Pope Creating New Vatican Office To 'Re-Evangelize' The West
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI is creating a new Vatican office to fight secularization and "re-evangelize" the West – a tacit acknowledgment that his attempts to reinvigorate Christianity in Europe haven't succeeded and need a new boost.
Benedict announced the new office during a vespers' service Monday, confirming reports in the Italian media of a handful of new Vatican appointments expected to be announced before the pope goes on summer holiday and the Vatican bureaucracy slows down.
Benedict said parts of the world are still missionary territory, where the Catholic Church is still relatively unknown. But in other parts of the world like Europe, Christianity has existed for centuries yet "the process of secularization has produced a serious crisis of the sense of the Christian faith and role of the Church."
The new pontifical council, he said, would "promote a renewed evangelization" in countries where the Church has long existed "but which are living a progressive secularization of society and a sort of 'eclipse of the sense of God.'"
The pontiff's announcement came as he marked the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul, a major feast day in Europe that is traditionally celebrated with representatives of the Orthodox church. While ties with some Orthodox remain strained, both churches have found a common ground in their fight against secularization.
Benedict didn't say who would head the new office, but Italian media have said he would tap Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who as head of the Pontifical Academy for Life is the Vatican's top bioethics official.
Fisichella created a minor uproar last year when he defended Brazilian doctors who aborted the twin fetuses of a 9-year-old child who was raped by her stepfather. His call for mercy sparked heated criticism from some hardline conservative members of the Pontifical Academy who questioned his suitability to lead the institution.
The pontiff is also expected to name a new head of the Vatican's main evangelization office for missionary work, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, since its current head Cardinal Ivan Dias, 74, is in poor health, Italian media reports have said.
The office is currently in the spotlight because Dias' predecessor, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, is under investigation by Italian prosecutors in a sprawling corruption scandal involving his business transactions at the congregation, which owns millions of dollars in Roman real estate.
Prosecutors are trying to untangle an alleged web of kickbacks involving billions of euros (dollars) worth of contracts for such mega-projects as preparing 2000 Holy Year events in Rome, the 2009 Group of Eight summit and rebuilding the quake-shattered town of L'Aquila.
Sepe's real estate transactions at the Congregation are under scrutiny since they involved some of the key figures implicated in the probe, including Premier Silvio Berlusconi's disaster chief Guido Bertolaso.
On Monday, the Vatican sought to clarify the role of the Congregation, acknowledging that with such a complicated portfolio of real estate there could be "errors of valuation and fluctuations in the international market."
In a statement, the Vatican said it had over the years realized the need to improve profitability and run the office more professionally and with higher standards.
Sepe has denied wrongdoing and insisted he acted for the good of the church in his transactions. He has denied point-by-point the three main accusations against him concerning his 2001-2006 tenure at the congregation and three deals involving the sale, renovation and renting of congregation-owned properties.
Other appointments expected soon concern a new chief for the Vatican's powerful Congregation for Bishops, which vets bishops appointments around the world; one for the Vatican's office for promoting unity with other Christians; and the appointment of a commissioner to take over the scandal-plagued Legionaries of Christ, which was discredited after its founder was discovered to have abused seminarians and fathered at least three children.