Cardinal Sarah Appointment Signals Decisive Tone for the Pope's Reform of the Curia

NEWS ANALYSIS: The new prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is the former head of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

Cardinal Robert Sarah is shown in St. Peter’s Square in March.
Cardinal Robert Sarah is shown in St. Peter’s Square in March. (photo: CNA/Sabrina Fusco)

VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea has been appointed prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments — a decision that sets a decisive tone for Curial reform.

The cardinal’s first steps have been announced Monday to the heads of the Vatican’s departments during their meeting with the Pope.

Until now, Cardinal Sarah has served as president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum and will take over the post of prefect of a congregation whose ranks have been profoundly changed since the previous prefect, Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, was appointed archbishop of Valencia, Spain, on Aug. 28.

Father Anthony Ward and Msgr. Miguel Anguel Ferrer, the two undersecretaries of the congregation, were released with immediate effect Nov. 5 and replaced by Father Corrado Maggioni, who was promoted to the post of unique undersecretary on Nov. 13.

This round of appointments came as a surprise, as Father Ward had been an official of the congregation’s English section for more than 15 years. For his part, Msgr. Ferrer was a personal pick of Cardinal Canizares, with whom he shared a particular sensitivity for the traditional Latin Mass.

Msgr. Maggioni, on the other hand, is a disciple of Archbishop Piero Marini, formerly the papal master of ceremonies of John Paul II, who is known for being enthusiastic for innovative forms of the liturgy.

With his taste and experience, Cardinal Sarah is called to rebalance the Congregation for Divine Worship. The cardinal thus leaves the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which will likely be dissolved into a bigger congregation.

Cardinal Sarah went to a private audience with Pope Francis on Nov. 13. According to Vatican sources, the cardinal was requested to give his perspective on the possible enrolling of his dicastery into a larger structure, and he gave the Pope his suggestions. He was also asked if he was available for this new post.

The placement of Cardinal Sarah is the first of a series of major appointments. The Secretariat of State’s new “foreign minister,” British Archbishop Paul Gallagher, was appointed last week. 

It is expected that a new substitute for general affairs will also soon be chosen, thus replacing Archbishop Angelo Becciu, who has held the position as third in command since Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy.

If the archbishop were to be moved, it would be another signal of Pope Francis’ aim to shape the Secretariat of State with people chosen directly by the current secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.