Benedict’s War Cabinet
In contrast to the pope’s obvious call to Europe to step up to the battle against extremist Islam that he broadcast from Bavaria in September, Pope Benedict XVI has been far less overt in publicizing the revolutionary changes he is making within the Vatican bureaucracy.
Commentators have mentioned the frailty of old age that inflicts this pope. They in turn note his thin and reedy voice and his comparative lack of charisma compared to his predecessor, John Paul II. But all seem to agree on one thing: the power of this pope’s tremendous intellect.
So it is that, having bided his time, Benedict has recently begun, with typical German thoroughness—one could even say administrative brutality—trimming the fat in the governing body of the Catholic Church, the Curia, and placing hand-picked troops in his front line. This is a pope gearing up for battle. Benedict is preparing to wage war with any who would challenge his word on dogma, on liturgy, and on any of his initiatives at promoting a great religious revival within Rome’s collective global congregation of over 1 billion souls. With the benefit of John Paul’s papacy having laid the groundwork, Benedict XVI is even now preparing for his clarion call to revive the church’s mission to catholicize the world.
Consider the wide-ranging changes Benedict has already enacted over the past few months, with no sign of these changes slowing down.
Starting with his own replacement in the office of prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Benedict turned to an interesting choice by appointing then-archbishop of San Francisco, William J. Levada, in May last year. The two had worked closely together during John Paul’s pontificate. Benedict would know full well that Levada, known as shy and retiring in demeanor, would not challenge the pope on any matter of theological consequence. Thus Benedict guarantees that he remains sole and final authority on Catholic doctrine.
Then this March, the pope started his downsizing program by first eliminating two senior positions in the Curia. He accepted the resignation of Japanese Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao, who had been president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants, and reappointed Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald from president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue to apostolic nuncio to Egypt. In the process, Benedict merged four existing pontifical councils into two.
There followed a change in the post which is key to Vatican relations with the developing world. The office of the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples, formerly held by Italian Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, was given to the archbishop of Bombay, Indian Cardinal Ivan Dias.
In July, the Vatican’s longstanding press officer, Opus Dei layman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, was replaced by Jesuit priest Federico Lombardi, director general of Vatican radio and television.
In September, with the retirement of Cardinal Edmund Szoka from the post of president of the Vatican City governate, the Vatican’s secretary of relations with states, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, moved into that role, thus leaving the Vatican’s key foreign-policy office vacant. That position was later filled by French Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, a Moroccan native with an understanding of the Muslim world.
Also in September, following the papal visit to Bavaria, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, having served for the past 15 years in the powerful position of Vatican secretary of state, was replaced by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Ratzinger’s prior trusted deputy in his former position as the head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is believed the pope considers that Betone will more effectively serve Benedict’s goals of changing the Curia into an administrative body better tuned to facilitating his global mission to catholicize the masses.
All these moves are, according to a recent report, designed to help achieve the pope’s vision of enabling the Vatican as a “church headquarters to be both a more holy and a more efficient entity” (Time, September 11). This certainly bespeaks a “holy” Roman imperial vision, underwritten by typical German motivation for thoroughgoing efficiency.
Dual posts now under consideration by Pope Benedict for review and change are that of vicar of Rome and head of the Italian Bishops Conference, both currently held by the veteran Cardinal Camillo Ruini.
Benedict is also mulling over the need to place a man in charge of the Vatican purse strings whom he can trust. Although it may come as a shock to some, particularly in Italy, the fact that Benedict is currently considering a fellow German for this position should surprise few who have watched his power plays. The Italian magazine Panorama recently reported that Benedict has in mind appointing the former head of the German Central Bank, Hans Tietmeyer, to that key treasury position. As Time observed, should that appointment become a reality, it “would shake things up almost as much as a German pope” (ibid.).
As we have consistently advised, watch Rome, and watch Berlin. The state of the world for the immediate future will vitally hinge on strategies being currently worked out in these two key capital cities.
Pope Benedict certainly lit the fuse to the Middle East tinderbox during his now infamous speech in Regensburg, Bavaria. Islam will soon reap the whirlwind, Iran having pushed its foreign policy to the point of stimulating a powerful papal response. The pope is busy assembling his war cabinet within the Curia in Rome. The battle will be joined in one final great crusade. That titanic battle is about to begin. 2007 will powerfully demonstrate that reality. Watch Rome—watch Berlin!