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Pope appoints new head for Apostolic Penitentiary June 02, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI has made an important appointment to the Roman Curia, naming Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli to become the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, replacing Cardinal James Francis Stafford.

The Apostolic Penitentiary is the Vatican tribunal with jurisdiction over matters involving the "internal forum"--the relationships involving matters of conscience between a penitent and confessor, or an individual and his spiritual director. The tribunal's competence also extends to the granting and use of indulgences. Because of the sensitivity of the issues handled by the Apostolic Pentitentiary, the head of the tribunal-- known as the Major Penitentiary-- is the one member of the Roman Curia whose appointment does not lapse upon the death of the Roman Pontiff.

Archbishop Baldelli, a 73-year-old Italian native, has worked steadily in the Vatican diplomatic corps since his episcopal ordination in 1983. He has served as apostolic nuncio in the Dominican Republic and Peru, and was serving in the same role in France when the appointment was announced.

Cardinal Stafford, who had been the oldest of the American cardinals actively at the Vatican, is retiring just short of his 77th birthday. He had been Bishop of Memphis, Tennessee, and Archbishop of Denver before being called to Rome by Pope John Paul II to become president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity in 1996. Elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1998, he became the Major Penitentiary in 2003.