Behind Benedict's Vatican Overhaul

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• Excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI's Speech
Given at the University of Regensburg on Sept. 12, 2006

• Behind Benedict's Vatican Overhaul
Though eyes are on his trip home, the Pope is (gradually) launching big changes back in the Roman Curia

As Pope Benedict XVI spoke with reporters on his Alitalia jet just before take-off for his current trip to Germany, an imposing — and familiar — figure in black and red appeared just over the smaller shoulders of the German pontiff. He is Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and for the past 15 years, the husky Italian has served as Secretary of State, effectively the No. 2 post in the Vatican hierarchy. But for the 78-year-old prelate, who'd accompanied John Paul abroad dozens of times, this week's trip with Benedict to Bavaria will be his final assignment in the powerful post. On Friday, the day after the papal entourage returns to Rome, Sodano's replacement — current Genoa Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone — will take over the running of day-to-day business of the mammoth Church bureaucracy.

So while the Pope enjoys his homecoming this week (Monday he traveled to the small Bavarian town of Marktl am Inn where he was born), Vatican insiders say the beginning of the Benedict era back at the Roman Curia begins in earnest this fall. Some, in fact, predict that Bertone — a longtime trusted confidante of the former Cardinal Ratzinger — was handpicked to be Secretary of State in order to usher in a virtual revolution in the way Catholic Church headquarters operates. Through an effort that will be part downsizing, part priority overhaul, the theologian pontiff is said to want Church headquarters to be both a more holy and a more efficient entity.

Though the changing of the guards has been more deliberate than some had wanted — especially those critical of the power that Sodano had amassed in the last years of John Paul's papacy — the new Pope has nonetheless already made some notable personnel moves, with others sure to come. Here are five key changes that have taken place since Benedict took over in April 2005, and five more shifts that may be on the horizon.


1. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The first post the Pope had to fill was his own old job, to head of the Vatican office that oversees doctrinal orthodoxy. His choice of the then Archbishop of San Francisco, William J. Levada, was the first sign that Benedict would take his own counsel on key personnel changes. Defying conventional wisdom that the doctrinal capo had to be a European intellectual heavy hitter, the Pope chose the shy California native whom he'd known well when they worked together in Rome in the early 1980s. By choosing Levada it was also evident that the Vatican's theologian-in-chief would remain the former Cardinal Ratzinger.

2. Downsizing.

March brought the first major slimming to the structure of the Roman Curia, as Benedict merged four existing pontifical councils into two. The Pontifical Council for Migrants and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace were consolidated into one office headed by Justice and Peace chief Italian Cardinal Renato Martino. Likewise, French Cardinal Paul Poupard, who headed the Pontifical Council for Culture, will now also oversee the operations of what had been the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. In the short term, two top prelates — Japanese Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao and British Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, respectively — lost their Curial positions in the double mergers. It also signals a long-term commitment to trim bureaucratic fat.

3. Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples.

This key Curia post had been held by another Italian power player, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe. Replacing Sepe with Indian Cardinal Ivan Dias, archbishop of Bombay, was proof that the Pope isn't afraid to take on the Vatican status quo. It also was an acknowledgment that the man responsible for overseeing more than a thousand dioceses in the developing world might best be chosen from the developing world.

4. Press Office

In what was more a shift in style than structure, the Vatican press office was passed in July from longtime papal spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls, a debonair lay member of Opus Dei, who often was a newsmaker himself, to the more low-key Jesuit priest Father Federico Lombardi, already the director general of Vatican radio and television. The choice shows the desire to better coordinate the Holy See's communication agencies, long seen as too disjointed.

5. Trusted Number Two

Bertone was Ratzinger's deputy at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1995 to 2003. So Benedict chose the affable Cardinal in part because he knows they can work well together. But Bertone stands out because he is not a career diplomat, like Sodano and most secretaries of state in recent centuries. His theological and doctrinal background will serve Benedict's goals of turning the Curia into an administrative body aimed at facilitating the spreading of the gospel rather than consolidating its own power.


1. Foreign Policy

Timed together with Sodano's retirement comes the end of the Curia career for the governor of Vatican City, U.S. Cardinal Edmund Szoka, who will be replaced on Friday by Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, currently the Holy See foreign minister. This will leave the job of top foreign affairs official vacant. Among the names circulating are two linked to France: Italian-born Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli, who is currently nuncio (ambassador) in France, and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, 60, currently the nuncio in Uganda. Some observers say that Benedict still needs to find his voice on world affairs, and a forceful player in this position could help.

2. Italian Chief

One Vatican veteran, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who has held the doubly potent post of Vicar of Rome and head of the Italian Bishops Conference since 1991, has stayed put so far. But maneuvering for his succession is well under way. Among those mentioned to replace Ruini are two Cardinals — Angelo Scola of Venice and Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan — who were considered papal candidates in the same conclave that elected Benedict. A lesser-known name than either the conservative Venetian or more progressive Milanese may well emerge as a compromise candidate.

3. Bank Business

A power struggle is said to be on over control of the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), the Vatican bank. The longstanding IOR chief Angelo Caloia is credited with cleaning up the bank's business after it was rocked by scandals in the 1980s. But some think Caloia has himself consolidated too much power. Italian magazine Panorama last week reported that Benedict would like to put former German Central Bank chief Hans Tietmeyer to run the Church's operation. That would shake things up almost as much as a German pope.

4. More Downsizing

Additional Vatican offices are bound to close or get consolidated. With the more powerful and longer standing "Congregations" less likely to get chopped, eyes are focused on the "Pontifical Councils" that are a relatively recent addition to the Curia hierarchy. Those offices with dossiers for laity, family and Christian Unity could well get folded into others.

5. Brother's Quarters

A guest of honor on Benedict's travels in Bavaria on Monday was his brother Father Georg Ratzinger, 82, who has long lived in the town of Regensburg, where he directed the church choir. Georg has been spending more and more time with his younger brother (who still has a full-time job), passing much of the summer at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo. So this fall, many expect that a small living area where Georg has stayed in the Apostolic Palace will become the papal brother's permanent address. That's one Curia assignment that had only one viable candidate.