MANILA—Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle is set to leave for his new assignment in Rome by next week, leaving behind a trail of uncertainty over his successor in the powerful Archdiocese of Manila.
Tagle, 62, is widely considered as a moderate, prefering not to pick a fight on hot-button issues, but working behind the scenes through dialogue.
He was appointed in December as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Vatican’s top missionary department.
Back home, his critics often point to missed opportunities for the cardinal to be vocal and use the full weight of the archbishopric during, say, the campaign against a birth-control law in 2012, and more recently, the drug-war killings under President Rodrigo Duterte.
Much of the criticism also drew from the expectation that church leaders in the Philippines should be more critical and political, much like the late Jaime Cardinal Sin of Manila.
Tagle’s style may be seen as part of a “multiplicity of approaches” among church leaders in dealing with issues such as the drug killings, said Fr. Reginald Malicdem, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Manila.
The cardinal believes “we could evangelize” government officials, “not only by talking against them, but also through listening,” he told ABS-CBN News.
“I saw the wisdom in the cardinal’s approach,” said Malicdem, who served as private secretary to Tagle and another Manila archbishop, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales.
At least 4 names have been floated around in church circles to succeed Tagle—Archbishop Gilbert Garcera of Lipa, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, Bishop Pablo David of Caloocan, and Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara of Pasig.
But the choices remain speculative until Pope Francis actually names Tagle’s successor, following a tedious and highly confidential process.
“Rather than speculate, the best thing to do is to pray that those consulted and those who do and process the consultations may be enlightened and guided by the Holy Spirit,” Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo wrote.
The Manila See has been vacant since Tagle was appointed to the powerful dicastery in Rome.
By church law, he has until Feb. 8 to assume or 2 months after the new assignment was made public.
But even before the announcement, the Vatican, through its apostolic nuncio (or ambassador), had been quietly searching for Tagle’s replacement, according to another priest with knowledge of the process.
“They had been working on this. The Vatican is so prudent. Walang pabigla-bigla dito (This is not done quickly),” the source told ABS-CBN News.
Consultations initiated by the apostolic nuncio come in the form of letters sent to bishops and other members of the clergy on who they believe should be the new archbishop.
An initial list will be further trimmed down based on the results contained in questionnaires, where specific pieces of information about candidates are cross-checked with other sources.
“Those consulted are bound under pontifical secret not to divulge the consultation letters and their responses to protect the good name of the candidates and the respondents alike,” Pabillo wrote.
The process is so strictly confidential that those who answered using a computer are asked to delete the file right after, the ABS-CBN News source said.
A list of 3 names called “terna” is later sent to the Congregation for Bishops in the Vatican for further scrutiny until a final list is presented to the Pope for approval.
Leading the Manila archdiocese will require the “wisdom of a good shepherd” given its “complex realities,” Malicdem said.
These include its proximity to the seat of government power with which the archbishop is expected to engage on matters affecting the Catholic faithful as citizens.
“Relationship with the government will be an essential qualification,” Malicdem said. “Kailangan malawak yung perspective nya kasi hindi simpleng reality ang Archdiocese of Manila.”
(He should have a wide perspective because the reality or work of the Archdiocese of Manila isn't simple.)