Pope Francis has begun his appointments to the Roman Curia with a surprise: Franciscan leader Fr Jose Rodriguez Carballo is the new Secretary of the Congregation for institutes of consecrated life.
In his first significant appointment to the Roman Curia, Pope Francis has taken the highly unusual step of naming the actual head of a religious order, Father Jose Rodriguez Carballo, as Secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated life and the Societies of Apostolic Life (formerly known as ‘The Congregation for Religious’).
When the Pope chose him, the 59-year old Spanish priest was Minister General or head of the largest group of the Franciscan family – the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), which has some 15,000 friars in 113 countries. He was first elected to that post in 2003, and re-elected for another six-year term in 2009 as head of an order that is contracting in Western Europe and North America, holding steady in Latin America, and gaining vocations in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.
The Vatican broke the news of Father Carballo’s appointment on April 6, and said Pope Francis has raised him to the rank of archbishop.
Born in Lodoselo, Spain in 1953, Carballo did his early studies in schools run by the Franciscans in that country and, in 1973, was sent to do biblical studies in Jerusalem. After being ordained priest in Jerusalem in 1977, he gained degrees in Biblical Theology in the Holy City and a further degree in Sacred Scripture from Rome’s Biblical Institute. In the following years he held increasingly high posts of responsibility in the Franciscan order in Spain and, in 2003, was elected Master General of the worldwide order.
He was one of the main concelebrants, together with the Father General of the Jesuits, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, at the mass for the inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis on March 19.
He succeeds the American Archbishop Joseph Tobin who had also been head of a religious order – the Redemptorists. Unlike Carballo, however, the American had already finished his term as head of his order more than a year before Benedict XVI appointed him to the Vatican Congregation in August 2010. Two years later, however, in October 2012, the Pope took the surprising decision to reassign him to the USA as archbishop of Indianapolis.
In his new role as the second highest official in the Vatican congregation that oversees the life and work of some 900,000 consecrated men and women in religious orders and communities worldwide, Fr Carballo will work closely with the Brazilian Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, who has led this important office since 4 January 2011.
The Spaniard will bring his rich international experience as head of a major religious order to his new post of responsibility. Together with Cardinal Braz de Aviz, he is expected to play a key role in working to overcome and heal the tensions between the Vatican, and in particular the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and the leadership of the umbrella organization of some 59,000 American women religious – the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).
In April 2012, the CDF issued a highly critical doctrinal assessment of the situation of the LCWR, accusing them of taking positions that undermine Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality and of promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” In the light of that report, Pope Benedict appointed the US Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle to supervise the reform of the LCWR within five years.
In recent months it had been widely rumored in the USA and Rome that Benedict XVI would appoint an American bishop or religious priest to that key post in the Vatican congregation to reinforce that tough line, but this did not happen. Informed sources in Rome now say that by choosing Carballo, Pope Francis has clearly opted for a different, more Gospel-inspired approach to consecrated life in general and, also, to help overcome the ongoing, painful tensions with the American religious women.
According to the Vatican statistics (for 2008), the Catholic Church has a total of 739,068 professed women religious on all five continents. In addition to this, it also has 135,159 priests who have taken full vows in one or other religious order or apostolic society in the Church. Moreover, the Church has another 54,641 professed men religious who are not priests.