Church in Transition
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Posted April 21, 2005 at 11:45 a.m. CDT

Appointments send a signal of continuity

By Stacy Meichtry

In a clear sign of continuity with John Paul lI, Pope Benedict XVI appointed three of the Roman curia’s top officials Thursday to the posts they had held under his predecessor.  

Benedict reappointed Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 77, as secretary of state, the Holy See’s prime minister, a job he held for 14 years under Pope John Paul II. The nomination came despite Sodano being two years past the standard age of retirement for curial cardinals.

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Upon reaching retirement age in November 2002, Sodano tendered his resignation to the late pope, a request that John Paul promptly turned down. 

Benedict also reappointed Archbishop Leonardo Sandri as sostituto, the number two official in the secretariat of state, and Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo as the Holy See’s head of foreign affairs.

Since becoming pope, Benedict has frequently expressed a desire for continuity with John Paul.

"I seem to feel his strong hand holding mine,” Benedict told cardinals a day ago in his first Mass as pope.

Sodano assumed the role of secretary of state in 1991, following a long career in the Holy See diplomatic corps. As John Paul’s nuncio, or ambassador, to Chile, Sodano was responsible for choreographing the late pope’s visit to Santiago in 1987, in which John Paul made a controversial appearance with the Chilean dictator on the balcony of the presidential palace before cheering supporters.

As the secretary of state, Sodano has thrown the Vatican’s support behind governments likely to apply church teaching to their public policy. Sodano’s opposition to liberation theology has been particularly influential in Latin America, where he pushed for conservative bishop appointments.

In the final years of John Paul’s papacy Sodano assumed a more public role, often filling in at Mass for the ailing pontiff.  He created an ecclesiastic uproar in early February when he failed to rule out the possibility that the ailing John Paul would retire from office.

Stacy Meichtry is a freelance journalist based in Rome. He is reporting and writing for NCR during this period of papal transition.

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