Saturday, April 26, 2008

Vatican beckons for 'bruiser' Pell

WHEN World Youth Day in Sydney is done and dusted, what then for the future of its chief organiser?

Cardinal George Pell is close to Pope Benedict XVI and played a part in securing his election.

The theory goes that if he produces a hitch-free World Youth Day, the cardinal could be offered a senior post at the Vatican.

His friend, the US archbishop James Stafford, was similarly rewarded after Denver staged World Youth Day in 1993.

Traditionalist and liberal Catholic circles give mixed reviews of Pell's Vatican prospects. Conservatives suggest his star is rising; his liberal protagonists suggest his clout with the pontiff is overstated, that his reputation as a bruiser and his strident criticism of Islam have cost him influence.

Last year there was speculation that Pell could follow Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor as Archbishop of Westminster. The rumour began when the betting agency Paddy Power placed Pell at 10-1 to succeed Murphy-O'Connor. But the suggestion has since been ridiculed.

There are half a dozen top Vatican posts whose incumbents, having reached 75, have offered - as required - their resignation to Pope Benedict. They include Stafford.

Last week, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who headed the Council for the Family, died in Rome. Pell is a member of the council which in recent years the council has acquired a new importance as a key part of the defence of Christian families and their values.

Trujillo had organised an international tour to put to world leaders arguments against abortion and in favour of measures to aid families. If a successor is not appointed before World Youth Day, Pell, who was once reported as saying abortion was a worse evil than sexual abuse, could step into Trujillo's shoes.

There has been speculation that Pell could head the Vatican's ministry for education, but its prefect, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, is only 69, making it unlikely.

Other possibilities include the ministry for divine worship, or that for saints.

The Vatican's "saint-making factory" recently approved Pell's request to bring the body of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati to Sydney for World Youth Day, but normally the top position is reserved for someone who is a canon lawyer. Pell's presidency of a committee that advises the Congregation for Divine Worship on new English translations of the liturgy could make him a possibility for that ministry.

Being a cardinal in service in Rome is not all beer and skittles. They are provided with an apartment and a car, plus driver, but have to pay for domestic staff out of a monthly stipend of about €5000 (almost $8400), only a third of what Italian parliamentarians earn.

Rome can be a lonely place for cardinals: the collective noun applied to them is a college, but there is no such club. They have to make their own friends and for some it is too late in life. Transfer to Rome is not always, strictly speaking, a promotion. Often it is hard to say whether appointees are being called to Rome or sent away from their homeland for ecclesial or sociopolitical reasons.

What part does ambition play?

It is hard to say, but some full-time Vatican experience, in addition to pastoral experience as a residential bishop, is generally regarded as useful for a potential pope, and Pell has had his share of both.

His frequent trips on Vatican business so close to World Youth Day have raised eyebrows and only fuelled speculation that he is Rome-bound.

In last Sunday's homily, Pell drew an interesting comparison.

"Some years ago I got into trouble by suggesting that, in some way, St Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, went beyond the achievements of St Augustine. Although St Josemaria was a competent theologian, he was not a giant like Augustine, but I justified my claim by pointing out that St Augustine, bishop in the small North African town of Hippo, had not founded a worldwide movement with some tens of thousands of members. So, too, I suppose I could acknowledge that Our Lord never staged a World Youth Day!"
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know a few Aussies who feel they've suffered long enough over there and say anyone's welcome to him.

Have you heard the quip made just after the conclave elected B16? Addressing the new Pope it ran:

Do not ask for whom the Pell polls; he polls for thee.