Saturday, May 14, 2011

At the Vatican, a Lay Landmark

Established in 1958, the Pontifical Commission for Latin America is the lone organ of the Holy See dedicated to a particular geographic area -- one which, in this case, is home to half the world's billion-plus Catholics.

While the body has long been entrusted to the oversight of the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, its second-in-command has traditionally been an archbishop....

That is, until today.

In a move whose impact is likely to resonate through the Curia more than most, this morning the Pope named the #3 official at the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Guzman Carriquiry (above, with B16), as the new secretary for the Latin American office, making him Rome's top full-time official on the continent's affairs, and the first non-ordained person in memory to hold the #2 post of a high-profile Vatican dicastery.

Sixty-seven years old, the Uruguayan father of four entered the service of the Popes in 1971, the last 20 years as under-secretary of the Laity office. A scholar of social sciences, he led his native church's post-Conciliar efforts at social communications before heading to Rome. Early in his Curial tenure, Carriquirry became the first non-ordained male to be named to the level of "capo ufficio" -- department head -- then the first to reach "superior" rank of a top-level office on his appointment as Laity's third in command in 1991.

Best known as the central coordinating arm of the World Youth Days and for its role as liaison with emerging new movements, the Laity office ranks first among the 12 Pontifical Councils, and as such is always headed by a cardinal.

Two other laypeople and a religious sister now hold under-secretary posts, the most recent of them being Flaminia Giovanelli, the politics and development expert who was named #3 of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in early 2010. Given the longstanding pledge of B16's "Vice-Pope" that more laypeople, particularly women, would be named to top Vatican posts, it seems more likely than not that a woman will be tapped to take Carriquirry's place, following in the footsteps of the Curia's first-ever lay superior: the legendary Australian Rosemary Goldie, who had a place on the risers at Vatican II before preceding the Uruguayan as under-secretary for Laity.

Three decades after her retirement and return home Down Under, Goldie died early last year at 94.

The new Latin America chief was named to succeed Colombian Archbishop Jose Octavio Ruiz -- a longtime staffer under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- who yesterday was transferred to the #2 slot at the newly-formed Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.

Rounding out Archbishop Rino Fisichella's top team, the pontiff tapped a Scotsman, Msgr Graham Bell, as the council's undersecretary. Until now, Bell -- a priest of the diocese of Rome -- has been a lead official at the Pontifical Academy for Life.

While Ruiz had served as vice-president of the commission, his successor's altered designation as "Secretary" reflects both traditional Curial practice and Carriquirry's status as a layman. The most recent blueprint of the church's central government -- 1988's Pastor Bonus, issued by now-Blessed John Paul II -- provides that the lead full-time official at the Latin America office is to be "a bishop as vice-president." The office has never previously had a Secretary alongside a VP, nor needed such an arrangement, given the small staff minding the commission's day-to-day business.

All the Latin American cardinals and several of the continent's most-prominent prelates sit on the body as members or consultors.

* * *
In his new post, Carriquirry will technically be deputy to the Latin America commission's president -- Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who spent half his priesthood south of the border as a seminary rector and professor in Colombia.

Still, the Quebecker's principal role as Benedict's chosen "Hatman" -- and one keen to craft a new template of appointees from the head of the Thursday table of the all-powerful Bishops' office -- tends to outweigh all else. Accordingly, the highest-ranking Canadian in Vatican history made waves this week thanks to a rare interview with a Northern magazine in which he talked hockey, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and the state of the faith in his home province.

"From a religious point of view," Ouellet said, "Quebec is a disaster."

As the article concluded that, in the moves he recommends, "Ouellet will see to it that the Church has strong bishops who possess great integrity and can maintain tight control over the priests in their dioceses, and who can be trusted to immediately turn over credible complaints to the secular authorities," the cardinal offered a key to understanding him -- and, by extension, the new breed he's looking to recruit.

“People saw me as a man from Rome,” he said, “but really I was a man from Jerusalem.”

PHOTOS: Pontifical Council for the Laity(1)