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Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Catholic World News News Feature

Reorganization begins in Roman Curia March 11, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI has made his first major changes in the organization of the Roman Curia, with two mergers of existing pontifical councils.

The Pontifical Council for Migrants and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace have been temporarily merged into one unit, to be headed by Cardinal Renato Martino, who had been heading the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The changes were announced by the Vatican on March 11.

Similarly the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue has been temporarily merged with the Pontifical Council for Culture, with Cardinal Paul Poupard, the current head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, to head the combined effort.

With the mergers, two top positions in the Roman Curia are eliminated. Pope Benedict accepted the resignation of Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao, who had been president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants. Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, who had been president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, had already received a new assignment in February as apostolic nuncio to Egypt.

The changes are likely to be followed by more appointments and shifts in responsibilities among the leaders of the Roman Curia. Vatican-watchers expect a merger of the offices dealing with public affairs for the Vatican, for example.

Also, the Pope is likely to make some personnel changes. After his election in April 2005, Pope Benedict confirmed all of the curial officials who had been serving under Pope John Paul II. But changes are overdue in a number of key posts-- most notably that of Secretary of State, where Cardinal Angelo Sodano is now 78-- 3 years beyond retirement age-- and has held the Vatican's #2 post for nearly 15 years. Sandro Magister, the influential journalist who covers the Vatican for L'Espresso, has observed signs of friction between Cardinal Sodano and Pope Benedict in recent weeks.

The changes announced on March 11 provide some hints of shifting influence at the Vatican. Among the prelates affected by the mergers announced on March 11:

  • Cardinal Hamao is now without a full-time assignment. The Japanese prelate, who had headed the Pontifical Council for Migrants since 1998, is 76 years old, and likely headed into retirement.
  • Archbishop Fitzgerald was reassigned in February, becoming apostolic nuncio to Egypt and the Vatican's delegate to the Arab League. That move could not be interpreted as a promotion for the British prelate, and his name was conspicuously missing from the Pope's list of appointments to the College of Cardinals, revealed just a few days later.
  • Cardinal Martino acquires new responsibility with the merger, as the Pope sees work with migrants as an important political issue. Cardinal Martino has been outspoken on political issues since becoming president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2002, often rousing controversy with his public statements. The Italian cardinal had previously served for 15 years as the Holy See's permanent observer at the UN.
  • Cardinal Poupard has served for an extraordinary term of over 25 years in essentially the same Vatican post. The French prelate was named president of what was then the Pontifical Council for Non-Believers in 1980. In 1988 that office was replaced by the Pontifical Council for Culture, with Cardinal Poupard still at the helm. The March 11 announcement from the Vatican indicated that in Pope Benedict's view, dialogue with non-Christian faiths is an important aspect of the Church's interaction with cultural leaders.