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After 50 years of service, now he’ll wear the red hat

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Pope Francis confers the Episcopal Ordination of Vatican's new Governorate Secretary General, Fernando Vergez Alzaga (R) of Spain

I.Media - published on 07/31/22

Archbishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga has served in the Roman Curia for five decades; he embodies a figure of continuity, having served five pontiffs, from Paul VI to Francis.

Archbishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, 77, is a discreet archbishop given little media attention, but those who know him know his experience, loyalty, and incorruptibility. Appointed on October 1, 2021, as President of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State and President of the Governorate of Vatican City State, even though he had already passed the theoretical age limit of 75, this Spaniard, a member of the Legionaries of Christ, has been working in the Roman Curia for exactly 50 years: it was on August 1, 1972, during the pontificate of Paul VI, that he began his service as an assistant in the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. 

Born on March 1, 1945 in Salamanca, Fernando Vergez Alzaga entered the Legionaries of Christ at a very young age, taking his vows at the age of 20 on Christmas Day 1965 and receiving his priestly ordination in 1970 at the age of 25. He was ordained in Rome in the same group as Bishop Brian Farrell, the current Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity.

After studying at the Gregorian University and training as an archivist, he was taken on in the summer of 1972 as an assistant at the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Three years later, Argentine Cardinal Eduardo Francisco Pironio became prefect of this dicastery and chose the young Spanish priest, then 30 years old, as his private secretary. He would follow Cardinal Pironio, who received a new position as President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity in 1984 in the context of the launching of the World Youth Day. 

Archbishop Vergez Alzaga remained Cardinal Pironio’s secretary until the latter’s death in 1998. This closeness to the Argentine cardinal, who is currently undergoing a process of beatification and was recognized as “Venerable” on February 18, 2022, is probably one of the reasons for the confidence that Pope Francis has in him; the Pope is very attached to the figure of Cardinal Pironio. The Pontiff has repeatedly expressed his personal affection for his fellow Argentine, “the friend of God, of man, and of all men” who, “when you met him, made you feel like you were the only person who mattered,” he said at a commemoration in 2008.

A priest recognized for his technical and administrative skills

After continuing a mission of studies at the Pontifical Council for the Laity until 2004, Archbishop Vergez Alzaga became head of the office and responsible for the Internet office at the APSA (Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See). In 2008, Benedict XVI entrusted him with the position of Director of Telecommunications for the Vatican City State.

On August 30, 2013, Pope Francis appointed him Secretary General of the Governorate of Vatican City State, and ordained him a bishop the following November 15. The new prelate chose to take up Cardinal Pironio’s episcopal motto from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians: Christus in vobis spes gloriae, “Christ is in you the hope of glory.”

The Argentinean Pope would show his great confidence in this experienced bishop by entrusting him with the spiritual care of the Vatican employees, and by appointing him in 2020 as a member of the Commission for Reserved Matters, a body in charge of ensuring the transparency of public contracts, and thus avoiding any infiltration of mafias or the informal economy within the Vatican.

Appointed on September 8, 2021, as President of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State and President of the Governorate of Vatican City State at the age of 76, and assuming his duties on October 1, he was elevated to the dignity of Archbishop. He began his new service after reaching the age of canonical retirement. In November 2021, the Italian nun Raffaella Petrini succeeded him as Secretary General of the Governorate.

The first Cardinal from the Legionaries of Christ

Archbishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga is the first Legionary of Christ to join the Sacred College: Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, is a former member of the congregation, but he left in 1984 to be incardinated into the Diocese of Washington. Despite the many and varied scandals involving the founder of his congregation, Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, the future Spanish cardinal remained a member of the Legionaries of Christ.

The cardinalate of Archbishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga also brings the number of cardinal electors from Spain to seven. Two others hold positions in the Curia (the prefects of the dicasteries for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Interreligious Dialogue), three are in office in Spain (the archbishops of Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia), and the missionary Cristóbal López Romero, archbishop of Rabat in Morocco, completes the list.

The profile of this new cardinal runs counter to the current developments in the College of Cardinals, which is gradually moving away from its curial and European roots. In a context of profound reshuffling within the Roman Curia, the future Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga embodies a figure of continuity, having served five pontiffs, from Paul VI to Francis, which thus relativizes the criticisms of Francis’ supposed will to break with the style of government of his predecessors. 

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