Gerard O’ConnellMay 27, 2021
Archbishop Arthur Roche, then secretary of the congregation, left, and Cardinal Robert Sarah, then prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, pray with U.S. bishops at the start of a meeting at the congregation at the Vatican on Jan. 14, 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) Archbishop Arthur Roche, then secretary of the congregation, left, and Cardinal Robert Sarah, then prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, pray with U.S. bishops at the start of a meeting at the congregation at the Vatican on Jan. 14, 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis has appointed the English archbishop, Arthur Roche, 71, as the new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, where he has been secretary since 2012. Archbishop Roche succeeds Cardinal Robert Sarah, whose resignation the pope accepted on Feb. 20 soon after he reached the retirement age of 75.

The Guinean-born cardinal had served as prefect of this congregation since November 2014. The pope has appointed an Italian Franciscan Vittorio Francesco Viola, 55, the bishop of Tortona in northern Italy, as the congregation’s new secretary. 

Pope Francis also appointed a new under-secretary to the same congregation and named him bishop, Aurelio García Macías, 56, a priest of the diocese of Valladolid, Spain, who has been working in the congregation since 2015. He has a doctorate in Liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant’Anselmo in Rome.

The Vatican made the announcement of the three appointments on May 27. The nominations are meant to ensure that the congregation will continue to faithfully promote the spirit and path of the liturgical renewal initiated by the Second Vatican Council in accordance with the wishes of Pope Francis.

Archbishop Roche has served Pope Francis well under two very different prefects at the congregation for divine worship.

The appointments come after the completion of a visitation of the congregation at the request of Pope Francis just before Easter. Francis asked the Italian bishop Claudio Maniago, the president of the liturgical commission of the Italian bishops’ conference, to carry out the visitation, which involved, among other things, in-depth conversations with each member of the staff of the congregation.

Archbishop Roche was born in Batley Carr, West Yorkshire, England, on March 6, 1950. He studied for the priesthood at St. Alban’s College, Valladolid, Spain, from 1969 to 1975 and there learned Spanish and obtained a degree in theology from the Jesuit-run Comillas Pontifical University.

Ordained in 1975, over the following 12 years he worked in several parishes in the Diocese of Leeds and served as bishop’s secretary and diocesan financial secretary. He was sent to Rome in 1991 for further studies and there gained a licentiate in theology degree from the Pontifical Gregorian University. He also served as spiritual director at the Venerable English College.

He was appointed general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales in 1996 and served in that role until 2001 when Pope John Paul II nominated him as auxiliary bishop of Westminster, where he worked alongside Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

Fifteen months later, the Polish pope appointed him as coadjutor bishop of Leeds, his home diocese. Then, in July 2002, he was elected chairman of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, which oversaw the translation of the liturgical texts from Latin to English, a far from easy task. He supervised the final stages of that demanding work, which was completed successfully in 2011.

In 2004, he took over as bishop of Leeds, a post he held until Pope Benedict XVI called him to Rome in 2012 to be secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament. Pope Francis confirmed him in that position and in 2014 also appointed him to the board of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

As prefect of the congregation, Archbishop Roche is expected to be made cardinal at the next consistory as all his predecessors have been.

In December 2016, Pope Francis established a mixed commission of bishops from all continents to conduct a review of “Liturgiam Authenticam,” the controversial decree behind the most recent translations of liturgical texts from Latin into English and other languages, and to examine what level of decentralization is desirable in the church on matters like liturgy. He appointed Archbishop Roche as its president.

Drawing on the commission’s report, Pope Francis issued an apostolic letter, “Magnum Principium,” in September 2017 in which he distinguished between the “recognition” (recognitio in Latin) of a translation, authority over which is now given to the bishops’ conferences, and the “confirmation” (confirmatio in Latin) of the translation by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship. The return of authority to the bishops’ conferences was a restoration and development of what Vatican II’s constitution on the liturgy had granted them and was widely welcomed by bishops’ conferences on all continents.

Archbishop Roche has served Pope Francis well under two very different prefects at the congregation for divine worship, first the Spanish cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera (June 2012 to November 2014) and then the Guinean cardinal Robert Sarah from (November 2014 to February 2021). Sources said that in these years, the English archbishop developed a good working relationship with the Argentinian pope, who appreciated his ability at navigating difficult situations as well as his loyalty and commitment to the Second Vatican Council. His appointment today as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship can be seen as a confirmation of this.

As prefect of the congregation, he is expected to be made cardinal at the next consistory as all his predecessors have been.

Archbishop Roche will head a congregation of some 20 persons, mostly clerics. When Francis was elected pope, around 30 persons, mainly clerics, worked in the congregation but one-third of them have since returned to their home dioceses or religious orders.

Archbishop Roche will be assisted by Bishop Viola, the new secretary, a specialist in liturgy. Bishop Viola gained his license and doctorate degrees in this subject from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of San Anselmo in Rome, which is run by the Benedictine confederation. After gaining his degrees, the Franciscan friar served as a professor of liturgy at that same institute.

Prior to becoming bishop of Tortona, he was custodian of the convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi and president of the local Caritas. Pope Francis met him during his first visit to Assisi in October 2013. He is the second Franciscan from Assisi that the pope has brought to the Vatican this year, the other being Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, whom he appointed as archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Correction: The original report was updated to include references and information related to a third appointment in the congregation, that of Msgr. Aurelio García Macía.

Listen next: Archbishop Arthur Roche speaks to Colleen Dulle on "Inside the Vatican" about liturgical practice during a pandemic

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