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Two key appointments to Roman Curia

May 10, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI has made two important appointments:

  • Archbishop Fernando Filoni, who has been the sostituto or deputy Secretary of State, has been named the prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization. He replaces Cardinal Ivan Dias, who is retiring at the age of 75.
  • Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who has been the apostolic nuncio in Cuba, will become the sostituto.

Both appointments were predicted late last month by Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa, who has consolidated his reputation for providing accurate information about the Vatican plans.

Archbishop Filoni—whose new post puts him in line for elevation to the College of Cardinals at the next consistory—is a seasoned Vatican diplomat, who has served in Sri Lanka, Iran, Brazil, the Philippines, and Iraq. During his term as apostolic nuncio in Iraq, he earned special admiration by refusing to abandon his post in Baghdad—as other diplomats did—to escape the US bombing campaign when war broke out. As prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization, he will supervise the work of the Church in mission territories. The prefect of this powerful congregation is sometimes known as the “Red Pope” because of his enormous influence over the appointment of bishops, particularly in Asia and Africa.

Cardinal Ivan Dias, the outgoing prefect, submitted his resignation as required upon reaching his 75th birthday in April. Often the Pope delays his acceptance of a prelate’s resignation, but in this case—probably because of the Indian cardinal’s poor health—he appointed a replacement quickly.

As sostituto, Archbishop Filoni occupied one of the most important posts in the Roman Curia. The Secretariat of State is divided into two parts, each headed by a deputy secretary. One, roughly equivalent to the US Department of State, handles foreign affairs, and is headed by the Secretary for Relations with States: currently Archbishop Dominique Mamberti. The other handles the internal affairs of the Roman Curia, under the supervision of the “substitute for general affairs” or sostituto. This office handles the flow of paperwork within the Roman Curia. The sostituto usually meets with the Pontiff each day to handle the business of the Vatican, and his position might be compared roughly with that of a White House chief of staff.

The sostituto reports directly to the Secretary of State. Because Church protocol dictates that a cardinal reports to no one but the Pope, the sostituto never wears a red hat. But after completing a term in that office, a prelate typically receives a promotion to become the cardinal-prefect of a Roman congregation. Thus Archbishop Filoni’s predecessor, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, was named prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches; and the previous sostituto, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, was prefect of the Congregation for Bishops until his retirement last year. The 20th century saw two prelates who had served as sostituto eventually become Roman Pontiffs: Benedict XV and Paul VI. To this pivotal post, the Pope has appointed Archbishop Becciu, a 62-year-old Italian who has held Vatican diplomatic assignments in New Zealand, Great Britain, France, and the US before becoming apostolic nuncio in Angola—where he welcomed Pope Benedict in March 2009—and then Cuba. In his most recent assignment he has played a role in the negotiations—led by Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino—that have led to the release of dozens of political prisoners.


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