MANILA—Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle’s appointment to the Vatican puts him in a position to backstop important reforms by Pope Francis within Rome’s bureaucracy, while placing him closer to a possible papacy in the future.
Tagle, 62, is set to leave the Archdiocese of Manila early next year to formally head the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (CEP), an important Vatican office expected to be restructured soon into the more powerful Dicastery for Evangelization.
The Manila See is already listed as vacant while the Vatican website now mentions Tagle as head of the CEP.
A draft document on the Roman curia (or Vatican bureaucracy), Praedicate Evangelium (“Preach the Gospel”), was earlier seen to put the new “super” dicastery next only to the Secretariat of State, and ahead of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog and the oldest of its 9 congregations.
Vatican watchers see Tagle’s new designation as part of Francis’ effort to surround himself with like-minded reformists, replacing tough-headed bureaucrats stuck to the old ways of doing things.
The new assignment “cements his status as a possible successor to Francis,” according to Vatican expert John Allen Jr.
“Assuming a conclave isn’t on the horizon for a while, the timing likely would put Tagle into his mid-to-late 60s, which might strike electors as about right - young enough to govern, but old enough not to be there forever,” he wrote.
Fr. Rufino Sescon Jr., a member of the Manila archdiocese’s laity formation commission, played down Tagle’s possible “papabile” status with the new assignment.
“I want to look at it more from the angle that Pope Francis really wants to expedite and reinforce his missionary and evangelization thrust and reform for the Church. He wants it done soon & he needs trusted and able collaborators,” Sescon told ABS-CBN News.
Tagle has his work cut out for him in the 397-year-old Vatican office in charge of the “transmission and dissemination of the faith throughout the whole world.” It also handles the Catholic Church’s “diverse missionary efforts and initiatives.”
He brings to Rome “a combination of his intellectual acumen and pastoral experiences, which many in the Vatican may not both have as the curia is known for having bureaucrats lacking in pastoral exposure,” said Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ public affairs office.
Tagle spent 8 years as Manila archbishop tending to its flock of 2.8 million Catholics. Prior to Manila, he had spent 3 years as an associate pastor in Mendez, Cavite, and later became bishop of Imus.
In Manila, the archbishop, a gifted communicator known for his impassioned preaching, “gave a renewed face of the Church to people especially to the youth,” Sescon said.
Tagle can provide the “face” needed by the Catholic Church today to “connect and appeal” to more people, he said.
“Evangelization really consumes his heart. No wonder Pope Francis saw it in him. Hopefully, this will inspire the Church at large to really have a missionary/evangelization dimension in all her programs,” Sescon said.
Tagle has been widely considered as among the most popular church leaders in Asia, his strong credentials and pastoral experience not left unnoticed by the Vatican.
He served in various capacities under the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Pontifical Council for the Family, and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples.
Tagle heads Caritas Internationalis, coordinating charity work among 165 Catholic relief organizations worldwide.
“His transfer to the Vatican is definitely a great loss to the people of Manila,” Secillano told ABS-CBN News. “But his new position gives him a clear mandate on how to chart courses of action that will stir the Church in these trying times.”