Action Alert!

Liberal liturgists try to explain away a key appointment by Pope Francis

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Mar 11, 2015

Within a few weeks after the election of Pope Francis, rumors began to circulate in Rome that the new Pontiff would appoint Archbishop Piero Marini as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW). For liberal liturgists, these rumors were cause for celebration; for conservatives, for despondency.

It never happened. After many months of silence—during which time the rumors continued to swirl—the Pope announced that Cardinal Robert Sarah would be the new head of the CDW. Catholics who favor a reverent liturgy should rejoice at that appointment; the cardinal from Guinea is an excellent choice.

Archbishop Marini—who was once private secretary to Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, the chief architect of the liturgical reforms following Vatican II—supervised the planning of liturgical celebrations at the Vatican from 1987 until 2007, under Pope John Paul II. Pope Benedict, whose preference for a more traditional approach to the liturgy was well known, replaced him with Msgr. Guido Marini (no relation), who continues in that post today.

Archbishop Marini, meanwhile, was just confirmed by Pope Francis in the post to which Pope Benedict assigned him, as president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses. There he can do much less harm.

However, if some liturgists are happy to have Cardinal Sarah ensconced at CDW, others are lamenting the absence of Archbishop Marini. Liberal liturgists, who were anticipating the support of a Marini-led CDW, are having trouble accepting the possibility that those rumors might have been inaccurate.

Father Anthony Ruff, OSB, the doyen of the American liturgical establishment, recently announced that he knows what went wrong:

I have learned that Pope Francis had pretty much decided to appoint Piero Marini to the CDW post. But this was opposed by the very highest levels of the previous administration, and Francis relented out of respect for his predecessor.

In response to a query from a reader of his blog, Father Ruff added that when he referred to the “very highest” levels of the previous papacy, he meant “very highest”—thus implying that the resistance to Archbishop Marini came directly from Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI.

Now where did Father Ruff get this information? It’s not likely that he was sipping a cappuccino with the retired Pontiff. Nor is it plausible that Benedict, who has been so careful to avoid putting any pressure on his successor, suddenly blurted out his opposition to the Pope’s chosen man. No; someone talked to someone, who talked to someone else. It’s a rumor, much like the rumor that the Pope would appoint Archbishop Marini.

Is it possible that Pope Francis consulted with Benedict, who advised against appointing Marini? Certainly. But now we come to the 2nd problem with Father Ruff’s report: Pope Francis was under no obligation to accept his predecessor’s recommendation. If he really had “pretty much decided” to appoint Marini, he could have done so; opposition from “the previous administration” could not have stopped him. For that matter, if Francis did consult with Benedict, doesn’t that suggest the Pope was looking for advice because he had not yet made his decision?

So if we unpack Father Ruff’s report, we’re left with this more realistic scenario: Pope Francis may have been uncertain whether or not he should appoint Archbishop Marini. He may have consulted with Pope-emeritus Benedict (and with others, too), and decided against the appointment. That’s a moderately interesting story, if it’s true, but it’s not the stuff of headlines, much less of conspiracy theories.

There’s a tendency on both sides of the spectrum—liberal and conservative, or progressive and traditionalist, or however you want to characterize the opposing views—to claim that the Pope really wants to do certain things, but powerful forces have prevented him from acting as he wants, or forced him to act differently. So diehard traditionalists say that Pope Benedict was forced to resign, and now diehard liberals say that Pope Francis was forced not to appoint Archbishop Marini.

We don’t know exactly how the decision was made, but we do know this: Ultimately it was the Pope’s decision. Pope Francis chose to appoint Cardinal Sarah.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 1 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Mar. 11, 2015 10:24 PM ET USA

    Deo gratias!!!