Pope Benedict XVI is set to name a Brazilian cardinal known as a longtime supporter of the liberation theology movement to a senior Vatican post, according to an Italian news report today.
Writing in the Italian daily La Stampa, veteran Vatican writer Marco Tosatti reported that Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, 72, of São Paulo, Brazil, will become the new prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, replacing Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, a 77-year-old Colombian.
If confirmed, the report would mean that Benedict has tapped a theological moderate and a man long identified as one of liberation theology’s friends in the Latin American hierarchy. Hummes is a close personal friend and longtime supporter of Brazil’s leftist president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The irony would not be lost on the Latin American church, where then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, while still Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was known as the author of a 1984 Vatican document highly critical of liberation theology – judged to be excessively politicized, and to shade off at times into Marxist-inspired terrorism.
Since Castrillón is also President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, which is responsible for relations with Catholic traditionalists attached to the pre-Vatican II Mass, the nomination of Hummes could mean that a cardinal not known to be as friendly as Castrillón to the traditionalists will now be handling their affairs. What implications that might have for a document rumored to be forthcoming on wider use of the pre-Vatican II Mass remains to be seen.
The appointment would also remedy what has long been perceived as a slight to the Brazilian church, the largest Catholic community in the world at 144 million. At present, no Brazilian occupies a senior Vatican position.
The Vatican has had no immediate comment on the La Stampa report.