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Pope Benedict Takes Charge, Reappoints Top Vatican Officials

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service

VATICAN CITY, April 21 -- Pope Benedict XVI got down to business Thursday, reappointing the previous heads of Vatican departments until further notice and keeping on the secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who is effectively his prime minister.

The lack of a full, immediate shake-up is not unusual; it frequently takes months for a new pope to select the members of his administration. The Vatican Curia, which functions as a cabinet, and various other departments handle such duties as regulation of priests, inter-religious dialogue, archaeology and judging petitions for sainthood.

Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd outside his temporary quarters as he leaves to visit his old apartment nearby. The papal apartment is under renovation. (Arturo Mari -- L'osservatore Romano Via Reuters)

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One key post is vacant and will be the subject of intense interest when the choice is made: prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Benedict, who was then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the department for nearly a quarter-century under his predecessor as pope, John Paul II.

The agency is tasked with ensuring that clerics, theologians and other Vatican offices function in keeping with approved Catholic teaching. Critics of Benedict say he used his position to stifle debate, particularly in Catholic academia, on such subjects as birth control, ordination of women and the church's role in battling poverty.

"Let's face it: There is a lot of concern out there in certain circles about this pontificate for everyone who has concerns about academic freedom and how open he's going to be," said John L. Allen Jr., a journalist and Ratzinger biographer.

As John Paul's health declined, Sodano was part of an inner circle, including Ratzinger, that governed the Vatican. On occasion, Sodano issued important policy statements. Last October, for example, he unveiled a new Vatican stance on Iraq that replaced its unbending opposition to the U.S.-led war, saying that governments must help stabilize and rebuild the country. "The child has been born," Sodano said then. "It may be illegitimate, but it's here, and it must be reared and educated."

The Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo of Italy, 70, and Archbishop Leonardo Sandri of Argentina, 61, who spoke for John Paul during recent ritual occasions, were also retained Thursday.

The reappointments do not mean the men will all stay on long. Sodano, for instance, is 77 years old, two years beyond the statutory date of retirement for Vatican officials. Benedict, 78, who is in effect an absolute monarch, can keep him on if he wishes.

Vatican watchers have begun to produce lists of possible future appointments to the Curia. Both Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago are often mentioned as candidates to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Both backed Benedict's papal candidacy, according to Italian newspaper reports.

For the second day in a row, Benedict ventured outside Vatican walls to his old apartment in an adjacent neighborhood. He has yet to spend the night in the official papal apartment, which is being renovated. For the time being, he sleeps in St. Martha's House, a residence hotel for visiting clerics and Vatican functionaries.

Benedict traveled by black Mercedes-Benz to his apartment, got out and waved amiably to a crowd that had gathered nearby. He also sent out his first "thought of the day" by text message to Italian cell phone users who subscribe to the service of daily papal messages. "Let us go forth in the joy of the risen Lord and trusting in his permanent help," the message said.

The pope is scheduled to preside at a special outdoor Mass on Sunday at which he will be ceremonially installed as pontiff. On Monday, he will visit the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls and receive pilgrims from his native Germany, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

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