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MANILA, Philippines – For seven and a half years, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle led Caritas Internationalis, the world’s biggest network of Catholic charities, in a post seen to boost his credentials as potential pope.
On Saturday, May 13, the 22nd General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis elected Tagle’s successor: Archbishop Tarcisius Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo.
Tagle held the role of Caritas president from May 2015 until November 2022, when Pope Francis removed the body’s entire leadership due to management problems attributed to their former secretary-general, Aloysius John.
In a November 2022 decree, the Pope appointed Pier Francesco Pinelli as temporary administrator of Caritas, assisted by Tagle. It was Tagle who read this decree in a Caritas meeting – an indication, according to observers, that the Filipino cardinal still enjoys the Pope’s trust and was likely part of the decision-making process behind the revamp.
Even before the Caritas shake-up of 2022, however, Tagle was already due to be replaced as Caritas president. Tagle, who was first elected in 2015 and was reelected in 2019, had already reached the maximum of two terms allowed under Caritas statutes.
With Tagle having left his role in Caritas, what are his other posts at the Vatican?
Tagle, the 65-year-old former archbishop of Manila, remains in the inner circle of Pope Francis, but problems in Caritas prompt questions about his leadership.
Pro-Prefect, Dicastery of Evangelization
Tagle’s most important role at the Vatican is his post as one of two pro-prefects at the Dicastery of Evangelization. This role is more significant than his role at Caritas, because as pro-prefect, he is part of what can be considered the Cabinet of the Pope.
The Dicastery of Evangelization is the latest evolution of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples or Propaganda Fide, a 400-year-old Vatican office in charge of spreading the Catholic faith worldwide.
Tagle in fact used to be the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. He shared this position with no one, unlike in the current set-up where he is one of two pro-prefects. Like his predecessors, Tagle was informally called the “Red Pope,” a title based on a cardinal’s red vestments and the extensive powers that Propaganda Fide has wielded throughout history.
The situation changed, however, when Francis reformed the entire Vatican bureaucracy, the Roman Curia, which for a long time had been a den of careerism, corruption, and intrigue. In the apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel) issued in March 2022, the Pope sought to bring the Roman Curia back to its roots – evangelization.
One of the major reforms of Praedicate Evangelium is that the Pope is now the prefect of the Dicastery of Evangelization. It is the only dicastery headed by the Pope himself, assisted by two pro-prefects.
This means that the Dicastery of Evangelization is the most important for the Pope – reflecting his priority since day one of his papacy, which is to evangelize and reach out to the world’s peripheries.
In this dicastery, Tagle is the pro-prefect of the Section for the First Evangelization and New Particular Churches. As pro-prefect, Tagle supervises missionary efforts “in territories of the first evangelization,” or places that have not heard of the Catholic faith. Part of the work of Tagle, a Filipino with Chinese roots, is to handle the Vatican’s dealings with China, where Christians continue to face persecution.
The other prefect, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, handles the Section for Fundamental Questions of Evangelization in the World.
The Catholic news outlet Crux calls the Dicastery of Evangelization a “new mega-department for evangelization” that combines the old departments previously headed by Tagle and Fisichella, under the supervision of the Pope.
Member, Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See
Tagle is a member of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA), which acts as the central bank of the Vatican bureaucracy.
In particular, APSA is the Vatican department “responsible for the administration and management of the real estate and movable assets of the Holy See,” according to Praedicate Evangelium. The APSA provides resources for the Vatican bureaucracy, the Roman Curia, so that it can serve Catholic churches around the world.
The Vatican announced Tagle’s appointment as APSA member in February 2021, alongside Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana. Tagle and Turkson are two of Francis’ closest allies from the developing world.
Member, Cardinals’ Commission for the Supervision of the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR)
Tagle is part of the five-member Cardinals’ Commission for the Supervision of the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican Bank.
The IOR “provides for the custody and administration of movable and immovable assets transferred or entrusted to the same by natural or legal persons and intended, at least in part or for the future, for works of religion or charity,” according to the IOR Statutes.
The IOR is different from APSA in the sense that the IOR is not part of the Vatican bureaucracy and “is a separate legal person which administers a different patrimony of different origin and which has a ‘mission,’” according to an EU report in 2012.
The IOR Statutes state that members of the Cardinals’ Commission are appointed by the Pope and are tasked to ensure “that the Institute abides by the Statutes, and performs all the other duties assigned to it by the Statutes themselves.” They serve a five-year term and may be reappointed once.
Tagle’s other duties at the Vatican
- Grand Chancellor, Pontifical University Urbaniana
- President, Catholic Biblical Federation
- Member, Section for Fundamental Questions of Evangelization in the World at the Dicastery of Evangelization
- Member of the following Dicasteries: for Culture and Education; for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; for the Oriental Churches; for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; for Legislative Texts; for Inter-religious Dialogue
What’s next for Tagle?
Whenever Tagle’s name is mentioned, the follow-up question is often about his chances to be the next pope.
Veteran Vatican analyst John Allen Jr., in his November 30, 2022 podcast, said the Caritas shake-up “raises an interesting question” about Tagle and how “it has been assumed that he has Pope Francis’ full backing and that had propelled him towards the top of many short lists to become the next pope.”
Allen noted that a Vatican statement “attempted to spin” the Caritas revamp “in a positive way” by highlighting Tagle’s interim role as liaison. “Nevertheless,” he said, “it does not look good for Cardinal Tagle, because whatever problems that compelled Pope Francis to act obviously happened on Cardinal Tagle’s watch, and the Pope was willing to allow that impression to take root.”
Crux senior correspondent Elise Anne Allen, in an article on Monday, May 15, wrote of Tagle: “The broad consensus is that he is a kind man and pastor who is deeply committed to his people and to implementing the Francis agenda, although some of his fellow prelates quietly have raised questions over the years about his political and managerial effectiveness.”
She wrote that “many were disappointed to hear that Tagle had been aware” of the mistreatment of Caritas staff by their former secretary-general, Aloysius John, “but had failed to take appropriate action.”
In a separate article for the National Catholic Reporter on Friday, May 12, Vatican correspondent Christopher White said he spoke with former Caritas employees who “praised Tagle as a gentle man with pastoral instincts.” His interviewees were disappointed, however, that Tagle “was well aware of John’s poor treatment of staff, sympathetic of their conditions, yet failed to intervene.”
White also cited the case of a Belgian Salesian priest, Father Luk Delft, who became Caritas director in Central African Republic despite his alleged involvement in child sex abuse. “An internal Caritas investigation found that Tagle and other Caritas leaders were aware of the priest’s criminal conviction in 2017, two years before he was named director in the Central African Republic,” he reported.
According to White, a former Caritas employee said, “He does not know how to take decisions, which makes me sad, because he’s one of the good guys.” – Rappler.com