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  • John Thavis

Spanish appointment tells Curia heads: You can go home again

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

A chapter in Pope Francis’ revolution was written today when the pope named Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera as archbishop of Valencia, Spain.

The appointment was remarkable mainly because it violated the age-old Roman Curia maxim, “You can’t go home again.” Cardinal Cañizares was being sent back to Valencia, where he was ordained a priest 44 years ago, after a five-year stint as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

UPDATE: Cardinal Cañizares said in an interview that he was happy to be going back to his home diocese, and that he told the pope he wanted to “smell like the sheep” (using one of Francis’ favorite phrases about pastors.)

Traditionally, Roman Curia department heads, especially if they’re cardinals, stay on the job until retirement. And after they retire, most continue to reside in Rome rather than returning to pastoral work in their home countries.

I’ve argued that if Pope Francis really wants to emphasize service over prestige in Vatican appointments, he should make it clear that those called to Rome are there temporarily, with no guarantee of career advancement, and can expect to return home after their five-year term is over.

That’s what’s happening to Cardinal Cañizares. A theologian known in Rome as the “little Ratzinger,” he was archbishop of Toledo when he was picked by Pope Benedict to head the liturgy congregation, where he presided over a series of conservative decisions (his latest instruction was to tone down the exchange of the sign of peace during Mass, to reflect greater “sobriety” in liturgy.)

The 68-year-old Cañizares was tipped by Spanish sources in recent months as a possible new archbishop of Madrid. Instead, he’s going to Valencia, a smaller and less important archdiocese. Madrid, also announced today, went to Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra, who had headed the Valencia archdiocese.

No one has yet been appointed as Cañizares’ successor at the Vatican’s liturgy congregation.

It will be interesting to see if Pope Francis is willing to send younger department heads back to pastoral service after a few years at the Vatican, rather than keeping them on forever. The turnover would be good for the church, and would remind the prelates that their time in Rome is a sacrifice, not a career move.

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