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Top Curial official headed for Naples archdiocese May 20, 2006

Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization, will soon be named Archbishop of Naples, according to unconfirmed reports in the Italian media.

[Update, May 20: Pope Benedict has named Cardinal Sepe to become Archbishop of Naples, with Cardinal Ivan Dias replacing him as prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization.]

If they are accurate, the reports would indicate a significant shift in the leadership of the Roman Curia. Cardinal Sepe would be the first prelate to leave a top position in a Vatican congregation since the election of Pope Benedict XVI. (Two prelates-- Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao and Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald-- have been replaced as heads of pontifical councils.)

Il Mattino, a daily newspaper in Naples, reports that Pope Benedict XVI has already signed a decree naming Cardinal Sepe as archbishop. The newspaper says that Cardinal Sepe accepted the appointment during a May 15 audience with the Holy Father.

Although the Vatican has not made any announcement, the Pope is scheduled to meet with Cardinal Sepe in a private audience on Friday evening, May 19. That audience represents a distinct break from the usual pattern; the Pope usually meets with the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Friday evenings, while his regular date for weekly meetings with the prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization is on Thursday evening. Moreover, it would be unusual for the Pontiff to schedule two audiences with Cardinal Sepe in the space of one week.

At the Congregation for Evangelization, rumors of an imminent change in leadership have circulated freely this week, but have not been confirmed. Cardinal Sepe is pursuing his regular activities, informed sources at the dicastery report, and the cardinal has scheduled meetings up until October 2006. On the other hand, officials at the Congregation acknowledge that Cardinal Sepe had not informed his staff about his May 15 meeting with the Pope.

Cardinal Michele Giordano, the current Archbishop of Naples, has submitted his resignation to the Pontiff, as required, upon reaching the age of 75 last September 26. Cardinal Giodano is in Rome this week, and met briefly with Pope Benedict on May 17, after the Pope's regular weekly public audience.

Il Mattino says that the appointment of Cardinal Sepe will be officially announced on June 3, and the new archbishop will be installed in Naples on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. However, some officials at the Vatican say that the appointment will be announced much sooner: perhaps on Saturday, May 20.

At the Vatican, there has been speculation for several months that Pope Benedict would replace Cardinal Sepe as prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization. The prelates whose names have been raised as possible replacements include Cardinal Ivan Dias of Bombay; Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the head of the Apostolic Signatura; and Bishop Bruno Forte of Chieti, a noted theologian. The Congregation for Evangelization is an extremely influential dicastery, which supervises 39% of the world's dioceses, covering most of Africa, Oceania, and the Far East as well as portions of Latin America and southeast Europe. Responsible for the pastoral support of the Church in missionary territory, the Congregation oversees the affairs of 478 dioceses or apostolic administrations in Africa, 453 in Asia, 86 in Latin America, 56 in Oceania, and 14 in Europe. The dicastery watches over 42,000 schools, 7,600 hospitals and clinics, and 12,000 charitable agencies.

Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, who has been prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization since 2001, is still only 63 years old. Trained for Vatican diplomatic service in the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, he served in Brazil and in the Vatican office of the Secretariat of State before being names secretary of the Congregation for Clergy in 1992. He then served as secretary-general of the committee for the Jubilee, before assuming his current post. He was elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II in 2001.

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