Monday, October 24, 2011

The Grand Relator: For DC Cardinal, A Key Vatican Nod

While the celebration of Saturday's first-ever feast of Blessed John Paul II was initially limited to Rome and the dioceses of Papa Wojtyla's native Poland, one of the handful of Stateside locales that got to join in was Washington, where Cardinal Donald Wuerl had successfully petitioned the Holy See earlier this year for the memorial to be added to the local calendar.

(The US bishops will nationally follow suit, with a vote to add the observance to the national ordo at next month's Baltimore plenary.)

Featuring the long-scheduled dedication of a new seminary in the capital dedicated to the novus Beatus, DC's Wojtyla feast already had the makings of something big. It got bigger still, though, at Roman Noon on the day, as the Holy See fittingly rolled out B16's first major appointments to next year's Synod of Bishops on one of John Paul's pet projects -- namely, the New Evangelization -- with Wuerl being named to the gathering's all-important post of Relator-General, a task roughly equivalent to the Synod's chief "spokesman."

Responsible for articulating the Synod's goals and vision in a major address (traditionally delivered in Latin) on opening day, then pooling the results of its discussions for the October meeting's final message -- and, in time, its closing papal document -- the 70 year-old cardinal joins an elite group of top-shelf prelates who've served as Relator at the prior four Synods of Benedict XVI's pontificate:
  • Then the archbishop of Quebec, Cardinal Marc Ouellet was named Relator of the 2008 Synod on the Word of God; last year, Benedict returned the Canadian to Rome as the first-ever North American to serve as prefect of the all-powerful Congregation for Bishops;
  • Then the lone Scripture scholar in the Pope's "Senate" -- at least, its electoral part -- the Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson's stock as a "papabile" spiked when he was appointed spokesman for 2009's Second Synod for Africa, which Benedict will formally wrap up next month on his second trip to the continent. At the gathering's close, however, the US-trained dynamo's standing only rose further as the pontiff called Turkson to the Vatican as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. (In his Curial post, the cardinal was the lead mover behind the crafting and release of this morning's text on global market reform.)
...see a trend here?

Of course, whether it'll hold true in Wuerl's case is anybody's guess. Regardless, the main takeaway is that the Relator's nod has consistently gone to prelates who clearly rank very high in the pontiff's esteem, and whom he's ostensibly singling out for a major turn on the church's global stage. In the case of the famously-diligent, hyper-efficient Washington cardinal, however, the pick likewise indicates that, for this Synod, Benedict wants everything done right.

At the same time, the appointment plays well to what's become one of the cardinal's strong suits. Long a master of catechesis as host of his own TV show during his days as bishop of his native Pittsburgh, then the guiding force behind a national Catholic Catechism for Adults, Wuerl has recently turned his focus toward the New Evangelization, penning a Pastoral Letter on the faith's "reproposal" just prior to his elevation to the College of Cardinals last fall and making the topic a centerpiece of his talks, like this one to a March crowd at the capital's Catholic University of America:

To be sure, Wuerl is no stranger to Rome -- already a veteran of four prior Synods, the DC prelate was a student-priest at the Angelicum before essentially running the Congregation for the Clergy through the late 1970s as priest-secretary to his ailing mentor, Cardinal John Wright.

More recently, the cardinal's latest call to the Aula is the second major ongoing task given him by the Holy See on top of his duties in the District.

By appointment of the CDF, Wuerl has spent the last year as the Stateside delegate for the implementation of Anglicanorum coetibus -- an intense national undertaking all its own -- most recently receiving some 60 former Anglicans into the Catholic fold in Washington earlier this month.

While the cardinal had indicated in a June report that a domestic jurisdiction for the journeying groups was to be erected "this fall," in a recent interview while on tour in Scotland, he said he was "still hopeful that, before this year is out, a US ordinariate will be established."

Wuerl will again brief the bench on Anglicanorum's progress during the Baltimore plenary.

The DC red-hat is the second American hierarch in recent times to be named Relator-General of a global Synod. In 2001, New York's Cardinal Edward Egan was tapped for the post as the body met to discuss the ministry of bishops.

The now-retired canonist's turn at the rostrum was cut short, however, given Egan's need to be home in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

PHOTOS: Reuters(1,3); Getty(2)