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Analysis: Who is the Pope's new canon law expert?


Coat of arms of Filippo Iannone CC BY SA 25 CNA

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Vatican City, Apr 11, 2018 CNA.- The new president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts is a well-respected canon law expert, with pastoral, scholarly, and curial experience.

On April 7, Archbishop Filippo Iannone was appointed president of the Vatican dicastery charged with overseeing the interpretation of canon law and providing canonical guidance to other Vatican offices. Iannone, only 60, has served in the dicastery as an adjunct secretary since Nov. 11, 2017.

Those who know him well say that he has a natural ability to work behind the curtain and a proven sense of discretion, which seems to make him appreciated everywhere his career in the Church has taken him.

Iannone, a Carmelite, replaces Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, who presided over the Vatican’s ‘legal’ dicastery from 2007 to 2018.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio turned 80 last March 6, and thus he is also beyond the age required to take part to an eventual conclave. He will leave Rome and spend his retirement in the Milanese region, from which he hails.

Archbishop Iannone’s appointment is the first ‘top rank’ curial appointment of 2018.

Ordained a priest in 1982, Archbishop Iannone was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Naples in 2001.

In 2009, he was appointed bishop of the diocese Sora-Aquino-Pontecorvo (now, Sora-Cassino-Aquino-Pontecorvo), before being called in 2012 as ‘Vicegerente’ (deputy) of the Diocese of Rome, a position akin to auxiliary bishop.

It was Cardinal Vallini who explicitly requested Archbishop Iannone as his deputy for the Diocese of Rome, as he gotten to know him very well in prior years.

Cardinal Vallini was the auxiliary bishop and vicar general of the Archdiocese of Naples from 1989 to 1999, and in that capacity he was also one of the organizers of St. John Paul II’s visit to Naples.

During those years, Archbishop Iannone taught canon law at the Pontifical Faculty of Southern Italy and also at the School of Specialization in Ecclesial and Canon Law, within the the University “Federico II” of Naples.

Archbishop Iannone also served as defender of the bond in the Regional Tribunal of Campania from 1987 to 1990, and adjunct judicial vicar in the Naples diocesan tribunal from 1990 to 1994. He also gave a great contribution to organizing St. John Paul II’s visit to Naples.

During those years, sources say, Cardinal Vallini came to appreciate his skills and discretion.

When the time came to appoint a new deputy for the Diocese of Rome, Archbishop Iannone seemed to everyone a natural choice for Cardinal Vallini, who had been appointed Pope’s vicar for Rome in 2008.

As ‘vicegerente’ of the Diocese of Rome, Archbishop Iannone was also called to handle a case of corruption at the IDI, the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata, a hospital sponsored by the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception. That case became familiar to many Americans when controversy developed over a grant requested by the Holy See from the US-based Papal Foundation, intended to bail out the struggling hospital.

The case broke in 2013, when “a priest who had been the chief executive of the hospital was arrested for allegedly taking money from the facility and running up a massive debt that led to bankrupcy”, the National Catholic Register reported Feb. 25.

Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, at the time president of the Vatican Prefecture for the Economic Affairs, was appointed as pontifical delegate to transition the IDI toward “a possible economic recovery, excluding the Holy See in those works.” Cardinal Versaldi chose Archbishop Iannone as his Vicar for the “canonical – religious issues.”

Iannone’s appointment November 2017 as adjunct secretary to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts – the first adjunct in the dicastery since 2000 – made most observers suspect that, after Coccopalmerio’s resignation, Archbishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta was going to be appointed the president and Archbishop Iannone was going to be appointed Secretary.

Ultimately, though, Archbishop Arrieta remains in his post as secretary, and Archbishop Iannone is the dicastery’s president.

It is possible that the Pope wanted a president who would be totally dedicated to the dicastery, leaving Archbishop Arrieta free to work on other projects, and free to remain involved as a link between the legal dicastery and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Arrieta has also served as coordinator of the Pontifical Commission of Reference for the Institute for the Works of Religion, the “Vatican Bank,” since 2013.

Archbishop Arrieta also had a private audience with Pope Francis, along with Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on April 6. Some have speculated that the pope has tasked Arrieta with completing a long-awaited revision to the section of the Church’s canonical code covering penal law.

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