No red hat for Tagle?

A blogger for the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) is speculating that Luis Antonio Tagle, who would be installed later today as the second-youngest Archbishop of Manila, may not be made cardinal in the consistory that reports indicate will be held as early as February next year. This is partly because the Archbishop is being caught in a theological rift at the heart of the Vatican.

The said blogger points to a tradition many of those rooting for Tagle have overseen, which states that a new bishop of a cardinalate see should not be made cardinal until his predecessor has reached the age of eighty, perhaps in order to avoid according one diocese the unfair advantage of having two cardinal-electors. Manila’s archbishop-emeritus, Gaudencio Borbon Cardinal Rosales, will not turn eighty until August of next year.

To be sure, the Pope has the prerogative to ignore this tradition for those he favors; but Tagle might have trouble gaining the Pontiff’s favor, the blogger implied, since he is reportedly facing a bit of a bombshell in the Vatican. A right-wing Italian writer and Vatican-watcher, Sandro Magister, has revealed that Tagle was in fact one of the writers of the History of the Second Vatican Council, a controversial document known for its liberal interpretations of Vatican II. This treatise was written and published by a group of progressive theologians known as the School of Bologna, among the leaders of which is American theologian Joseph Komonchak, Tagle’s thesis adviser in the Catholic University of America. Magister alleged that this fact was omitted from the file on Tagle that was presented to the Pontifical Congregation for the Bishops that, after extensive deliberation of all candidates, recommended his appointment to Pope Benedict XVI on September 22; and that the said congregation knew of Tagle’s links to the Bologna school only after his appointment was made public.

To put things in context, we have to remember that there’s an on-going theological battle in the Vatican between the conservatives and the progressives, led by the said Bologna school, on how to view the Second Vatican Council, that 20th Century ecumenical gathering that caused a huge tectonic-shifting reformation of the Catholic church. For the conservatives, the Council was a rupture with Catholic tradition and is therefore a grave error that must be corrected. For the School of Bologna, however, the Council was indeed a rupture with tradition but one that is exactly what the Church had needed; arguing that breaking with tradition is justified in order to uphold the true teachings of Christ. While Pope Benedict XVI has officially taken the middle ground, saying that there was no rupture at all and that the Council was a “hermeneutic of renewal within the continuity” of the Church; it is said that the Vatican right now is in fact tilting towards the conservative view, which explains the very recent changes made in the Catholic Missal that reflect the old, pre-Council Latin Missal. Indeed, the Pope himself, when he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, was known to have been a staunch critic of the Bologna school of thought. Because of these, some observers had thought that Bologna students are somewhat persona non grata in the Vatican– until Tagle was appointed Manila archbishop.

But was Tagle selected because the cardinals and bishops that reviewed his candidature and recommended his appointment, and the pope who confirmed it, was not aware of his connections with the School of Bologna, as Magister has insinuated? I don’t think so. The History of the Second Vatican Council is so well-publicized that it’s unthinkable that officials of the Roman Curia would not know who its authors are. Tagle, after all, is not an unknown figure in the Vatican. He’s been an expert, and an elected member of post-synod council and assistant to synod reporter Angelo Cardinal Scola, in the 1998 and 2005 synods of bishops, respectively. I don’t think his pro-Bologna leanings mattered in his selection. As I’ve written in a previous post, he was more likely selected simply due to his reputation in Rome as a serious theologian and an effective pastor, as well as his personal connections with the Pope himself, with whom he had worked extensively in Pope John Paul II’s theological commission. In other words, I think the Pope is simply impressed with Tagle, a rising star that the Church should recognize and is recognizing.

This is why I think that the Pope would most likely prefer to forego tradition and make Tagle, together with Cebu’s Jose Serofino Palma, cardinal in February. But thanks to Magister’s little bombshell, there’s indeed a possibility that the Holy Father might be forced to exercise “Roman prudence” and thus deny the young prelate his red hat until the storm has settled down. But should this happen, it should not be seen as a derailment of Tagle’s very promising career. After all, he’s still a kid in church terms and he certainly can afford to wait. In 1954, another rising star in the Chuch, Giovanni Battista Montini, was denied by Pope Pius XXII his red hat after he became Archbishop of Milan, a prime cardinalate see; but this did not stop him from becoming Pope Paul XVI in 1963.

Indeed, perhaps what’s in store for Tagle in the immediate future is not just the Manila see. According to the scuttlebutt, the Pope is actually scouting for a Filipino who can head a Roman dicastery, perhaps because he is either impressed with the first Filipino to have headed a Curial department, Pontifical Congregation for the Clergy Prefect-Emeritus Jose Tomas Cardinal Sanchez (whom this blogger has had the pleasure of meeting), or convinced that the third largest Catholic country in the world deserves to be represented in the Curia, or both. In terms of political connections and intellectual reputation, Tagle could be a shoo-in for a Curial post. Could it therefore be that he would not be warming his seat in Manila and would instead be called to Rome in the near future?

If this rumor is true, the Philippine Catholic church is in for exciting times. A Curial leader is always made a cardinal. If that Curial leader turns out to be Tagle, then Manila would be open for another candidate for another red hat (perhaps Soc Villegas?); which would mean that the Philippines would be having three cardinal-electors in the next conclave. And by that time, perhaps Tagle, should he manage to earn the reputation of an able Curial administrator without shedding his Third World credentials, could be of striking distance to the papacy.

Update, Dec. 15: I initially said that Tagle would be the second-youngest Archbishop of Manila, but reader Marlowe Chica correctly pointed out in a comment that he’s actually the third. The youngest was Michael Doherty who was 42, while the second-youngest was Jaime Cardinal Sin, who was 44. Tagle is 54 years old. I stand corrected. Mea culpa.

Update, Dec. 22: The progressive-leaning National Catholic Reporter (NCR) reports that Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops Marc Cardinal Oullet, a protege of Pope Benedict XVI, supports Tagle, implying that Tagle may get his red hat in February. Also, rather than being dismayed by Tagle’s writings for the History of Vatican II, an unnamed Vatican official is said to be impressed by Tagle’s defense of Pope Paul VI in his essay. This NCR article was written by John Allen, the same Vaticanista who has identified Tagle as a papal contender.


3 thoughts on “No red hat for Tagle?”

  1. I would be happy to see a third cardinal here in the philippines. I am not amused to see bishop soc villegas to be that person. I see him as duplicate of cardinal sin and in my opinion, we have seen a lot of cardinal sin

  2. Billy, I think the Vatican share your opinion regarding the Cardinal Sin’s legacy of political activism. His partisan activities were frowned upon by Rome, who ordered him to refrain from participating in the Edsa uprising that deposed then President Joseph Estrada. Sin defied this order. I have it on good authority that, during the height of the Edsa uprising, the Cardinal joked that he intentionally did not put on his hearing aid so that he would not hear the rings of phone calls from the Vatican. Pope John Paul II retaliated by splitting up the Archdiocese, which cut Sin’s influence (and his ability to mobilize crowds). This has even been confirmed by a ranking Vatican bureaucrats in a Wikileaks report (see the links in my previous post, ) I think these considerations played a part in the non-selection of Villegas, who, as you said, is a carbon copy of Cardinal Sin.

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