Appointments by Pope Francis tie in with plan for ‘real’ reform

Announcements illustrate pontiff’s determination to bring about ‘effective change’ in the church

Two days after a groundbreaking interview which many believe represents a break with 35 years of doctrinal intransigence from his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Pope Francis continued to ring the changes in the Holy See on Saturday.

The pope made a series of appointments that fit in with an already established pattern aimed at effecting what Francis in his interview called “real, effective change” in the church.

Archbishop Beniamino Stella was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, while Archbishop Lorenzo Baldiserri was named secretary general of the Synod of Bishops. These names, in themselves, may not mean much to the wider public but the significance is obvious.

Not only is Francis appointing his own men, rather than those inherited from Benedict, but he has also chosen a specific category of priest for these important posts, namely skilled diplomats with a wide experience of the church outside Europe.


The new Vatican prime minister, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the new papal delegate at the Vatican Bank, IOR, Msgr Battista Ricca, as well as Saturday's two nominations, Archbishops Stella and Baldiserri, have all served until recently as papal nuncios in respectively Venezuela, Uruguay, Colombia and Brazil.

In so doing, Francis has chosen a radically different path from Pope Benedict. One of the most persistent criticisms made of Benedict's pontificate concerned his choice of trusted collaborator, Tarcisio Bertone, as his secretary of state or prime minister.

Lack of experience
Someone to whom Benedict delegated much responsibility, Cardinal Bertone often seemed handicapped by a lack of diplomatic experience and political nous which expressed itself in a series of embarrassing incidents from the rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying, "Lefebvre" bishop through to the appointment as Cardinal of Warsaw of a prelate who had collaborated with Soviet-era secret police.

With all the above appointments, Francis is turning to more understated, more politically savvy priests, men who have all spent time in complex negotiations with a variety of different governments, often opposed to key tenets in Catholic teaching.

In his interview, Francis called for much more “consultation”, saying that the first “reform” within the church must be one of “attitude”, while “structural and organisational reforms are secondary”. In that context, the new appointees are all men familiar with “consultation”.

It remains to be seen if they can live up to another key aspiration invoked by Francis in his interview, namely that his priests become “pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials”.

Also on Saturday, Francis appointed US archbishop Augustine Di Noia as "secretary adjunct" at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith.