Today, Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, 66, secretary of the Congregation for Clergy since 2007, as prefect of the same dicastery. The native of Genoa, Italy, succeeds Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, 76, who retired for reasons of age.
In an interview with ZENIT, Archbishop Piacenza acknowledged that one of his tasks will be to improve the formation of the clergy, especially in light of the ongoing sexual abuse crisis.
ZENIT: The Holy Father has called you to the high responsibility of directing the dicastery of the Roman Curia in charge of priests. What were the reasons that led the Holy Father to make this choice?
Archbishop Piacenza: You would have to ask the Holy Father! I imagine that some role was played by my long presence in this dicastery, in which I have carried out the greater part of my service to the Roman Curia.
I take advantage of the occasion to renew my profound gratitude to the Supreme Pontiff for the confidence he has shown me, and to invoke for myself and for all the collaborators of the congregation his paternal blessing, so that we can all together work tirelessly for the good of the clergy and the Holy Church, preferring nothing to the Love of Christ.
ZENIT: In light of the ongoing sexual abuse crisis, does the Congregation for Clergy assume today a strategic role in Benedict XVI's government?
Archbishop Piacenza: The most serious offenses [of sexual abuse] are the concern of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is certainly necessary and a duty, however, to make use of all those instruments that prevents such events happening again.
The first of them all is formation, initial and permanent, which it is necessary to watch continually because we are not forming "employees of God" but "other Christs": A good pastor who, living totally of God and for God, offers his life for his flock, building it in genuine love.
ZENIT: And what are the ways to obtain this? What is your program?
Archbishop Piacenza: I have no other program than to obey Christ and his Church, whose will is expressed, in a totally singular way, in that of the Holy Father. He himself has referred us many times, also during the Year for Priests, not to a functional but to an ontological reading of the ordained ministry, really capable of "taking God to the world" through the charism of celibacy, evangelical fidelity, and pastoral charity. The Eucharist, celebrated and adored, in a conception similar to the ordained ministry, cannot but have an absolutely central role: In it lies the secret, the source of every "fulfilled" priestly life. The very breathing of the soul is the Eucharist.
ZENIT: What, then, is the priestly identity that the new prefect has in mind?
Archbishop Piacenza: Always that of the Church! Priestly identity cannot but be Christocentric and hence Eucharistic. Christocentric because, as the Holy Father has often reminded, in the ministerial priesthood "Christ attracts us to himself," involving himself with us and involving us in His very existence. This "real" attraction happens sacramentally, hence in an objective and unsurpassable way, in the Eucharist, of which the priests are ministers, that is, servants and effective instruments.
ZENIT: You pointed out celibacy a moment ago. Are novelties foreseen in regard to this law?
Archbishop Piacenza: First of all the word "law" must be removed. The law is consequence of a much higher reality which is understood only in a Christological key. Celibacy is always a novelty, in the sense that, also through it, the life of the presbyter is "always new," because it is always given and, therefore, is always renewed, in a fidelity that has in God its own root and in the flowering and dilation of human liberty its own fruit.
ZENIT: How do you hope to carry out this program?
Archbishop Piacenza: If I thought of carrying it out myself I would be a rash person! It is the Spirit who guides the Church in the realization of His programs. Of course a profound rediscovery of the vertical dimension of life and of faith is necessary, also for priests, putting God again in His place: the first!
Holy Orders, in the life of the disciple, is the guarantee of apostolic fruitfulness, united to a profound spirit of prayer and an intense Eucharistic life, both sacramental as well as in the total gift of self.
I ask for the accompaniment and the support, in the new task that the Holy Father has entrusted to me, of all my brother bishops and priests and of all consecrated souls, sensitive to the essential cause of the sanctification of the clergy, essential for the whole great enterprise of new evangelization. May the Virgin Mary accompany us, illumine us and protect us. To her I entrust and consecrate all my humble service. Thank you!