(Church) Politics As Usual?

Over the past several months, The Telegraph’s (UK) ever-interesting Damian Thompson has written a number of posts concerning Sydney’s Cardinal George Pell and the chance that he might soon be named Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

In early May, Thompson reported that “authoritative sources in Rome” had all but confirmed the good Cardinal’s impending appointment. Yet time wore on, and there was no official pronouncement. Rumors of Pell’s ill-health and a potentially problematic accusation surfaced, and “insiders” began to wonder if Cardinal Pell’s appointment was on the rocks, or even if it would fall through altogether.

Yesterday, Thompson posted an impassioned defense of the Cardinal, taking aim at the various concerns that appeared to be holding up his appointment. Of particular interest to me was this troubling claim:

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I now have good reason to believe that Cardinal Pell – a man of towering presence and intellect, utterly faithful to Pope Benedict’s vision for renewing the Church – is the victim of a smear campaign endorsed by certain bishops, especially Italian ones, who are desperate to stop Pell cleaning up what are in effect the “rotten boroughs” of their dioceses.

Quoting from Australia’s The Age newspaper, Thompson revealed yet another potential cause for resistance amongst members of the Curia:

Vatican watchers now say important officials have worked to undermine Cardinal Pell as the next head of the Congregation of Bishops, partly from concerns over negative publicity about the abuse allegations and partly for internal political reasons, including the desire for an Italian to take the job.

Sadly for Cardinal Pell, who has always struck me as an impressive and holy man who has much to offer the Church, the pleas of Thompson and other like-minded defenders of Sydney’s Catholic leader appear to have come too late. If Il Giornale’s reporting is to be taken with as much certitude as Thompson’s earlier claims, a new Prefect has been selected (translation provided by Rorate Caeli), and he’s most definitely not an Italian:

The change at the helm of the Congregation for Bishops has finally been decided: in the next few weeks, the name of the successor of Brescian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, [who has been] at the leadership of the “factory” of Bishops for a decade. Unless there are improbable – though always possible – last minute surprises, the choice of the Pope is settled on Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Québec.

We’ve already had at least one “improbable last minute surprise” on this very issue, so Cardinal Ouellet’s appointment probably cannot be considered “carved in stone.” But, as George Weigel’s article from only last week testifies, Quebec’s cardinal is certainly an interesting choice.

UPDATE: Over at Whispers in the Loggia, Rocco has more, as always.


  • Joseph Susanka

    Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming — “where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks” — he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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