Pope Benedict XVI has decided to send one of the staunchest supporters of his liturgical reform in the Roman Curia away from the Eternal City. Why?
By Robert Moynihan
VATICAN CITY, June 12, 2009 — The Pope has decided that Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith (photo), the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments and one of the strongest supporters of Benedict’s liturgical reform, will be transferred this summer to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka (his native country), where he will become archbishop, reliable Vatican sources confirmed today. The decision will be announced publicly in the next few days, the sources said.
According to veteran Vaticanista Andrea Tornielli (but this has not been confirmed), Ranjith will be replaced by the American Dominican J. Augustine Di Noia (photo), who has been Undersecretary of the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith (CDF) since 2002, where he was in daily working contact with then-Cardinal Ratzinger, the Prefect of the CDF before he became Pope. “After having been the number three of Ratzinger, he (Di Noia) will now become the number two of the ‘little Ratzinger,’ a nickname given to Spanish Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, who leads the Congregation of Worship,” Tornielli wrote in Il Giornale recently. “The liturgical dicastery is the Vatican office that has most often changed its Secretary in recent years: Di Noia will be the fourth in just seven years.”
Many Vatican observers believe that the decision to send Ranjith away from Rome is a “victory” for liturgical progressives, and a “defeat” for liturgical traditionalists, since Ranjith has been a prominent champion of more solemnity and decorum in the celebration of the Mass in the new rite, and a supporter of wider use of the old rite, and this interpretation can be found in numerous articles and blogs on the internet.
However, it is not certain that this is the true interpretation. And there are reasons to interpret the appointment in a different way.
Colombo is not presently a cardinalatial see, but there has been a cardinal in Colombo in the past, so it is certainly a possibility that Ranjith could receive the red hat in an upcoming consistory — something he could not have received if he had remained as a secretary of the Congregation.
Ranjith was a bishop in Sri Lanka in the 1990s, but in 2001 Pope John Paul II called him to Rome, appointing him secretary under Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (Propaganda Fide). Due to tensions between the two, in April 2004, Ranjith — who was not a Vatican diplomat — was named the nuncio in Indonesia and East Timor. Then, after Pope Benedict was elected, in April 2005, he called Ranjith back to Rome, making him secretary of the Divine Worship Congregation in December, 2005.
Some thought that Ranjith would succeed Cardinal Francis Arinze as head of the Congregation upon Arinze’s retirement for reason of age, but, Tornielli writes, Ranjith was “considered by his adversaries too close to the traditionalists and Lefebvrists.”
Tornielli sums up the consensus view: “Ranjith’s presence on the front lines in Asia will be important, because there the Church faces a decisive challenge. But it is difficult not to view his appointment as a ‘promoveatur ut amoveatur’ (‘let him be promoted that he may be removed’).”
Still, there is a Sri Lankan proverb: “The tiger who is outside of his cage is more dangerous than the tiger who is inside of his cage.”
Ranjith, once in his own archdiocese, will have a chance to help bring true peace to his war-torn country, and to fight for social and economic justice in his homeland, something he has written and spoken about often in the past.
It is known that the president of Sri Lanka twice visited Rome in recent years, and twice told Pope Benedict that he would appreciate Ranjith’s contribution to the peace process in his country, as Ranjith is respected by all sides.
In this perspective, one could perhaps imagine that Benedict has actually followed the opposite logic from that which most Vatican watchers see here: “amoveatur ut promoveatur” (“let him be removed that he may be promoted”).
Only time will tell whether Ranjith will rise to the challenge his new post poses, and become a true peacemaker, binding up the wounds caused by a long civil war, as well as continuing to be a supporter of reverence and decorum in the Church’s liturgy, as desired by Pope Benedict.