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Catholic World News News Feature

Analysis: Vatican rumors point to struggle over the liturgy October 13, 2008

A respected Italian journalist has called attention to an important struggle within the Roman Curia: a battle for control of the Vatican's chief liturgical office.

Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale has written that Cardinal Franics Arinze, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, will soon be replaced by a Spanish prelate, Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera of Toledo. Although the same rumor has circulated in Rome for several months, the report takes added weight from Tornielli's report that the change will take place "in the coming weeks."

(Tornielli, a veteran Vatican-watcher, has excellent sources within the Vatican. In June he predicted that Pope Benedict would choose Cardinal Agostino Vallini, then the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, to replace Cardinal Camillo Ruini as vicar for the Rome diocese. He also predicted that Archbishop Angelo Amato, who was serving as secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, would replace Cardinal José Saraiva Martins as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Both of those appointments have now taken place.)

Tornielli also suggests that the current secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Archbishop Albert Malcom Ranjith Patabendige Don, will soon be named Archbishop of Colombo in his native Sri Lanka. However, the Il Giornale reporter speculates that rather than replacing both top officials of the Congregation for Divine Worship at the same time, the Pope will allow several months to pass between the two appointments.

Tornielli's report is credible in several respects. On November 1, Cardinal Arinze will be 76 years old: a full year beyond the normative retirement age for Catholic prelates. Archbishop Ranjith is highly regarded in his native country, and has strong contacts on both sides of the bloody conflict that has been dividing Sri Lanka. Under ordinary circumstances he would be a natural selection as Archbishop of Colombo. And the current Church leader in Sri Lanka's capital, Archbishop Oswald Gomis, is also nearing his 76th birthday and due for replacement.

However, the internal politics of the Vatican-- and in particular, the keen interest of Pope Benedict XVI in restoring a sense of reverence to the liturgy-- make the proposed appointments far from routine.

Archbishop Ranjith was brought to Rome in December 2005 by Pope Benedict. By all accounts he was the Pope's hand-picked selection, chosen to be a strong advocate for the traditional approach to liturgy. The Sri Lankan prelate has played that role with vigor, and ruffled some feathers in Rome with his outspoken comments about the need for greater reverence in the liturgy and the importance of restoring use of the traditional Latin Mass.

As Archbishop Ranjith has attained a high profile around the Vatican, traditionalists have nourished the hope that he himself might succeed Cardinal Arinze. Although it is unusual for the secretary of a Roman congregation to be promoted directly to the post of prefect, such a move would give unmistakable evidence of the Pope's determination to carry out what he has, in the past, called "the reform of the reform." On the other hand, if Archbishop Ranjith leaves Rome while Cardinal Arinze is still in office, many traditionalists will see the change as a setback for the cause of liturgical reform.

The rumored appointment of Cardinal Canizares adds yet another element of intrigue to the Vatican maneuvering. The Spanish cardinal, too, is perceived as a strong ally of Pope Benedict on liturgical questions. If he replaces Cardinal Arinze while Archbishop Ranjith still occupies the #2 post in the Congregation for Divine Worship, the leadership team will have a very strong conservative bent-- enough to dismay liberal liturgists, who still wield considerable clout around Rome.

In a move announced quietly on September 24, Pope Benedict appointed an entirely new group of consultors to the office of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations. The new consultors had strong conservative credentials. And as the Catholic News Agency observed: "Also relevant to the appointments is the fact that all former consultants, appointed when Archbishop Piero Marini led the office of Liturgical Celebrations, have been dismissed since their appointments were not renewed."

Those appointments signaled the opening of a new chapter in what may be the key story of this pontificate: the battle for liturgical reform. The fresh rumors of impending change at the Congregation for Divine Worship indicate that the battle has been joined.