by Margaux Salcedo
2020 will be more than a new year or a new decade for the Roman Catholic Church. If Pope Francis is successful in his reorganization of the Curia, it marks a whole new era.
As you may know by now, His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples or Propaganda Fide. The announcement was made last December 8 and Cardinal Tagle is set to leave for Rome by the end of the month or on the first week of February.
The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples is the congregation of the Roman Curia responsible for missionary work and related activities. It is also called the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of Faith or Propaganda Fide.
At the outset it sounds like just a lot of missionary work, specifically evangelization, which is right up the alley of Cardinal Tagle, as he is considered one of the world's greatest evangelizers today, with his down-to-earth charisma and humor combined with his strong theological and academic background.
But the job is more than just simple evangelization.
The appointment means that Cardinal Tagle has been promoted to become part of the Roman Curia. The Curia is the central body through which the affairs of the Catholic Church are conducted; the central organization through which the church advances its objectives, and hence its heads act with the Pope's authority.
And Propaganda Fide is one of the largest curial departments. As it is charged with the Church’s missionary works and territories, the Cardinal will reportedly oversee roughly a fourth of all dioceses in the world or around 1,100 ecclesiastical jurisdictions. The office also controls the jurisdiction's financial resources and property holdings, including 957 real estate properties.
The appointment of Cardinal Tagle is said to be only the first of what will be a series of appointments that will revolutionize the Curia, marking only the beginning of what appears to be major reforms for the Catholic Church.
A new curial constitution, Praedicate evangelium, is being prepared. It is expected
to place an even further emphasis on evangelization as the structural priority of the Church’s mission. Propaganda Fide will possibly also absorb the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization, whose president is currently Archbishop Rino Fisichella. This combined Congregation that will be headed by Tagle will reportedly be the "first dicastery", called the Dicastery for the Evangelization.
The appointment of Cardinal Tagle brings a breath of fresh air to the recent years' scandal-ridden image of the Catholic Church.
The past two years were especially full of challenges. In 2018, a grand jury in Pennsylvania issued an 884-page report revealing that there were over a thousand identifiable child victims of sexual abuse by over 300 priests in six of eight Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania alone. Also in 2018, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former Vatican ambassador in the United States, shook the church by making accusations of a cover up of sexual abuse. In August 2019, Australian Cardinal George Pell, who was Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001 and Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 to 2014 before becoming inaugural prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, i.e., running the Vatican finances, became the world's most senior Catholic convicted of child sexual abuse. These are only some of the challenges the Catholic Church had to deal with at the end of the decade.
Pope Francis has shown, though, that the cries for justice and reform would not fall on deaf ears under his papacy. In February 2019, a historic Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church, or what was essentially the Vatican sexual abuse summit, was attended by 190 delegates, including 114 presidents of bishops' conferences and 14 members of the Vatican curia. The first speaker was Cardinal Tagle.
In his reflection, Cardinal Tagle boldly admitted the Catholic Church's poor handling of the situation and emphasized the need to acknowledge the abuse. "This is what is at stake at this moment of crisis brought about by the abuse of these children and our poor handling of these cries. Our people need us to draw close to their wounds and acknowledge our faults if we are to give authentic and credible witness to our faith in the resurrection."
He also dared to speak of accountability: "This means that each of us ... must take personal responsibility for bringing healing to this wound in the body of Christ and make the commitment to do everything in our power and capacity to see that children and vulnerable people are safe - are cared for - in our communities."
He emphasized, "We need to recover and maintain a faith and ecclesial perspective to guide us, as stressed many times by Pope Francis." He also added, quoting a study, "Faith that would like to close its eyes to people's suffering is just an illusion."
He posed the challenge, "How can we profess faith in Christ when we close our eyes tso all the wounds inflicted by abuse?"
Finally, he proposed: "We need to set aside any hesitation to draw close to the wounds of our people out of fear of being wounded ourselves."
Smell of the Sheep
It is this voice of sincerity, so aligned with the basic tenets of Christianity, that makes Tagle perfect for his role as Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples or the future Dicastery for Evangelization.
On top of this is the sheer joy that he finds and exhibits when he is "among the sheep" - among refugees, among children, among the poor, among victims of calamities, among the physically helpless yet spiritually hopeful. Truly a "shepherd with the smell of the sheep", his empathy, beyond compassion, is so imminent, practically beaming with the Holy Spirit, that his presence alone brings a contagious joy to those he visits.
It was probably inevitable, then, that Pope Francis would appoint Cardinal Tagle to this position of honor. Although Cardinal Tagle, probably realizing the responsibilities the office would carry, not to mention having to be so far away from home, seems to consider it a position of horror and even wept openly, clearly overwhelmed, not with joy but with anxiety, at the Manila Cathedral, when then- Papal Nuncio Gabriele Giordano Caccia announced and tenderly explained the new role of Cardinal Tagle after the mass on the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception.
It is therefore imperative that we, the Filipino faithful, pray hard for Cardinal Tagle - for his protection and success, for his wisdom and inspiration, for his health and strength - as he embarks on this new role of leadership in the Roman Catholic Church. Let us pray that his leadership is welcomed, especially by the Curia, but let us also pray that he may always remain humble so as to always hear and respond to the voice of the Lord in these troubled times.
We must also pray for Pope Francis as he embarks on this major overhaul of the Curia. It is said that there may be more changing of the guards, possibly by the Feast of the Chair of Peter on February 22, possibly by the end of June yet. Whatever the date, let us pray that the appointments bring forth a new church leadership marked by sincerity, truth and accountability. And pray that the new leadership becomes a force that can successfully restore the faith of the public in our one holy Catholic and apostolic church.
May 2020 mark the beginning of not only of an inspired new year or new decade but a new era for the Catholic Church: that the Church may move forward in faith as its new leaders bring it back to the basics of Christ's lessons and love.