As already predicted by some Catholic and secular news agencies in the preceding weeks, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, was elected yesterday as the new President of Caritas International. He succeeds Oscar Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, who is stepping down after serving two terms. Tagle himself was not in Rome yesterday; John Allen notes that he was in Chicago receiving an honorary doctorate from the Catholic Theological Union, one of the Americas' most liberal theological institutes.
Some had raised the possibility that Cardinal Tagle would run unopposed, with the only other candidate standing down. However this did not happen: the other candidate (Maronite Archbishop Joseph Soueif) remained in the race. Catholic News Agency further notes that there was a very real difference in emphasis between the programs offered by either prelate:
Archbishop Soueif counted on the support of the European agencies, and – according to a source within Vatican internationalis who spoke with CNA May 14 – he proposed a program based on the spirit of Caritas Internationalis new statutes, issued via Benedict XVI’s motu proprio in 2012.
Supporters of Archbishop Soueif noted that he is very well aware of the difficult situation of Christians, as he comes from Lebanon, and administers Cyprus, an island divided in two parts with an on going persecution of Christians. At the same time, Archbishop Soueif – supporters said - also knows in depth European issues, as he is also a member of the Commission of the Bishops of the European Union (COMECE).
On the other hand, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle program zeroed in on the advocacy for poor and the wish to reach out to peripheries.
Fr. Edu Gariguez, Caritas Philippines executive secretary, commented with the Filipino medium CBPB News that Tagle “has the qualities of a good leader for the organization” and recounted that the “clamor” for the cardinal to be nominated was led by Caritas Asia when the process started early this year.
If CNA's report is accurate (and we have no reason to doubt it), Archbishop Soueif ran on an explicitly "Ratzingerian" platform supported by European and Middle Eastern delegates, while Tagle's candidacy was propelled by Asians and ran on an explicitly "Bergoglian" platform ('reaching out to the peripheries'). The decisive victory won by Tagle -- who received 91 out of 133 votes -- is no surprise given Caritas' difficult relationship with the pontificate of Benedict XVI, who had placed it under tighter Vatican control as enshrined in the very same statutes upon which Abp. Soueif based his platform.
With the support of many in Caritas itself, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga had tried (but failed) to prevent the statutes from being imposed on that organization during the 2011-2012 controversy between it and the Vatican. (See our 2011-2012 series of posts on Caritas and the Pope's attempts to reform it: The problem with Caritas.) The statutes gave greater control over Caritas to the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, headed at that time by Robert Cardinal Sarah; it was expected at that time that the greater role given to Cor Unum in supervising Caritas would help limit the latter's drift into dissent. Cor Unum now stands "headless" with Cardinal Sarah's move to the Congregation for Divine Worship and its expected merger with three other Pontifical Councils to form a new Congregation as a way of underlining the importance of works of charity to the mission of the Church. (Vatican spokesman Fr. Lombardi had all but confirmed the merger in previous statements, such as this.)
Cardinal Sarah's move to the CDW was hailed last year by some bloggers and analysts as a sign that Pope Francis wanted to ensure continuity when it comes to liturgical policies. We think, on the other hand, that this move was more about freeing Caritas from his control (as we hinted at in our post about Sarah's "promotion") and preparing the way for Cor Unum's dissolution in view of reform in the Curia.
There has been much speculation that the first head of the new Congregation will be Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga himself, although the delays in the reform of the Curia and his age (he turns 73 in December of this year) raise doubts about it. However, with Cor Unum deprived of a President and given the present Pontificate's thrusts and priorities, there can be no question that Tagle now receives a Caritas Presidency with enhanced influence and autonomy and a higher profile. Isn't it interesting that the story of Caritas since 2011 has evolved to include the two Cardinals -- Sarah and Tagle -- who are now being positioned as the primary papabili of the "Ratzingerian" and "Bergoglian" wings, respectively, of the College of Cardinals? (Sandro Magister wrote on Sarah's de facto candidacy last month, and Rorate's Don Pio Pace has written on the emerging Tagle candidacy.)
Tagle's own rapid ascent was due in no small part to the patronage of Joseph Ratzinger (first as Cardinal then as Pope), but it is not for nothing that he is called the "Asian Pope Francis" or the "Philippine Pope Francis", monikers not seriously disputed by any Catholic commentator and borne out by Tagle's own speeches and interviews since 2013.
On top of being Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Tagle was elected the President of the Catholic Biblical Federation last year, and confirmed in that post by Pope Francis in March this year. With his election as President of Caritas International, Tagle is now at the head of two massive Catholic organizations, each reaching more than a hundred countries and both deeply involved in the missionary and charitable works of the national hierarchies and bishops' conferences.