Nothing will deflate our Church more than the wrong choice of nuncio

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, will appoint the next nuncio to Britain (Photo: CNS)

Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz, the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, last week announced his retirement due to ill health; he will probably end his time here in December. He has been in the post for five and a half years: he was thus the last nuncio to have been appointed to England and Scotland by the disastrous former Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, his very welcome replacement, now has a chance to make an appointment which could decisively change the direction of the English Church. The problem we have had here is simple. For the most part, nuncios are not pastors: they are diplomatists. And, in the words of Damian Thompson’s Telegraph blog on Monday: “I don’t want to single out Archbishop Sainz, because he was just one of a string of Apostolic Nuncios or Delegates who represented the bishops’ conferences to the Pope rather than the other way around [my italics]. Like secular diplomats who go native, the Holy See’s ambassadors have allowed the Magic Circle to force the names of second-rate Church politicians on to ternas.”

Damian (not for the first time) is absolutely spot on: well, I would say that; I have been saying the same thing for years. In early 2007, in Faith magazine, I gave as one reason “why Pope Benedict wanted Sodano out and a less ‘diplomatic’ Secretary of State in”, that it was “not dissimilar to the suspicions of the Foreign Office traditionally voiced in British political circles: that it is run by people whose instinct is to ‘go native’.”  Another reason was given by the Pope himself: he explained that he had just appointed Cardinal Bertone because of his combination – just demonstrated as Archbishop of Genoa – of  “pastoral care and doctrinal wisdom”. The question was this:

But why would the Pope want a more doctrinally focused Secretary of State? The answer has to do with another question, often asked in this country. Why was it, when nearly all the present bishops were appointed by Pope John Paul II, that so many of them seemed dedicated to frustrating his intentions? Why, in other words, had he made so many mistakes? The answer is that in recommending a priest to the Pope for appointment as bishop, the Congregation for Bishops in Rome is almost entirely dependent on the information relayed to it by the Apostolic Nuncio of the country concerned, who sends a report of about 20 pages, together with a list of three names (the terna) and his own preference. Why have we had overwhelmingly liberal bishops for the last 30 years? Because we have had liberal nuncios. Who appoints the nuncios? Why, the Secretary of State.

Cardinal Bertone, we need your “pastoral care and doctrinal wisdom” now: send us a nuncio in your own image; it would help if he also spoke reasonable English and was prepared to use it to talk to priests and laity, and not just to the bishops. If you can’t find a nuncio in your existing diplomatic corps who is dedicated to the present Pope’s vision of the Church, look elsewhere (after all, the Pope did when he appointed you).

Your Eminence, we need you to make the right appointment if we are to maintain our hope for the future, which is so much more buoyant now after the papal visit. Nothing will deflate it more powerfully than the wrong nuncio. Please, don’t let us down, as Rome has so often let us down in the past.