Francis changes pallium ceremony in nod to decentralization

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis has altered a liturgical ceremony held at the Vatican each year for new archbishops in what appears to be an indication of the importance the pope puts on decentralizing church authority.

New archbishops traditionally come to the Vatican each June 29 to receive personally from the pope the pallium, a long woolen band archbishops wear over their liturgical vestments as a symbol of their authority.

Although the bishops will still come to the Vatican in June to receive the pallium from the pope, they will be formally invested with it in their archdiocese at a later date by their country's apostolic nuncio.

The Vatican confirmed Thursday the changes to the annual investiture ceremony, which was first reported Wednesday by the Jesuit America magazine.

Officials at the Vatican press office Thursday referred media outlets looking for more information about the change to a short report published on the matter by Vatican Radio, which had an interview with Msgr. Guido Marini, Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations.

During the interview, held in Italian, Marini calls the switch a "small modification" that the pope made to allow the presence of the archbishops' local churches during the investiture ceremony.

"The signification of this modification is that it puts more in evidence the relation of the metropolitan archbishops ... with the local church, therefore, also giving the possibility to more faithful to be present at this rite," Marini says in the interview.

"In this sense, it maintains all the significance of the celebration of June 29 that underlines the relationship of hierarchical communion between the Holy Father and the new archbishops. At the same time, this adds -- with a significant gesture -- this bond with the local church," Marini says.

America magazine reported that the change was announced in a Jan. 12 letter from Marini to papal nuncios in countries where Francis had named new archbishops in the past year.

The pallium is one of the oldest liturgical vestments, believed to date from the fourth century. It is a 12-inch-long band of wool decorated by crosses worn by archbishops over their liturgical vestments during Masses in their dioceses as a sign of their authority, particularly over dioceses in their ecclesiastical provinces.

June 29 is that annual Catholic feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul, apostles and early martyrs of the Christian faith.

The only U.S. archbishop named by Francis in the past year is Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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