 2005.
It remains to be seen, however, what interest Francis will take in this commission, one of whose members, in the first five-year term, was his theology professor Fr. Lucio Gera.
In any case, it will be interesting to observe according to what criteria the pope will appoint new members. That is, if he will make more room for lay theologians and expand the Latin American representation.
The first laymen to be appointed members of the commission were John Finnis and William May in 1986 (fourth five-year term), while the first female theologians were Sister Sara Butler and Barbara Hallensleben, appointed in 2004 (seventh term) and confirmed in 2009.
Overall, out of about 150 members in the course of the eight five-year terms there have been half a dozen laymen and just two women. Of the current thirty members, only four are Latin American.
The statutes explicitly rule out the inclusion of non-Catholic experts among the members of the commission, although it provides for consultation with them. And in fact the Protestant monk Max Thurian became a member in 1992, after his ordination as a Catholic priest in 1987. But there is no lack of those who are expecting on this point another of the “breaks” that are characterizing the current pontificate.
It will also be curious to see if and how Pope Francis will draw upon the theologians of the commission for important episcopal or curial appointments, as his predecessors did.
There is in fact a substantial list of members of the theological commission who were promoted to the episcopate and later rewarded with the scarlet. In addition to Ratzinger, it should suffice to recall the cases of Carlo Caffarra, Willelm J. Eijk, Pierre Eyt, Walter Kasper, Karl Lehmann, Jorge A. Medina Estevez, John Onaiyekan, Christoph Schonborn, Luis Tagle, and Müller himself. A quip inserted by Francis into his address to the nuncios received in audience on June 21, 2013 would seem to indicate that this will be more difficult with the current pontiff.
Francis in fact said to the pontifical representatives participating in the days dedicated to them as part of the Year of Faith:
“In the delicate task of carrying out the investigation required prior to making episcopal appointments, be careful that the candidates are pastors close to the people: this is the first criterion. Pastors close to the people. He is a great theologian, has a learned mind: Let him go to university where he will do such great good!”
About the theologians, therefore, it remains to be seen. But in the meantime Pope Francis, in a surprising move, has renewed the cardinalate commission of supervision of the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), the five cardinals who are at the head of the chain of command of the Vatican “bank” (an incorrect designation).
On February 16 of last year, Benedict XVI, in one of his last acts of governance, had renewed the commission for a five-year term, confirming cardinals Tarcisio Bertone, Jean-Louis Tauran, Odilo P. Scherer, and Telesphore P. Toppo, and substituting Domenico Calcagno for the ineligible – since he was already the head of the Financial Information Authority, the office that controls the IOR – Attilio Nicora.
But Pope Francis has annulled that decision, replacing four of the five members appointed by his predecessor. With only Tauran spared, the replacements are cardinals Christoph Schönborn, Thomas C. Collins, and Santos Abril y Castelló, as well as cardinal-to-be Pietro Parolin, Bertone’s successor as secretary of state.
In the statement that announced the appointment of the five cardinals it was not said who the president of the commission will be. But press leaks identify him as Abril y Castelló, 79 in September, well known to Bergoglio because he was nuncio in Buenos Aires from 2000 to 2003, before being sent to the less prestigious Slovenia because – the Vatican grapevine says – in episcopal appointments and other questions he preferred agreeing with the then-archbishop of the Argentine capital rather than with his Roman superiors at the time: cardinal secretary of state Angelo Sodano and the substitute – now a cardinal as well – Leonardo Sandri, an Argentine. When he reached the age limit and his diplomatic career ended in 2011, Abril was rewarded under the pontificate of Benedict XVI and with Bertone at the secretariat of state: appointed archpriest of Saint Mary Major in November of that same year, the following February he was made a cardinal and a member of the congregation for bishops.
The statutes of the IOR establish that it should be the cardinal members of the commission who elect their own president, and do not provide for papal approval or ratification. But it is easy to imagine that the cardinals will vote for the name that the pope has informally made known he prefers.
If the selection of Abril y Castelló is confirmed, it will therefore not be the secretary of state who heads the commission. But this is not new. Bertone and Sodano were presidents of it. And also Jean Villot in years gone by. But Agostino Casaroli, also a member of the commission from 1979 to 1994, did not lead it. The presidents at the time were Agnelo Rossi from 1979 to 1989 and Bernardin Gantin from 1989 to 1994.
To this it can be added that Parolin joined the IOR three months after his appointment as secretary of state. Bertone joined on October 14 of 2006, one month after replacing Sodano. This latter, however, had to wait for four years, but then he remained on the commission – together with Bertone, but retaining the presidency – until the end of 2007, when he had reached the age of 80. Casaroli also remained on the commission until he was past the age of 80. Bertone, however, was let go shortly after he reached the age of 79.
Still remaining “ad interim,” however, is the appointment of the controversial monsignor Battista Ricca as prelate of the IOR. This appointment was formally adopted by the commission of cardinals, as the statutes stipulate, but was in fact imposed by Pope Francis, as shown by the statement from the Vatican press office that announced it on June 15, 2013. In the note, in fact, it was specified that the appointment of Ricca had been adopted “with the approval of the Holy Father,” which in itself is not stipulated by the norms.
The supervisory board of the IOR, instead, has been headed since February 15, 2013 by the German Ernst von Freyberg, who took the place of Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, abruptly defenestrated in May of 2012.
The website of the IOR gives notice that the term of the entire lay board is set to expire in December of 2015. But in the light of events in the past year – especially the storm that hit the institute following the inquest of the Italian magistracy into the conduct of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano – it is still too soon to say if and how the current organizational structure of the IOR will survive.
On the case of the “ad interim” prelate of the IOR, Battista Ricca:
> Double Storm for the IOR (3.7.2013)
> The Prelate of the Gay Lobby (18.7.2013)
> The Deception Unveiled, Francis “Will Know What To Do” (25.7.2013)
> The “Segretariola” of Francis, the Pope Who Wants To Do It All Himself (8.8.2013)
> Ricca and Chaouqui, Two Enemies in the House (26.8-2013)
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.