Thursday, February 18, 2010

With Duka, B16 Scores Czech-Mate

It largely took a backseat in coverage to the Irish summit, but the Pope's Saturday appointment of a new archbishop of Prague bears noting... even if matters Czech don't rate too high on your radar.

Indeed, B16's selection of Dominik Duka OP (above) -- a 66 year-old Bohemian once barred from ministry and imprisoned under the country's fallen Communist regime -- continues what's essentially been the pontiff's universal model for his major picks worldwide: prelates already well-known in the public square with roots in the classroom, faithful in substance yet provocative only when necessary, savvy in the ways of politics and the media and able to forge solid ties across partisan and ideological lines... but all of it, again, never coming at the expense of the church's message.

Nearly five years into his reign, the sketch fits Benedict's "big four" in the Anglophone world -- the archbishops of Washington, Toronto, Westminster and New York -- as well as his picks for the other leading posts of Warsaw, Munich, Sao Paulo, and most recently, Brussels. Yet while the rest of the pack largely remain in their late 50s or early 60s, Duka's age -- like that of the freshly-named Belgian primate Andre-Joseph Leonard, who'll turn 70 in May -- is an ostensible move to avoid lengthy back-to-back tenures in the Czech capital.

Now 77, Prague's retiring archbishop, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, took office in 1990, just as Leonard will be installed next month to succeed Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who had led the Brussels church since 1979 before his retirement last month.

The Prague appointment came five months after the Pope's weekend visit to the Czech Republic, during which Benedict pondered the country's turn toward secularism as Vlk took to the airwaves to berate himself for, in his mind, accomplishing little as archbishop. Beyond the religious environment, two elusive goals the cardinal passes to his successor are an agreement for the restoration of church property seized by the Communists and still in the possession of the state, and a concordat governing relations between the government and the Holy See -- an agreement which the Czech Republic is reportedly the lone European entity to lack.

Professed into the Order of Preachers a year before his 1970 ordination, Duka is but the second religious to number among this pontificate's major appointees; the other is the 59 year-old archbishop of Rio de Janiero, Cistertian Orani Tempesta, who was named to the Brazilian post last year. What's more, just weeks after the Pope devoted an entire General Audience to recalling the community's founder, the archbishop-elect is also the second Dominican to be given a major assignment in recent months; in June, Benedict tapped his lead American protege, the Bronx-born Gus di Noia, to become an archbishop and #2 of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments -- one of the current Curia's most sensitive top slots.

While Prague, Rio and the other archdioceses noted above are traditionally headed by cardinals, such is the backlog in the college -- and Benedict's own custom -- that the new occupants will almost certainly not be elevated until after their predecessors reach their 80th birthdays, at which point the retirees lose their voting rights in a conclave.

Said to enjoy "warm ties" with both current Czech President Vaclav Klaus and his predecessor, Vaclav Havel, Duka's installation in St Vitus' Cathedral -- one of the contested properties still held by the state -- has been scheduled for 10 April.