HOLD YOUR BREATH. CARDINAL ROBERT SARAH’S RESIGNATION ON HIS 75TH BIRTHDAY WAS FOLLOWED BY THE APPOINTMENT BY JORGE BERGOLIO OF A “VISITATOR” TO THE CONGREGATION OF DIVINE WORSHIP OSTENSIBLY TO HELP IN THE FINDING OF THE ‘RIGHT’ SUCCESSOR TO SARAH

  “Man’s greatest difficulty is not what the Church teaches on morality; the hardest thing for the post-modern world is to believe in God.” —Cardinal Robert Sarah, 75, in his book God or Nothing. (link)        Another Move in the Chess Game    Another strange, and as yet unexplained, move inside the Vatican has been reported in recent days.    It is a move some fear is aimed at “rolling back” more traditional positions on the Church’s liturgy, positions which tended to be supported by the highly respected African Cardinal Robert Sarah (photo above), who for a little more than six years, from 2014 until February 20 this year, has headed the Vatican office which oversees the Church’s liturgy, called “The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.”    Cardinal Sarah offered his resignation from his post on his 75th birthday on June 15, 2020, as is customary.    Pope Francis waited about eight months, then accepted Sarah’s resignation on February 20, just under a month ago.     So Sarah is now officially retired.    But Pope Francis did not name a successor.     And, in a still more unusual move, the Pope has just ordered a “visitation” to take place, a series of “visits” to the Congregation offices by a man the Pope trusts. To do what? To talk to every official of the Congregation and to determine what work they are doing, with what perspective and attitude toward the liturgy — before naming a replacement for Cardinal Sarah.    No one in Rome knows quite what to make of this.     Is it an attempt to draw up some sort or “report card” on Cardinal Sarah’s work? Is it an attempt to prepare for a full reorganization of the staff, and work, of the Congregation? What is purpose of the “visitation,” really?    No one knows.    There are rumors, of course, whispers.     These rumors tend in the direction of suggesting that Pope Francis wishes to bring an end to efforts, favored by Cardinal Sarah, to support traditional Catholics in their love of the “old liturgy.”     That is, to prepare the Congregation to support more fully the “liturgical revolution” launched after the Second Vatican Council.     But this is only a rumor. There is no solid evidence that this is what is happening.    A few words about Cardinal Sarah.    I know him, I have spoken with him on a number of occasions, and I have a profound respect for him, for two reasons.    First, he is a man of the Church, a man of faith, a man of profound spiritual insight, a man who in recent years has spoken in a beautiful way about the centrality of Christ for all mankind, and about the innate longing for God that is a type of nostalgia in every human heart — a longing upon which any call for human brotherhood may find a solid foundation, but also a longing which, if overlooked, denied or marginalized will mean that any effort to deepen human brotherhood will inevitable be false and doomed to tragic failure.     Sarah understands these things well, and is one of the great, profound voices in our Church today.    Second, he is a man of courage.     A man with a lion’s heart, one might almost say.     A man unafraid even to die for his faith.    I say this because Sarah, born and raised in Guinea, West Africa, experienced the threat of execution and did not flinch.     After his seminary studies and ordination, Sarah was eventually chosen as his country’s archbishop under the dictatorship of Ahmed Sékou Touré, who put Sarah on a death-list. Despite the persecutions of priests and laymen, Sarah worked to maintain the Church as the one institution that was independent of the dictatorship.     Sékou Touré died in 1984.     In his book God or Nothing, Sarah rebuked the Marxist dictatorship as a utopian scheme that brought misery and death.    The French magazine Le Figaro reports that Sarah “did not hesitate to oppose the all-powerful Sékou Touré, then ‘supreme leader of the revolution’ but also a commander of violent repressions. He made the celebrated public statement: ‘the power uses the man!'”    The Historical Dictionary of Guinea commented on Sarah’s role in resisting Sékou Touré’s dictatorship, writing that the Church “managed to play a remarkable role under former Archbishop Robert Sarah in Guinea’s public life… Monsignor Robert Sarah is one of the most respected leaders among Guineans, who expressed their strong desire to see him lead the country’s political transition on various occasions between 2006 and 2010. He arguably earned much of this popular trust by speaking truth to power during the stormiest years of president Ahmed Sékou Touré’s regime, while other spiritual leaders endeavored to cater to the regime.”    Sarah was called to Rome and served as secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples under Pope John Paul II and president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum under Pope Benedict XVI.    Cardinal Sarah has been mentioned as papabile, a possible candidate for the papacy, by international media outlets such as Le Monde and by Catholic publications including Crux and the Catholic Herald.    For these reasons, the mysterious launch of this investigation into the work of the Congregation headed for six years by Cardinal Sarah seems a story worth keeping an eye on. —RM        Before naming Cardinal Sarah’s replacement, Pope Francis wants an outside review of the congregation for worship(linkby Cindy Wooden – Catholic News ServiceMarch 15, 2021    VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Before Pope Francis names a new prefect for the congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, he has asked that an outside expert consult with the office’s staff and review its procedures.    The pope in late February accepted the resignation of Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, who had reached the normal retirement age of 75 last June. The cardinal had been prefect since 2014.    A French website reported on March 12 that it would be a “canonical visitation” carried out by Bishop Claudio Maniago of Castellaneta, [Italy], president of the Italian bishops’ conference’s liturgical commission and a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.    In response to questions from Catholic News Service, Archbishop Arthur Roche, who has served as secretary of the congregation since 2012, had an assistant reply that “this is not a canonical visitation. Rather it is more in the nature of the consultations a diocesan bishop would have with his vicar general and others when he is appointing a new parish priest. In such an instance, the idea is to get to know the needs of the parish, the actual situation, as well as having an eye to its future direction.”    The congregation is charged with promoting the celebration of the Mass and the sacraments and fostering their correct celebration, including by overseeing the approval of the translations of liturgical books and texts.    In the draft of the new constitution for the Roman Curia, sent to bishops for comment in 2019, that task remains, but is introduced by a sentence saying, “The dicastery is dedicated in the first place to promoting the sacred liturgy according to the renewal desired by the Second Vatican Council.”    Vatican, internal visit to the Divine Worship Department before choosing the new prefect(link)    About a month after Cardinal Sarah’s retirement, Bishop Maniago, a representative of the Pope to start a series of consultations to “learn about the work of the Congregation and meet each member individually”by Salvatore Cernuzi, La Stampa (and Vatican Insider)March 16, 2021    VATICAN CITY. An apostolic visit commissioned by the Pope began yesterday morning in the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, a Department led by Cardinal Robert Sarah until 20 February. The representative chosen by the Pontiff is the bishop of Castellaneta, Claudio Maniago, president of the liturgical commission of the CEI and a member of the same Dicastery, among the supervisors of the new Italian translation of the Missal.     The visit — which, moreover, would explain the reason why the Pope did not name a new Prefect either immediately on February 20, nor in the following days — was not officially communicated, as it is an internal act.     Vatican Insider had confirmation of this, being able to view the e-mail announcing the start of the visit sent on March 12 to members and employees of the Congregation by the English Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Dicastery since 2012 and current regent following the departure of Sarah.     “The Holy Father has decided, before making appointments to the Congregation, that there should be a visit to the Dicastery by one of his representatives,” we read. “During the visit, His Excellency (Monsignor Maniago) will want to know the work of the Congregation and meet each one individually. I have already expressed to the Holy Father our openness to this visit and our sure and sincere welcome to Monsignor Maniago. There is nothing to be alarmed about in this. As you know, this style of visit is now becoming a regular occurrence at the end of the mandate of the heads of a Dicastery or at the time of a significant change.”    In reality, no such internal consultation has ever been launched in recent years for the choice of a dicastery head.     This has not happened, for example, with the recent changes of prefects to Congregations for the Evangelization of Peoples or for the Causes of Saints.     “Evidently there was something to put in order inside,” explain curial sources.     However, it is not a question of a “commissioner” — as some of Sarah’s supporters, coming from the most traditionalist circles, have suggested to emphasize the distance between the Pontiff and the Guinean cardinal — but a process to help Francis to name the new prefect and also outline an operational line for the future.     A line that perhaps deviates from the past one that has caused some problems so far.     In fact, from Divine Worship, communiqués and official documents have often been issued which have offered different interpretations from the Pontiff’s provisions, so much so as to force Francis himself to intervene personally with public corrections.     For example, in 2016 the Pope released a letter with an autograph signature to deny the fact that no changes in the orientation of church altars announced by Cardinal Sarah were in sight.     And in 2017, he sent a “Correctio paternalis” (“Paternal correction”) to the cardinal to ask him to correct restrictive interpretations that he had distributed to ultra-conservative sites and blogs of the Motu proprioMagnum Principium” in which he spoke on the subject of translations of liturgical and biblical texts which extended the prerogatives of the national episcopal conferences.    The visit in question therefore seems aimed not at questioning Sarah’s work — for the Pope, despite everything, has always shown great esteem for Cardinal Sarah, keeping him in his office even beyond the retirement age of 75 — but rather to understand the functioning of the internal organization chart of the Dicastery.    “When changing a Prefect, it can be useful to listen to the office, to understand its needs,” they explain from within the Congregation.     Archbishop Roche, speaking to the British weekly The Tablet,emphasized that the visit of Bishop Maniago will not be a canonical visit like those launched to investigate communities or institutions in which abuses or violations of the discipline have occurred.     It could rather be compared, said the prelate, “to the consultations that a diocesan bishop would have with his vicar general and others when he appoints a new parish priest. In this case, the idea is to know the needs of the parish, the current situation, as well as having an eye on its future direction.”     It should also be emphasized that the Pope’s decision has nothing to do with the recent provisions on the celebration of individual masses in St. Peter’s Basilica for which a daily limit has been established.

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I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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