Monday, 10 September 2012

Some Prelates to watch: Part One

The current Secretary of State Substitute for General Affairs, sostituto, the Number Two man in the Secretariat of State, is His Excellency Monsignor Giovanni Angelo Becciu, titular Archbishop of Rusellae. (Some commentators, particularly Americans, have it that he is Number Three. Well, no he isn’t. The clue is in the names of their respective sections and their formal titles: Mgr Becciu is head of Section One and he is the Secretary of State Substitute for General Affairs; Mgr Mamberti is head of Section Two and he is simply the Secretary for Relations with States.)

Born June 2, 1948 at Pattada in the Sassari province of Sardinia, Italy (Diocese of Ozieri) Mgr Becciu was ordained priest on August 27, 1972. A member of the Academia Class of 1980, after four years he had obtained his Diploma in diplomacy and a Doctorate in Canon Law and so also having demonstrated himself fluent enough in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese he was deemed fit to represent the Holy See to the world.

He went on to serve the Pontifical Representations in the Central African Republic, Sudan, New Zealand, Liberia, the United Kingdom, France and the United States of America. On October 15, 2001 (the same year in which his predecessor, Cardinal Filoni, was appointed an Apostolic Nuncio) he was nominated as Apostolic Nuncio to Angola and was ordained bishop about six weeks later, on December 1, 2001. The Principal Consecrator was Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano and the Principal Co-Consecrators were Paolo Cardinal Romeo, then Apostolic Nuncio to Italy and San Marino, and Bishop Sebastiano Sanguinetti, ordinary of Ozieri, His Excellency’s home diocese.

On July 23, 2009, Archbishop Becciu was transferred to Cuba from whence he was, unexpectedly (at least to all bar Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa), called back to Rome a little under two years later, on May 10, 2011, upon his being promoted to sostituto.

Every sostituto preceding Archbishop Becciu going back to 1953 has later been elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinals, eight in all. And it is worth noting that in the 20th century two cardinals who earlier in their prelatial careers had served as sostituto eventually became Pope: Benedict XV and Paul VI.

On the same day as Mgr Becciu was appointed to succeed him, May 10, 2011, sostituto Filoni was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (the Red Pope), President of Interdicasterial Commission for Consecrated Religious and Grand Chancellor of Pontifical Urbaniana University. Number One on the last list of new cardinals, he was created Cardinal-Deacon of Nostra Signora di Coromoto in San Giovanni di Dio on February 18, 2012. Now aged 66 years, Cardinal Filoni will definitely enter the next conclave (barring the intervention of the Grim Reaper, or something closely approximating thereto) as papabile.

Now wearing the cardinal’s red zucchetto, symbolically representing his willingness to lay down his life for the Faith and for Christ’s Vicar here on Earth, as Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq and Jordan during the Gulf War he refused to abandon his post in Baghdad, the only diplomat of ambassadorial rank to remain. He came close to being killed on February 1, 2006 when a car bomb exploded next to the nunciature. Of staying at his post, he later tersely commented: “It was nothing exceptional”. And of the car bomb, merely: “Thank God we survived.”  

With the exception of Archbishop Giovanni Benelli (1967.06.29 – 1977.06.03) sostituti from the second half of the 20th Century and into the first decade of the Third Millennium were all promoted within the Roman Curia. Archbishop Bennelli was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Milan by Pope Paul VI and in short order created Cardinal Priest in the title of Santa Prisca (Good Pope John’s title) at the consistory of June 27, 1977. This was the smallest held since 1961, the fourth of the pontificate of Good Pope John and there has not been a similarly small one since. At this same consistory Pope Benedict was created cardinal (along with Cardinals Bernardin Gantin and Mario Luigi Ciappio OP). No one seriously doubts that Cardinal Benelli’s appointment to Milan and elevation were together the product of the desire of Pope Paul to protect his protégé.

PS: Archbishop Becciu’s own number two, Mgr Peter Brian Wells, is also a prelate with a big and bright future. Appointed Assessor for General Affairs (assessore) on July 16, 2009 he had previously been head (caposezione) of the English Language Section of the First Section of the Secretariat of State. (He was succeeded in that post by Scotland’s own Mgr Leo Cushley). Apart from Mgr Wells’s two immediate predecessors, who are still relatively early in their diplomatic careers, the other five going back to 1970 have all later been elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinals.

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