Cardinal Marc Ouellet has given his first press conference after the Pope nominated him today to become the next prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

Speaking from his archdiocesan headquarters in Quebec City, the cardinal said he was “surprised” by the appointment but welcomed it with “gratitude but also with a sense of fear”. He said of the appointment of bishops: “There’s a long tradition I will follow, the tradition of the Church, and look for the best bishops possible.” The cardinal said he will probably take up his position at the end of August or beginning of September.

After a day of major Curial appointments, another one is expected tomorrow. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said today the Holy Father will formally nominate Bishop Kurt Koch of Basel, Switzerland, as the new president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. He will replace Cardinal Walter Kasper who is retiring on grounds of age.

The following is a transcript of the comments Cardinal Ouellet gave this afternoon in English:

Opening Statement:

I welcome my appointment as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops with gratitude but also with a sense of fear in front of this huge responsibility. I am glad to serve the Holy Father in this capacity and in order to become more competent at the service of the bishops I rely on the prayers of the faithful. Thank you for your support.

Q&A with Journalists:

In your opening remarks you said you were accepting your responsibilities with gratitude but also fear. Why do you say fear?

Gratitude because it is a mark of great confidence from the Holy Father and I’m very grateful to him. Fear because it’s a difficult responsibility and it’s a huge responsibility, you know. In the life of the Church the role of bishop is a key role because he is in charge of the unity of the diocese and so of the communion of the Church. So he has to be very clever and at same time prudent and patient and work the best he can with the people, with the priest, deacons and all the personnel that is committed to life of the Church. He’s a man of communion, so when you choose from Rome,  taking into account all the information, you prepare a very important decision for the Holy Father and the Holy Father needs to be well informed and with clarity, with authenticity, in order to make a good decision. So it is a difficult task.

Cardinal, do you feel you were chosen by the Pope for this job because of your conservative views? And is it your intention when you’re going to make decisions in the coming months to push for bishops that are more to the right?

I will see the Pope next week, so probably he will give me more details on the reasons why he has chosen me because I didn’t have him directly on the phone, you know. When I was called, it was by the Secretary of State. But the Pope knows me for years and I think he has great trust in me and so he knows that I am available and I will support him. I’ve been supporting him in the difficult times we’ve had to go through. So I will continue to serve and follow the procedure of the Congregation. I will not invent a new procedure for the appointment of bishops. There’s a long tradition I will follow, the tradition of the Church, and look for the best bishops possible. 

When exactly will you be moving to Rome?

Next week I will know exactly the time of the beginning of my new function in Rome. It will probably be the end of August or beginning of September but it’s just a guess and has to be confirmed.

Has it always been a dream of yours to work in Rome, access a high profile position and who knows, eventually become Pope?

No it wasn’t my dream when I was young, it was to be a missionary. But I was a missionary, I was teaching in seminaries for years and so came back to Canada. I was called to Rome to teach in a university there and from there I knew the Curia but just a couple of years, before being appointed here. So I repeat: I’m surprised to be here today in this position as prefect for the Congregation for Bishops. I don’t think I’ll become the Pope someday, I don’t think so, and I concentrate my attention on what is coming before me with this new responsibility.

In speaking with many Quebecers this morning about your nomination, many of them who asked about your legacy brought up your recent controversial comments about abortion. Are you concerned that this is the way you’ll be remembered in Quebec, for these comments?

I’ve been here for seven and a half years, so we’ve had other controversies and debates, on education, on war, on marriage. So this will be remembered. But also what I mentioned at beginning, the Internanational Eucharistic Congress of 2008 I think this will be the best memory of Quebec during my time as archbishop because it was a service of the church of Quebec to the universal Church and with great success I think. So this will be remembered and I hope after some time we can ponder and reflect better on what I’ve been doing and the reason why I did what I did and historians will have to do their work in future.

Will you be able to continue to be an outspoken defender of life, even in your new role in Rome?

I will continue to be a Catholic bishop, obviously, and with the conviction that bishops are in favour of life,  in all the depth of life, in the depth of the Gospel, so in human life, eternal life, which is the goal of human life, to reach eternal life – that’s the Gospel. I will help the bishops to be good bishops, respecting also their style, personalities and I ask the Holy Spirit to help me to do the best I can.

Looking at two appointments today: yours and and Msgr. Fisichella’s, I wonder what that means for the Church and for the Pope’s intentions. His is a kind of new job. You are someone I think he trusts as someone who won’t deviate from what he wants to do. So what do you think is happening to the Church in his mind?

The Pope is in charge of the unity of the Church. His charism is to keep together the Catholic Church. You refer to the creation of this new dicastery. We are aware in the Western world in particular, Christianity is going through a difficult time. It’s not a bad time but it’s a difficult time, a time of crisis, and so a time of decision, decision in favour of the Gospel, in favour of Christ. A new decision. This new dicastery will help, especially the Western world to reconnect, maybe more deeply, with its roots. That’s the problem in Europe and also in North America. The new dicastery will have a work of reflection, also animation, to do suggestion and I think it will have an impact on the next synod of bishops.

The Curia can be a pretty tough bunch. Are you prepared to play in that kind of political field as well as a spiritual one?

In the Curia, I will be in charge of the service of the bishops. I don’t look elsewhere for other tasks, I have already tasks in other dicasteries as consulter or member and so this will probably continue. But my main responsibility is the service of the bishops.