Two important (cardinal) appointments are expected in the Vatican before the beginning of the summer holidays.
The most significant one is the nomination of Joseph Ratzinger’s second successor as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
This is a delicate and crucial role not only because faith is at the heart of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, but also because this is the dicastery that deals with scorching dossiers on cases of sex abuse against minors and it also manages the dialogue process with the Society of St. Pius X.
Seventy six year old American cardinal, William Levada, intends to retire to the U.S. After months of deliberation, the Pope is likely to choose the 64 year old Bishop of Regensburg, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, for the post of Prefect of the Congregation.
Unless there are any last minute surprises (other candidates considered include an American prelate and a French cardinal) he is expected to take over from Levada in the next few months.
Another expected appointment is that of the Librarian of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. The post has been vacant since outgoing librarian Cardinal Raffaele Farina (who will turn 79 next September) presented his resignation recently.
The man that seems tipped to win the post is 68 year old French archbishop, Jean-Louis Bruguès, a Dominican.
But even in this case there could be last minute surprises as the Pope could choose a cardinal from the Roman Curia who is nearing the end of his mandate. Vatican Librarians traditionally keep their role well beyond the age of 75.
Next 2 December the Vatican Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, will turn 78. When Bertone reached resignation age three years ago, Benedict XVI sent him an affectionate letter asking him to stay on.
In an interview with Italian daily newspaper La Stampa last March Bertone stated: “Serving the Holy Father is always a strong experience of pastoral charity because of the way he leads the Church with clear judgement and moderate firmness. Obviously, however, whether my service continues or ends depends on Benedict XVI’s decision.”
Many believe that the Pope wants to keep Bertone by his side for at least another two years, that is, until Cardinal Bertone turns 80. The Pope chose him for the role of Secretary of State shortly after his appointment as Pope in 2005 - although the nomination was announced in June 2006 and the installation the following September.
According to other observers, in recent days, Benedict XVI has allegedly been considering the possibility of changing the Holy See's “prime minister”.
The Pope did reiterate the complete trust he had in his collaborators in light of the confidential document leak scandal that has been rattling the Vatican in recent weeks. And it is true that in cases such as this, the Pope tends to seek to strengthen his entourage rather than weaken it.
However, it is also true that were a new Secretary of State to be appointed, this appointment would not be a result of the Vatileaks scandal - the leak of confidential documents that were published in Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi’s book Sua Santità (His Holiness).
The documents mentioned Bertone as a target amongst others - but for age reasons.
As the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, stressed recently in an interview: “Cardinal Bertone is 78 years old. It is no secret that his departure from the Secretariat of State is imminent.”
Bertone had no background in papal diplomacy but was chosen for the bond of collaboration and trust which he had established with Ratzinger between 1995 and 2002 when he was Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith led by the future Pope.
A bond which remains strong. The fact that the Pope knows him personally and that he collaborated directly with him before and after his election as Pope, are criteria to bear in mind when predicting who Bertone’s successor will be.
That is, if the Pope, who is the only one who can decide on the replacement, really intends to go down this root after considering all potential candidates and choosing one individual in whom he places his complete trust.
Another question to be resolved is the candidate’s nationality: the fact that the Pope is not Italian himself, leads one to assume he will opt for an Italian right hand man.
John Paul II, who was elected in 1978, kept French cardinal, Jean Villot, in the role but said that the accession of a non Italian Pope to the throne of Peter would have led to an Italian being chosen as Secretary of State.
Indeed, after Villot’s unexpected death the following March, Agostino Casaroli was nominated to the post and Angelo Sodano in 1991.
Benedict XVI could, however, decide differently. Finally, another question which needs to be resolved is whether or not to choose a prelate with previous diplomatic experience.