Marco Tosatti: Does Pope Francis Think His Reign Is About to End?

The appointment [on Sunday, December 8] of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila as Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (Propaganda Fidei) is an important signal for many reasons, but above all because it places us in a context in which we may suspect that Pope Bergoglio is thinking that the end of his pontificate is not far off. This is only a speculation, naturally; but it is a legitimate one, especially if we consider another decision, apparently without any reason, taken in the past few weeks.

We are referring to the completion of the service of [Argentinian] Monsignor Fabiàn Pedacchio as personal secretary of the Pontiff, a position that he has held for the last six years, since shortly after the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio on March 13, 2013. Throughout this entire time, Fabián Pedacchio has also maintained his position as a staff member at the Congregation for Bishops. Acting in concert with his greatest personal friend, [Brazilian] Ilson de Jesùs Montanari – named by Pope Bergoglio [in 2013] as Secretary of the same Congregation [and made an Archbishop] in an absolutely extraordinary career jump – Pedacchio has effectively overruled the Prefect, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, often acting as the spokesman of “higher authority” in the choice of bishops.

Thus  Pedacchio’s departure from the post of personal secretary to the Pope raises questions, if there are no other explanations. It is said that he will “return” to the Congregation, but in reality he never left. If the rumors we have been hearing in recent weeks are true, the picture is much different. According to what we have been told, Montanari, who has been Secretary of the Congregation for Bishops since October 2013, is going to be sent to Brazil as Archbishop of an important diocese (perhaps São Salvador de Bahia? Archbishop Murilo Sebastião Ramos Krieger is already more than a year past the retirement age of 75) so that he may become Archbishop Primate of Brazil. And the position of Secretary of the Congregation for Bishops would be filled by Fabián Pedacchio, who would naturally then become a titular bishop.

It is a frequent practice in modern times that, when it is thought that the papal reign is getting close to its end, the personal secretary of the Pontiff is named a bishop, as a sign of gratitude for the service he has offered and also as a way of protecting him from retaliation. Benedict XVI named Georg Gänswein as a bishop in December 2012, just a few months before announcing his resignation in February 2013.

We will see if these rumors are confirmed in the coming months.

But in the meantime there is the sudden appointment of Tagle to Rome. The outgoing Prefect of Propaganda Fidei (which, if and when the Reform of the Curia is approved, is intended to become the first Dicastery on the new list, ahead of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Bergoglio has never loved…), Cardinal Fernando Filoni, is 73 years old. He was Prefect since May 2011; thus his second five-year term would have been completed in May 2021. This means that we are looking at a move that cannot be explained as simply the expiration of his term.

It is likewise difficult to decipher the appointment of 62-year-old Luis Tagle to this post. He is not the first Asian to head the Propaganda Fidei (he was preceded by Ivan Dias of India). But it is difficult to avoid the idea that, by giving Tagle a position in Rome in order to get to know the Curia and to broaden his audience of contacts and relationships, Pope Bergoglio wants to give a clear signal of whom he favors for his succession. Other candidates are being prepared in their own respective camps, such as the present Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops Cardinal Marc Ouellet. But such a signal [by Bergoglio], if this is in fact the correct interpretation [of Tagle’s appointment], indicates that there is a sense of the “end of the reign” that is beginning to spread behind the Vatican Walls.

CORRECTIONS: Due to a translation error, we originally stated, incorrectly, that Cardinal Tagle was 72 years old. He is 62 years old. Also, we originally wrote that Pedacchio had departed from the Congregation for Bishops. His departure was not from that congregation, but rather from the personal secretary position to Pope Francis. Both errors have been amended in the text.

Originally published at:

Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino

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