VATICAN CITY — The past week has seen the first major movements of Pope Francis’ reform of the Roman Curia, a process that is expected to begin in earnest in early October.

The Vatican announced a slew of appointments and confirmations Sept. 21 and Sept. 24, the most significant being the Pope’s confirmation of the prefects of two Vatican congregations.

Archbishop Gerhard Müller remains prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, while Cardinal Fernando Filoni stays as the “red pope” — prefect at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Both reappointments are significant, demonstrating the Holy Father’s confidence in both cardinals, as well as continuity with Benedict XVI, who had originally appointed them. Francis also confirmed that the highest-ranking Chinese official in the Curia, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, will remain as secretary for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and Archbishop Protase Rugambwa will stay as adjunct secretary.


Archbishop Di Noia

Also significant was the return of Bronx-born Dominican Archbishop Augustine Di Noia to the main offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Pope Francis appointed the American archbishop as adjunct secretary to the congregation, creating the position especially for him. Archbishop Di Noia will vacate his current position as vice president of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” to which Benedict XVI appointed him only last year.

The commission, also part of the CDF, has led efforts to bring the Society of St. Pius X back into communion with the Church, and Archbishop Di Noia’s departure is seen by some Vatican watchers as probably pointing to a definitive end to any immediate prospect of reconciliation with the traditionalist group.

The archbishop is a veteran Vatican official who served under Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger and William Levada as undersecretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2002 to 2009. Benedict XVI appointed him secretary for the Congregation for Divine Worship before moving him to “Ecclesia Dei.” Archbishop Di Noia told the Register Sept. 24 he is “very happy to be returning to the CDF.”

In a further unexpected move, given that Cardinal Mauro Piacenza is only 69 years of age, Pope Francis also announced Sept. 21 that the prefect of the Congregation for Clergy would be transferred to head the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican tribunal that deals with matters related to the sacrament of penance and spiritual direction.

Some say this points to a demotion, but it’s more likely that the cardinal has been given a less stressful role after undergoing heart surgery earlier this year. He replaces Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro, who is stepping down at the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Replacing Cardinal Piacenza as prefect of the Congregation for Clergy is 72-year-old Archbishop Beniamino Stella, former head of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the institute of training for Vatican diplomats. Replacing Archbishop Stella is Bishop Giampiero Gloder, a ranking official of the Secretariat of State.

Pope Francis also appointed Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, up until now secretary of the Congregation for Bishops and secretary of the College of Cardinals, as secretary general of the Synod of Bishops. He replaces Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, who now becomes apostolic nuncio to Germany. The appointment is something of a surprise and is probably linked to Pope Francis’ wish for a more influential Synod of Bishops than in the past.


Continuity and Change

On Sept. 24, the Pope confirmed Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko and Bishop Josef Clemens, president and secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, respectively, until the end of their five-year terms in the autumn of 2014. The consultative members of the council are also confirmed, but only up until the end of this year.

Cardinal Peter Turkson and Bishop Mario Toso, president and secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, were similarly confirmed to the end of their five-year terms, as were the consultative members of the pontifical council. This means Cardinal Turkson, 64, and Bishop Toso have only a year left at the Justice and Peace dicastery and will probably be replaced in October 2014.

Pope Francis is clearly seeking both continuity and change in the Vatican with respect to the Curia of Benedict XVI. Notably, he is appointing mostly Italians or Europeans to the top jobs, despite calls to internationalize the Curia coming from some members of the Pope’s eight cardinal advisory committee on Curial reform.

Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile, said in April that the tendency to appoint Europeans to such Curial positions “needs to be revised,” while Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, observed that “quite a few Italians work in the Curia” and that “different perspectives” would be “useful.”

“I think a few English-speaking perspectives won't hurt," he said.

The Pope is also filling the bulk of these positions with Vatican diplomats. After seven years of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a non-diplomat, heading the Secretariat of State, Francis clearly believes trained diplomats are best suited to handling administrative matters. Archbishop Pietro Parolin, a respected apostolic nuncio, whom the Pope named secretary of state at the end of August, Cardinal Filoni and Archbishops Baldisseri and Stella are all veteran diplomats.

Archbishops Müller and Di Noia, meanwhile, are both very much “Ratzingerians,” and Pope Francis clearly respects Archbishop Di Noia’s theological expertise, as well as the archbishop’s close relations with the Jewish people, one of Francis’ priorities as archbishop of Buenos Aires.


Pope's Meeting With Cardinals

The latest Curial appointments come just days before Pope Francis meets with the group of eight cardinals from Oct. 1-3 to advise him on possible changes to the governing structures of the Church. Creation of the group was recommended during the general congregations before the conclave in March.

Along with Cardinals Errazuriz Ossa and Pell, the internationally representative group includes: Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston; Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai; Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo; Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich; and Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governatorate of the Vatican city state.

Italian media are describing this as a “hot autumn” of change in the Vatican, but Pope Francis is not expected to make tumultuous reforms in a few sudden moves.

In his interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, which took place at the end of August, he explained that many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time, but he is wary of decisions made hastily.

“I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change,” he said. “And this is the time of discernment.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent

and a contributor to EWTN News Nightly.