Pope Francis Appoints Maltese Bishop as Secretary General of Synod of Bishops

One of Bishop Grech’s main tasks will be preparing for the forthcoming synod on synodality, scheduled for Oct. 2022.

Bishop Mario Grech
Bishop Mario Grech (photo: Synod.va / Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis appointed a new secretary general of the Synod of Bishops Wednesday.

The Holy See press office said Sept. 16 that the pope had named Maltese Bishop Mario Grech to the post after accepting the resignation a day earlier of Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, who had served as secretary general since 2013.

Bishop Grech, the emeritus bishop of Gozo, was appointed pro-secretary general of the Synod of Bishops on Oct. 2, 2019, serving alongside Cardinal Baldisseri.

The Italian cardinal said at the time of the appointment that Bishop Grech would assume the full position of secretary general when his own mandate expired.

One of Bishop Grech’s main tasks will be preparing for the forthcoming synod on synodality, scheduled for Oct. 2022. He took part in last year’s Amazon synod.

Cardinal Baldisseri, who turns 80 on Sept. 29, has been secretary general of the Synod of Bishops since September 2013. In that role, he has led the two synods on the family in 2014 and 2015, the youth synod in October 2018, and the Amazon synod in October 2019.

Born in Qala, Malta, Bishop Grech was ordained a priest in 1984 at the age of 27, for the Diocese of Gozo.

He was one of two authors of the Maltese bishops’ controversial pastoral guidelines on Amoris laetitia, which stated that divorced and remarried Catholics, in certain cases and after “honest discernment,” could receive Communion.

He was also one of two Maltese bishops to speak out against divorce and in defense of the Christian view of marriage in 2010.

Pope Francis named him a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity on July 4 this year.

Cardinal Baldisseri was born in 1940 in the Italian town of Barga, and in 1963 was ordained a priest, while still only 22 years of age, for the Archdiocese of Pisa.

He holds a license in dogmatic theology, a doctorate in canon law, and is a pianist who studied at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music under the late Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci. From 1971 to 1973 he studied at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy to become a Vatican diplomat.

Cardinal Baldisseri served in numerous nunciatures, including those to Guatemala, El Salvador, Japan, Brazil, Paraguay, France, Zimbabwe, and Haiti.

In 1992 he was consecrated a bishop and appointed apostolic nuncio to Haiti, which had just experienced a coup. He later served as apostolic nuncio to Paraguay, India, Nepal, and Brazil.

In Brazil, Cardinal Baldisseri achieved an agreement regulating the juridical status of the Church which is now a model for every religious group wishing to forge an agreement with the Brazilian state. In securing the arrangement, Cardinal Baldisseri had to coordinate with 11 different ministries of the Brazilian administration.

After this achievement, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him in 2012 secretary of the Congregation for Bishops, as well as secretary of the College of Cardinals.

In this latter role, he acted as secretary of the 2013 conclave. At the end of the conclave, the newly elected Pope Francis gave Baldisseri his red zucchetto, indicating that he soon would be made a cardinal. 

The pope appointed him to the College of Cardinals on Feb. 22, 2014. 

The Synod of Bishops was created in 1965 by Pope Paul VI, who charged the synod with encouraging close union between the pope and the world’s bishops, to “ensure that direct and real information is provided on questions and situations touching upon the internal action of the Church and its necessary activity in the world of today.”

Ordinary synods take place every three years on issues voted upon by synod delegates elected or appointed from each continent, and from certain Vatican offices. There have been 15 ordinary synods to date. There are also extraordinary synods and special synods.

The synod that took place in October 2019 was a special Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region.

Following that synod, the pope stressed that “synodality is an ecclesial journey that has a soul that is the Holy Spirit.”

“The practice of synodality, traditional but always to be renewed, is the implementation in the history of the People of God on the way, of the Church as a mystery of communion, in the image of the Trinitarian communion,” he said.