Thomas Reese on Pope Francis Appointing Filipino Cardinal Tagle to Key Vatican Office

Cardinal Luis Tagle smiles during a news conference on the Synod at the Vatican on Oct. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a Senior Analyst at RNS. Previously he was a columnist at the National Catholic Reporter (2015-17) and an associate editor (1978-85) and editor in chief (1998-2005) at America magazine. He was also a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University (1985-98 & 2006-15) where he wrote Archbishop, A Flock of Shepherds, and Inside the Vatican. Earlier he worked as a lobbyist for tax reform. He has a doctorate in political science from the University of California Berkeley. He entered the Jesuits in 1962 and was ordained a priest in 1974 after receiving a M.Div from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.

In one of the most significant appointments of his papacy, Pope Francis has chosen the Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle to head the Vatican office that deals with most of the dioceses in Africa, Asia and Oceania. As prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, he will help shape the church in these territories.

The 62-year-old Tagle, whose father was Filipino and his mother of Chinese heritage, is currently archbishop of Manila. After his 1982 priestly ordination in the Philippines, he studied at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he earned a doctorate in theology, writing his dissertation on the evolution of episcopal collegiality since the Second Vatican Council.

He also studied in Rome for seven years and was appointed by John Paul II to the Church’s International Theological Commission in 1997.

Well-liked and respected at home, Tagle has all of the attributes prized by Francis. He is both bright and pastoral. He has a deep concern for the poor and is not afraid to speak out for justice. He is from the peripheries, yet has gotten to know the rest of the world though his travels as president of Caritas International, the church’s international aid program. 

This appointment is important for three reasons.

First, Tagle is an enthusiastic supporter of Francis, who needs all the support he can get in the Vatican’s Curia. Tagle has the same pastoral approach to church issues as does Francis. He brings to the Curia a voice that will be unambiguously pro-Francis. Besides serving as prefect, he will also be a member of other Vatican congregations where he can support Francis’ agenda.

Frankly, Francis has been slow in replacing holdovers from the previous papacy. He has even kept and promoted cardinals who are out of sync with his views, such as Cardinal Robert Sarah as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. No matter how much the Curia is reorganized, unless the people at the wheels of power support the pope, none of the reforms will matter.

Second, this appointment is important because the influence of his congregation is far-reaching. The congregation, originally called the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda Fide), was created in 1622 to deal with the missions opened up by European colonization.

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Source: Religion News Service