07 April 2013

New Secretary of CICLSAL: Story and Blog Comment

by Gerard O’Connell

In his first significant appointment to the Roman Curia, Pope Francis has taken the highly unusual step of naming the actual head of a religious order, Father Jose Rodriguez Carballo, as Secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated life and the Societies of Apostolic Life (formerly known as ‘The Congregation for Religious’).

When the Pope chose him, the 59-year old Spanish priest was Minister General or head of the largest group of the Franciscan family – the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), which has some 15,000 friars in 113 countries. He was first elected to that post in 2003, and re-elected for another six-year term in 2009 as head of an order that is contracting in Western Europe and North America, holding steady in Latin America, and gaining vocations in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.

The Vatican broke the news of Father Carballo’s appointment on April 6, and said Pope Francis has raised him to the rank of archbishop. Born in Lodoselo, Spain in 1953, Carballo did his early studies in schools run by the Franciscans in that country and, in 1973, was sent to do biblical studies in Jerusalem. After being ordained priest in Jerusalem in 1977, he gained degrees in Biblical Theology in the Holy City and a further degree in Sacred Scripture from Rome’s Biblical Institute. In the following years he held increasingly high posts of responsibility in the Franciscan order in Spain and, in 2003, was elected Master General of the worldwide order.

He was one of the main concelebrants, together with the Father General of the Jesuits, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, at the mass for the inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis on March 19. He succeeds the American Archbishop Joseph Tobin who had also been head of a religious order – the Redemptorists. Unlike Carballo, however, the American had already finished his term as head of his order more than a year before Benedict XVI appointed him to the Vatican Congregation in August 2010. Two years later, however, in October 2012, the Pope took the surprising decision to reassign him to the USA as archbishop of Indianapolis.

In his new role as the second highest official in the Vatican congregation that oversees the life and work of some 900,000 consecrated men and women in religious orders and communities worldwide, Fr Carballo will work closely with the Brazilian Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, who has led this important office since 4 January 2011.

The Spaniard will bring his rich international experience as head of a major religious order to his new post of responsibility. Together with Cardinal Braz de Aviz, he is expected to play a key role in working to overcome and heal the tensions between the Vatican, and in particular the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and the leadership of the umbrella organization of some 59,000 American women religious – the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

In April 2012, the CDF issued a highly critical doctrinal assessment of the situation of the LCWR, accusing them of taking positions that undermine Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality and of promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” In the light of that report, Pope Benedict appointed the US Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle to supervise the reform of the LCWR within five years. . . .

Blog Comment: 

Of course it goes without saying that women Religious in the US are hopeful for a more honest hearing from (and more transparent discussion with)  the CDF than seems to have been accorded the LCWR thus far. One of the central problems has been communication. The LCWR sends representatives each year to the Vatican to meet with various Offices and also meet with the US Nuncio in the US. Despite repeated assurances that Rome had no questions or required no clarifications the highly critical doctrinal assessment was actually released during the time of one of these meetings in Rome.

At least as proble-matical is the fact that the Leadership Conference is neither a theological nor catechetical organization and does NOT take stances which are contrary to church teaching; at the same time however, it is not the LCWR's place to do the work of teaching the faith, either to member congregations, or to the Church and world more generally. That task is more rightly reserved to the Bishops. For this reason some of the reform being outlined seems to run contrary to the very nature of LCWR while other criticisms are simply too vague to be meaningful. (Please see Sister Mary Hughes' talk to the US Press Club, also in this blog for a more detailed discussion of this. Check label "Sister Mary Hughes, OP")

At this point no one can say what will happen to the doctrinal assessment and the mandate given to ABp Peter Sartain or Bishops Blair and Paprocki to oversee the reform of the group. However, it probably DOES bode well for eventual effective resolution that Francis has appointed a Religious who understands Religious life intimately from within, but who is also is the General Superior of the provinces of  Franciscan men in the US who publicly supported the LCWR (cf post under label, LCWR). Whatever happens with the LCWR situation it remains a good thing to have another Religious succeed Fr Tobin's too-short tenure in this role. Women Religious continue to pray for a just resolution to the situation while they move forward in their ministries. Meanwhile, Francis begins by appointing a man who clearly had no curial ambitions. That in itself is a refreshing shift in Roman appointments.