12 June 2014, The Tablet

Retired justice and peace head named top-ranking cardinal

Outspoken Cardinal Renato Martino, the retired head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has been named as the Vatican’s top-ranking cardinal deacon.

The responsibilities of the “proto deacon” include declaring the Habemus Papam (“We have a pope”) at the end of a decisive vote in a conclave.

However, being over 80, the cardinal was unable to vote in the conclave that elected Francis and cannot vote in any future conclave. Thus the Habemus Papam announcement would be made by 78-year-old Cardinal William Levada, the US-based Catholic News Service reported.

Martino, previously the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations, in 2007 said Catholics should no longer support Amnesty International after it abandoned its neutral stance on abortion.

The Italian cardinal courted controversy in 2009, when after two weeks of bombing by the Israelis, he said conditions in the Gaza Strip were like those in “a large concentration camp”.

And he upset Vatican-US relations when he expressed disapproval at the release of footage of Saddam Hussein after his capture in Iraq. The cardinal criticised the US for broadcasting images of the former Iraqi president having his teeth checked “like a cow”.

Cardinal Martino has been a consistent advocate of social justice and spoken out forcefully against abortion and euthanasia. His appointment could confirm where Pope Francis’ convictions lie.

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