Amid months of speculation that's increasingly tipped him as the front-runner to succeed the soon-to-retire Cardinal William Levada at the helm of the former "Holy Office," Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg was quietly given a seat on two key Curial dicasteries at Roman Noon by the Pope.
Said to be particularly close to Benedict -- whose held his last professorship in Regensburg during the 1970s -- the 64 year-old theologian (above) was surreptitiously added to the memberships of the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Given the crucial tie-in of doctrinal matters with the church's educational institutions and ecumenical efforts, Levada is the lone senior Curialist who currently has a vote in both offices.
On the reigning pontiff's appointment, Muller -- bishop of Regensburg since 1992 -- has been a member of CDF for the last several years.
Beyond the long trail of buzz pointing to the German as the next "Grand Inquisitor," the announcement is likely to spike chatter as, at least for some, today's move recalls an apparent precedent.
In early May 2008, it sparked notice in some quarters when then-Archbishop Raymond Burke of St Louis was quietly named to two dicasteries, the Congregation for the Clergy and the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. Less than two months later, Benedict called Burke to Rome full-time as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the church's "chief justice."
Other notable prelates figured into this morning's batch of nods to the two offices. Among them, Manila's Archbishop Chito Tagle -- the 54 year-old CUA alum named to lead Asia's largest diocese late last year -- and Bishop Charles Morerod OP of Lausanne and Geneva (a former rector of the Angelicum) were tapped to join the Catholic Education table, while Bishop Don Bolen of Saskatoon, the onetime lead pointman for the church's relations with Anglicans and Methodists at the Unity council, now returns to his alma mater as a member.
Considering his expertise on (and close engagement with) the Orthodox world, likewise named to the latter body was the head of Catholicism's largest Eastern church: the de facto patriarch of the 6 million-member Ukrainian Greek-Catholic flock, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev, who at 42 is almost certain to become the youngest cardinal in the last half-century in the not too distant future.
Though every cardinal under 80 has at least a handful of Curial assignments on top of their principal post, the routine membership meetings are usually only attended by prelates resident in Rome.
Head of the chief congregation since 2005 -- when the newly-elected Benedict tapped him for the post the pontiff had held for 23 years -- Levada turns 76 on Friday. The highest-ranking American in Vatican history, the tenure of the LA-born prefect has seen the CDF largely immersed in high-profile matters largely focused on the English-speaking church, from overseeing the handling of clergy sex-abuse cases to facilitating the establishment of the Anglican ordinariates and, of course, the four-year doctrinal assessment of the superiors' conference of the US' religious sisters.
Beyond principally Anglophone affairs, meanwhile, since 2010 the CDF's head has likewise doubled as president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei -- the Curial arm which manages relations with traditionalist groups. As few would need reminding, topping that office's plate is the ongoing reconciliation effort with the Society of St Pius X, a cause especially close to Benedict's heart, and one widely believed to be approaching a definitive outcome over the weeks just ahead.
As previously noted, the cardinal-prefect is expected to retire around the same time as his best friend from his seminary days -- his successor in San Francisco, Archbishop George Niederauer, who turns 76 on Thursday.
Accordingly, the Chancery by the Bay has taken the unusual step of sounding alarm bells of an appointment there "in the near future," laying out a likely schedule for the morning of an announcement in a press release late last week.