Cardinal Tagle and the Dicastery for Evangelisation’s growing pains

Cardinal Tagle

A year ago, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle seemed to enter a strange sort of limbo.

It began with the publication of the new Vatican constitution, Praedicate evangelium, on March 19, 2022.

Up to then, the Filipino cardinal had served as the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, the powerful curial department responsible for mission territories whose head is known as “the red pope.”

(The appointment of New Zealand’s bishops is made through the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. Ed.)

Tagle had arrived at the Vatican in 2020 in a blaze of publicity after eight years as the Archbishop of Manila.

He was known as “the Asian Francis,” a charismatic speaker and servant of the poor often described as “papabile” despite his relative youth.

But in 2022, a new Vatican constitution absorbed the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples — formerly known as Propaganda Fide —  into a new department, the Dicastery for Evangelisation, led directly by Pope Francis.

The department’s day-to-day activities would be overseen “in his name and by his authority” by two “pro-prefects.”

One pro-prefect would be responsible for the dicastery’s first section, devoted to “fundamental questions regarding evangelisation in the world,” and the other for the second section, “for the first evangelisation and new particular churches.”

The dicastery was listed first among the Vatican departments in Praedicate evangelium, underlining its centrality in the reformed curia.

Observers assumed that Tagle would be pro-prefect of the second section. But curiosity grew when the Vatican failed to refer to the Filipino cardinal by that title.

In a press release days after the new constitution’s publication, the Holy See press office described Tagle as the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.

That was probably because the constitution only came into full force on June 5 that year.

But in July, the press office mentioned Tagle without giving a title.

That happened again in October and December.

It did the same for Archbishop Salvatore Rino Fisichella, who was widely believed to be pro-prefect of the dicastery’s first section.

Speculation over Tagle’s standing at the Vatican heightened in November 2022 when Pope Francis swept away the leadership of Caritas Internationalis, including Tagle, who had served as its president since 2015.

Had the cardinal fallen out of favour?

Not according to official Vatican media, which presented Tagle as one of the figures responsible for the organisation’s renewal, rather than a casualty of the changes.

Only on Jan. 27 this year did the Holy See press office confirm what most people had originally thought: Tagle was indeed a pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelisation.

On Feb. 18, the press office indicated that he was in charge of the section for first evangelisation and the new particular churches, and Fisichella was responsible for the first section. Continue reading

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