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Diocese of Rome shake-up: Pope Francis transfers vicar to Vatican post

Diocese of Rome shake-up: Pope Francis transfers vicar to Vatican post

Cardinal Angelo De Donatis. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Apr 6, 2024 / 08:57 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has transferred the vicar of Rome Cardinal Angelo De Donatis to a different post as head of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican announced on Saturday.

De Donatis, 70, has overseen the administrative needs of the Diocese of Rome as cardinal vicar since 2017. His reassignment leaves the important post of Vicar General of Rome vacant until the pope appoints his successor.

The Vatican also announced on April 6 that one of Rome’s seven auxiliary bishops, Bishop Daniele Belgiori, will be transferred to a new position as the Holy Father’s Assessor for Consecrated Life.

The transfer is the latest move in Pope Francis’ major reform of the Diocese of Rome. The pope issued a decree last year that deeply diminished the role of the vicar of Rome and centralized the diocesan management under the formal control of the pontiff as bishop of Rome.

Apostolic Penitentiary

With his new role as Major Penitentiary, De Donatis will serve as the head of the Vatican tribunal in charge of cases involving excommunication and serious sins, including those whose absolution is reserved to the Holy See. For this reason, the Apostolic Penitentiary is referred to as a tribunal of mercy.

De Donatis succeeds 80-year-old Cardinal Mauro Piacenza who is retiring as Major Penitentiary after more than a decade in the post.

As Major Penitentiary, De Donatis will have a unique privilege during a potential conclave. The head of the Apostolic Penitentiary retains his position sede vacante (after the pope has died or resigned) and is one of the only cardinal electors who can communicate with people outside of the conclave to fulfill his duties — a privilege only shared by the cardinal vicar of Rome and the vicar general of Vatican City State.

Historic appointment as vicar

De Donatis was born in the southeastern Italian town of Casarano in Apulia, Italy, on Jan. 4, 1954. He studied philosophy in Rome at the Pontifical Lateran University and theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he received a licentiate in moral theology, before he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Nardò-Gallipoli in southern Italy in 1980.

Three years later, De Donatis was incardinated in the Diocese of Rome, where over the next three decades he served as a parish priest, director of the diocesan clergy office, and spiritual director of the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary.

In 2014 Pope Francis selected De Donatis to preach the Lenten spiritual exercises for the Roman Curia during their weeklong retreat in Ariccia. A year later the pope appointed and personally ordained De Donatis as an auxiliary bishop of Rome.

Walking around the interior of the elliptical amphitheater in the solemn procession, the cross was carried by different individuals, while Cardinal Angelo De Donatis (the pope’s Vicar for the Diocese of Rome), and several other prelates, followed closely behind. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA

With his papal appointment as vicar of Rome in 2017, De Donatis became the first man in centuries to be named vicar general of Rome while not a cardinal. Pope Francis made him a cardinal the following year in the June 2018 consistory.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, De Donatis closed all of Rome’s churches to the public on March 12, 2020, before reversing the decision and opening the churches one day later at the request of Pope Francis

One year later, Pope Francis ordered an audit of the Diocese of Rome in June 2021 in which the auditor general of the Holy See sifted through the accounting books, registers, and cooperative societies.

De Donatis and the leadership of the Diocese of Rome also faced widespread backlash after issuing a letter in September 2023 praising the art and theology center founded by Father Marko Rupnik, the former Jesuit priest and artist accused of spiritual, psychological, and sexual abuse of religious sisters.

The Vatican announcement of De Donatis’ transfer came one day after Pope Francis visited a parish in Rome’s 11th prefecture for a closed-door conversation with Roman priests about pastoral issues facing the diocese. Vatican News described the meeting as part of Pope Francis’ “periodic visits to his diocese.”

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