Cardinal Tagle seen to step down as Manila archbishop

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Cardinal Tagle seen to step down as Manila archbishop
As the powerful ‘Red Pope,’ Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is expected to address hot-button issues such as the Vatican’s policy toward China

SINGAPORE – Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle is seen to step down as archbishop of Manila after Pope Francis appointed him to head the powerful Vatican office in charge of spreading the Catholic faith.

Francis on Sunday, December 8, named him Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, previously known as the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith or Propaganda Fide.

The Archdiocese of Manila is set to release a statement on Monday afternoon, December 9, to address questions regarding Tagle’s new role.

At least 3 Church insiders told Rappler however that Tagle’s new appointment will require him to step down as Manila archbishop, as prefects of Vatican congregations are usually based in Rome. Others said the situation is still wait and see, as Francis might pull another surprise and allow Tagle to work as prefect remotely from Manila. 

Tagle’s office is one of the 9 congregations at the highest ranks of the Roman Curia, the “Cabinet” of the pontiff. This makes Tagle one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church. 

So influential is the prefect of Propaganda Fide that he is often called the “Red Pope,” alluding to the red hat worn by cardinals. In the words of veteran Catholic writer Sandro Magister, it is “red, because he is a cardinal; pope, because he has almost absolute power over mission territories for Catholicism, essentially the Churches of Africa and Asia.” 

Tagle’s new role, then, gives him a wider global influence. Propaganda Fide handles a host of hot-button issues, including the Vatican’s policy toward China, which has suppressed the Catholic Church. 

Tagle, 62, a Jesuit-trained prelate with Chinese roots, is succeeding Cardinal Fernando Filoni, an Italian who once happened to be the Vatican’s ambassador to the Philippines. The incoming prefect is only the second Asian to head Propaganda Fide.

CARDINAL TAGLE. Pope Francis (L) greets cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines after the celebration of a mass marking the end of the Jubilee of Mercy, on November 20, 2016 in Vatican. File photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

‘Blockbuster move’

Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said that “we are not sure” whether Tagle will have to leave Manila given his new appointment. He noted that the Pope “did not require him to vacate Manila” when Tagle became president of Caritas Internationalis, the world’s biggest network of Catholic charities. 

“If Pope Francis insists on the same trend of decentralization, he might allow the Cardinal to manage Propaganda Fide from Manila and just ask him to attend periodic meetings. The best thing to do now is to wait for an official announcement rather than speculate,” said David in a Facebook message to Rappler.

“If Pope Francis decides to keep him in Manila, it means he is really bent on decentralizing and running his Curia differently. Honestly, that’s what I wish he’d do. It should not be difficult to do in the age of internet and digital technology,” he added.

Tagle’s new role comes as the Philippines is set to mark in 2021 the 500th year of Christianity’s arrival on its shores. The Pope made the announcement on the eve of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the Philippines. 

Tagle’s appointment was, according to Vatican watcher Rocco Palmo, “a blockbuster Curial move,” in the context of the Pope’s efforts to cleanse the Vatican bureaucracy, which is seen as corrupt. Palmo said it was the Pope’s “biggest shift in the ‘old Curia’” since the early days of his papacy.

Palmo said that “if there was ever a day for this scribe to be shocked away from Rome for the first time since Benedict XVI’s resignation, this would’ve been it – and, indeed, this was it.” –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email