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Pope Francis has removed several controversial and conservative members of the powerful body that advises him on selecting bishops for most of the world’s non-missionary dioceses (mostly in Europe and the Americas). They include Cardinals Raymond Burke, Mauro Piacenza and Angelo Bagnasco.
On Monday, the Vatican announced changes to the membership of the Congregation for Bishops. The new men are generally considered more moderate and pragmatic. Among the newcomers are Cardinals Donald Wuerl, 73, of Washington (US); Francisco Robles Ortega, 64, of Guadalajara (Mexico); and Archbishop Vincent Nichols, 68, of Westminster (UK). It was also announced that 69-year-old Cardinal Marc Ouellet PSS of Quebec, the congregation’s prefect since 2010, has been reconfirmed in his post along with 17 existing members.
Pope Francis added a total of 12 new members and removed 14 others. Vatican appointments are usually for five years and renewable. But most of those who were dropped from the Congregation for Bishops this week are retired and close to 80, the age such appointments automatically terminate.
However, Cardinal Burke is only 65 and had been a member of the congregation for just three years. Known as a “culture warrior” and a leading proponent of the pre-Vatican II Mass, he is still waiting for Francis to re-confirm him as president of the Apostolic Signatura, a job he has held since 2008.
Cardinal Piacenza, 69, had been a member of the congregation for just two and a half years. Considered one of Benedict XVI’s most conservative allies in the Roman Curia, he had been prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy for only three years when Pope Francis in September moved him to be head of the Apostolic Penitentiary.
Cardinal Bagnasco of Genoa, appointed President of the Italian Episcopal Conference by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, was not reconfirmed as a member of the congregation. This may suggest that the Pope is looking for someone to replace the 70-year-old cardinal to lead the Italian conference.
One surprising absence on the list of new members was Archbishop Gerhard Müller, 65, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since summer 2012. The prefect’s job usually goes with a seat on the Congregation for Bishops. In fact, the German archbishop’s predecessor, 77-year-old Cardinal William Levada, has retained his spot on the bishops-making body.
Another surprise was the appointment to the congregation of Bishop Felix Genn, 63, of Münster. He replaces Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who turns 80 on Christmas Day. This has fed speculation that he may be in line to succeed the cardinal as Archbishop of Cologne.
There are 30 members of the Congregation for Bishops. There are 22 from Europe (with 12 from Italy), five from Latin America, two from the US and one from Australia. Among the 12 new members are eight Europeans (five from Italy), three from Latin America and one from the US. African and Asian bishops are appointed by Propaganda Fide.