International News

Pope Francis Replaces Ousted Cardinal Becciu With Key Ally

In this 2015 file photo, Pope Francis and Italian Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano leave the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican. (Photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

By Elise Ann Allen

ROME (Crux) – On Oct. 12 the Vatican announced several key personnel moves, the most significant of which is the appointment of Bishop Marcello Semeraro to the Vatican’s saint-making office after its former prefect, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, was fired over allegations of embezzlement.

Cardinal Becciu resigned from his post as head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from his rights and duties as a cardinal Sept. 24 at the request of Pope Francis, who, according to Cardinal Becciu, said he had lost trust after numerous allegations of embezzlement were made. Since then, several other accusations of wrongdoing have hit Italian papers, but no formal charges against Cardinal Becciu have been made.

The announcement of Bishop Semeraro as Cardinal Becciu’s successor came Oct. 15, just three weeks later, a relatively fast turnaround by Vatican standards.

Bishop of Albano, Bishop Semeraro has been a key player in Pope Francis’ reform efforts since he was named secretary to the Council of Cardinals in April 2013.

Bishop Semeraro’s rapid appointment to replace Cardinal Becciu – who oversaw a department widely associated with money given the funds poured into the saint-making process – amid the ensuing scandal shows just how much trust Pope Francis has in him.

The last time Pope Francis named a Congregation head who was not a cardinal was when he appointed then-Archbishop Luis Ladaria as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2017. Archbishop Ladaria was given a red hat in 2018.

However, Pope Francis is known to break with convention, and doesn’t always award these kinds of promotions with a higher ecclesial status. Jesuit Father Juan Antonio Guerrero has not been made a bishop despite his appointment as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in November 2019.

In addition to Bishop Semeraro’s appointment, the Vatican also announced Oct. 15 new appointments to the pontiff’s Council of Cardinal Advisors.

Congolese Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, was named as a new member, while Bishop Marco Mellino, until now adjunct secretary, was appointed secretary, replacing Bishop Semeraro.

The same announcement also confirmed several members in their positions: Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa will keep his role as coordinator for the council, and the other members are Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin; Archbishop Sean O’Malley of Boston, who heads the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors; Archbishop Oswald Gracias of Mumbai; Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising; and Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the government of the Vatican City State.

The Oct. 15 announcement came two days after the Council of Cardinals held a virtual Oct. 13 meeting to discuss the updated drat of a new constitution restructuring the Roman Curia and its implementation.