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Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 30, 2023
Pope Francis greets Bishop Robert F. Prevost, a Chicago native, during a private audience at the Vatican Feb. 12, 2022. The pope has named Bishop Prevost as the new prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

In a key decision, Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 78, and named Chicago-born Robert Francis Prevost, O.S.A., 67, as the new prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops on Jan. 30. Promoting him to the rank of archbishop, Francis also named Archbishop Prevost president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

Archbishop Prevost has served as bishop of the Diocese of Chiclayo, Peru, and former prior-general of the Augustinian order. He will take up his new post on April 12. He succeeds Cardinal Marc Ouellet, a Canadian prelate who has been prefect of this dicastery (formerly congregation) and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America since Benedict XVI appointed him to the post on June 30, 2010.

The cardinal’s replacement has been long expected, as he will turn 79 in June, and the Vatican said the pope accepted his resignation because he had reached the age limit. Nevertheless the decision comes at a time when the cardinal is pursuing a defamation case against a Canadian woman church worker, Ms. Paméla Groleau.

The decision comes at a time when Cardinal Ouellet is pursuing a defamation case against a Canadian woman church worker, who had accused him of unwanted sexual touching.

In August, she joined a class action suit including 130 other claimants against the Archdiocese of Quebec naming a number of different alleged abusers. Ms. Groleau accused Cardinal Ouellet of unwanted sexual touching when he was archbishop there.

The prefect is the pope’s main advisor in matters relating to the nomination of bishops for the Latin church in Europe, North and South America, Australia and New Zealand. The prefect meets the pope on a regular basis, and it is important that he is on the same page as the pontiff.

The prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops chairs the regular meetings of the members of the congregation that discuss and select the names of the candidates to present to the pope, who takes the final decision. He also advises the pope on other matters relating to bishops such as resignations, reassignments and complaints, and maintains close contact with the nuncios.

Before today’s appointment, Archbishop Prevost had worked in Peru for almost 20 years, the last eight of which he spent as bishop of Chiclayo in the northwestern region of the country, following his nomination to that diocese by Pope Francis in 2014.

Prior to his nomination as bishop, Archbishop Prevost had lived and carried out pastoral ministry in Peru for some 12 years, first as chancellor of the Territorial Prelature of Chulucanas, northwestern Peru (1985-1986) and then in various roles for ten years (1989-1999), including head of the Augustinian seminary and professor at the diocesan seminary in Trujillo diocese (northwestern Peru). He also served as parish priest in a poor periphery of Trujillo city. He was elected in 2019 as president of the Commission for Education and Culture of the Peruvian Bishops’ Conference and was also a member of the leadership of Caritas in Peru.

Archbishop Prevost comes to his new post with high qualifications and considerable experience having been a bishop in Peru and prior-general of a religious order that has members in more than 40 countries.

He returned to Chicago in 1999 following his election as provincial of that province of the Augustinian order but moved to Rome in 2001 after he was elected prior-general of the Order of Saint Augustine, a post he held for two terms (2001-2013). Now he returns to Rome again, where he is expected to be made cardinal by Pope Francis at the next consistory.

Born in Chicago, Sept. 14, 1955, he studied at the junior seminary of the Augustinians in 1973, and subsequently gained a Bachelor’s degree in mathematical sciences from Villanova University in 1977. He entered the order as a novice in September 1977 in the Province of Chicago at the province’s novitiate in Saint Louis, Mo. After making his solemn profession in 1981, he gained a Master of Divinity (licentiate in theology) from the Catholic Theological Union of Chicago. He was ordained priest in Rome on June 19, 1982. He obtained a doctorate degree in canon law from the Pontifical University of St Thomas (“the Angelicum”) in Rome in 1985.

The polyglot prelate comes to his new post with high qualifications and considerable oversight experience having been a bishop in Peru and prior-general of a religious order that has members in more than 40 countries and every continent. Pope Francis appointed him in April 2019 as a member of the Vatican’s congregation for clergy and, significantly in November 2020 as a member of the congregation for bishops, so he had already gained some experience of how this office works.

The dicastery for bishops which Archbishop Prevost will now head was first set up in 1588 by Pope Sixtus V as the Sacred Consistorial Congregation. Paul VI changed its name to the Congregation for Bishops in 1967, and Pope Francis renamed it the Dicastery for Bishops in 2022.

As prefect of the dicastery for bishops, Archbishop Prevost will also be president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. “Predicate Evangelium,” the constitution for the reform of the Roman Curia that Pope Francis promulgated in March 2022, explains (Art. 111) that the commission, which is established within the Dicastery for Bishops, “is responsible for studying questions regarding the life and growth of those particular churches as a means of helping” the other Vatican offices that deal with them, and “to help those churches with advice and economic resources.”

It is also responsible “for fostering relations with international and national ecclesiastical working in regions of Latin America and with institutions of the (Roman) Curia.”

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