The Holy Office: A seat for three

The Holy Office: A seat for three Cardinal William Levada
Letter from Rome
The new head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will be appointed in April, writes Andrea Tornielli


Next week, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will hold a plenary session in the Palace of the Holy Office.

Everyone expected the name of Cardinal William Levada’s successor to be announced straight after this meeting.

Cardinal Levada has been prefect of the doctrinal dicastery, once referred to as la Suprema (the Supreme congregation), since 2005. But it looks like the decision date has been pushed forward.

Benedict XVI wants to take his time before making the final decision, taking great care to examine all the possibilities on the table.

Meanwhile, the 64-year-old Bishop of Regensburg, Gerhard Ludwig MÏller, remains a potential candidate.

He is already a member of the congregation and, as a theologian, is highly esteemed by Benedict XVI, who unexpectedly summoned him to Rome in recent days to discuss his future call to the Curia.

Should he not succeed in being appointed as head of the dicastery, the German bishop could be nominated Cardinal Archivist and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church, substituting Raffaele Farina and nominated cardinal in a future concistory.

Another candidate who is being considered is the 67-year-old Archbishop of Bordeaux, Jean-Pierre Bernard Ricard, also a member of the congregation.

Both men are diocesan bishops but they are well aware of the way the former Holy Office works.

Besides these two figures, the Pope is also considering the possibility of choosing an English-speaking prefect, which would continue the tradition begun with the appointment of William Levada, an American.

The reason for this potential latter choice can be found in the experience gained from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, following the publication of the apostolic constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus, towards the end of 2009. This makes possible the establishment of a number of Anglo-Catholic ordinariates, in order to welcome not just single priests or bishops into communion with the Roman Catholic Church, but also entire Anglican communities.

There is one English-speaking figure in the Roman Curia, who has worked in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: that is, the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, the American Archbishop, Joseph Augustine Di Noia.

The 68-year-old Dominican was under-secretary of the former Holy Office between 2002 and 2009 and so, for three years, worked as the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s number three man. But it is likely that different possibilities will be taken into account when evaluating potential candidates from English speaking countries.

On the contrary, Salesian Cardinal Angelo Amato, currently the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints and former secretary of the Holy Office, who will be 74 this coming June, has no chance of being selected.

The dossier regarding the choice of the new custodian of orthodoxy is one which the Pope manages personally, having led la Suprema for over 20 years.

A congregation which Paul VI had wanted to reform, highlighting the tasks of control and promotion of the Faith. The year that has just begun will be important in this sense, in light of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catholic Church’s Cathechism and the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

The task of choosing Cardinal Levada’s successor is a delicate and crucial one. And Benedict XVI does not want to act hastily.

Andrea Tornielli is a columnist of the Italian newspaper La Stampa