MANILA, Philippines – From a boy who initially flunked a seminary entrance exam, topnotch theologian Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is now the incoming head of what could become the second most important office in the Vatican.
Upcoming reforms of the Vatican bureaucracy, if approved, will give a wider scope to and boost the prominence of Tagle’s office, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. For a Vatican analyst, Tagle’s new appointment even “positions him to be a possible successor to Pope Francis.”
The Pope named Tagle on Sunday, December 8, as the new prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, one of 9 offices in what essentially functions as the Pope’s Cabinet. Tagle is soon expected to vacate his position as Manila archbishop, with the Vatican’s ambassador urging Filipinos to wholeheartedly “give the Cardinal to the bigger Church.”
The Vatican bureaucracy, called the Roman Curia, has long been seen as a source of corruption and infighting within the Catholic Church. A Curia outsider before he became pontiff, Pope Francis has made Curia reforms a top priority.
The Curia is set to be reformed through the document Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel). A draft of Praedicate Evangelium was first reported by Spanish journalist Dario Menor Torres of Vida Nueva, and was then picked up by Catholic news outlets in April this year.
Praedicate Evangelium would merge Tagle’s office with a smaller one, creating a “super dicastery” for evangelization, according to Catholic news website Crux. (“Dicastery” is another word for a major department at the Vatican.)
This super dicastery “will potentially be more important than the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” wrote Inés San Martín. The plan is to place the Dicastery for Evangelization just below the Vatican Secretariat of State, whose head is considered the Pope’s right-hand man and the Vatican’s prime minister.
“The new body, provisionally called the ‘Dicastery for Evangelization,’ would rank below the Vatican Secretariat of State but above the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, giving the new dicastery considerable prestige and influence,” said Vatican journalist Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register.
Francis’ new priorities
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which traces its roots from the Inquisition, has traditionally been the most prominent congregation in the Roman Curia. Tasked with upholding Catholic doctrine and rooting out heresy, it was, in recent decades, best associated with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who would later become Pope Benedict XVI.
The plan to reform the Curia reflects the priorities of Francis, who often warns against a “self-referential church” that is stuck in its old ways at the expense of the “peripheries.”
“Pope Francis always underlines that the Church is missionary,” said Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga in an interview with Vida Nueva, as quoted by Crux. “For this reason, it’s logical that we put in the first place the Dicastery for Evangelization and not the one for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
Referring to the Dicastery for Evangelization, Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias told Vida Nueva, “It will be the first dicastery. The name of the text shows that evangelization is the principal objective, ahead of anything else.”
Vatican journalist Christopher Lamb of The Tablet said that “with a single appointment, Pope Francis has arguably carried out one of the most significant moves of his pontificate.”
“Cardinal Tagle is on course to occupy the second most important position in Rome as his department seeks to implement Francis’ desire for a Roman Curia to be at the service of evangelization,” wrote Vatican journalist Christopher Lamb for The Tablet.
The importance of the office shows the importance of the man.
“Cardinal Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle’s appointment on Sunday to head one of the oldest, largest and most prestigious Vatican dicasteries,” said Pentin, “is a significant move that points to substantial curial reform and a growing emphasis on Asia, and positions the Filipino cardinal to be a possible successor to Pope Francis.” – Rappler.com