The Roman Church’s new Major Penitentiary

Francis Card. Stafford has stepped down as the Penitenziere Maggiore for reasons of age and his successor appointed.

The new Penitenziere is Archbp. Fortunato Baldelli, who had been Nuncio in France.

From the daily Bolletino:


Il Santo Padre ha accolto la rinuncia, presentata per limiti d’età, dall’ Card. James Francis Stafford, all’incarico di Penitenziere Maggiore, ed ha chiamato a succedergli nel medesimo incarico l’ Mons. Fortunato Baldelli, Arcivescovo tit. di Bevagna, finora Nunzio Apostolico in Francia.


The Apostolic Penitentiary is one of the the Roman Church’s three great tribunals, and it has the highest dignity.   It deals with matters of conscience, internal forum or confession issues, some particular censures and the concession of indulgences.  It is so important that even with the death of a Pope, the Major Penitentiary of the Church, usually a Cardinal, does not lose his office as do most of the members of the Curia.

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  1. CDN Canonist says:

    I’m curious why you say that the Ap. Penitentiary “has the highest dignity” among the three tribunals of the Holy See. Pastor bonus states that the dicasteries are “juridically equal among themselves” (art. 2).

  2. RC says:

    With Abp. Burke taking up his new post, Cdl. Stafford’s retirement would seem to reduce any appearance of American preponderance in the top canonical jobs.

  3. canon1753 says:

    Interesting. First time in a long time since an American has not been at the helm of the Penitentiary.

  4. canon1753 says:

    I suspect the “highest dignity” bit has to do with the role of the Tribunals. Rota does cases. Signatura does processes. Both the Rota and Signatura deal with law and fact. The Penitentiary deals with, in a real sense canon 1752 “the highest law is the salvation of souls.” If you go to the Penitentiary, you are asking for forgiveness, not just a legal ruling. So the salvation of souls is an action of a higher dignity than merely legal and truth finding activities of the other two major tribunals.

  5. Liam says:

    I believe the AP is the oldest of the three tribunals: the AS being a bit younger, and then the Rota. That may play a role too.

  6. David Barber says:

    Given that the announcement is also available in English, why on earth would you post it in Italian?

    We get it. You’re educated. Well done.

  7. Paladin says:

    David, do you seriously have nothing better to do than to snark at a priest of God, like that? What grievous harm have you suffered from the above?

    Could it not be that the English is the translation of the Italian original, and the Italian is more accurate/full/rich? Given the blog which you and I are frequenting, I don’t think that’s farfetched; “What Does The Announcement Really Say?”, perhaps…

  8. Prof. Basto says:

    Actually, the announcement is only avaliable in English when the VIS (Vatican Information Service) daily press release is issued.

    But, before that, the Holy See Press Office issues its Bulletin, and that’s the original source for appointments and resignations.

    The entries of appointments and resignations in the Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office are given in Italian only.

    If Father posted this blog entry when reading the Press Office Bulletin, then he would have only seen the Italian text.

    Only hours later the VIS Press Release in English became avaliable.

    I for one, read the Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office daily in the morning, and only hours after that I receive the VIS press release in English via e-mail. If I were a blogger, I could well post the information in Italian as soon as I got it.

  9. On a tangentially related and totally frivolous note, this piece reminds me of some of the unfortunate associations that some Church terms have in English. As a lawyer who does nothing but criminal defense, when I see the term “Penitentiary,” the first thing I think of is The Big House. (I am glad the Church is not running a Big House, but I could wish that Church teaching had a lot more influence over our criminal justice system and our penal institutions than it now does.) When I see “Primate,” I think of apes. And when I see “S.T.D.”…well, you know.

    Sorry. Just couldn’t help myself.

  10. It’s rather immaterial to me whether or not he is an American. Although it bears no direct relation to his new office, what is he like liturgically?

  11. Christian says:


    This display is unbelievable. You should email Father, apologize, and ask him to take it down for you. It is disgraceful to speak to a priest in that way.


    “Given that the announcement is also available in English, why on earth would you post it in Italian? We get it. You’re educated. Well done.” Comment by David Barber — 2 June 2009 @ 12:11

  12. Peggy says:

    Is Abp. Baldelli the nuncio who was to celebrate the single Pentecost Mass in the diocese of Nice, France?

  13. prof. basto says:

    That’s right, Peggy.

    Good point.

    What else do we know about His Excellency?

    He is bound to get a red hat at the next consistory, so we should start to know him better.

  14. Thomas says:

    God bless Cardinal Stafford. Anyone who hasn’t read the piece he wrote on choosing holy obedience over heresy when Humanae Vitae was released should do so ASAP.

  15. EDG says:

    I read on a Spanish blog that Abp Baldelli is quite a traditionalist. I don’t know anything about him, but folks on the blog seemed to be very pleased by it and see this as an attempt by BXVI to get people who really go with his program. That’s my info, for what it’s worth.

  16. Ohio Annie says:

    Anita, I thought, “the Pope has a big new jail?” Oh, this convert has so much catching up to do!

  17. Drehsen says:

    “Canon 1753: First time in a long time since an American has not been at the helm of the Penitentiary.” Between Cardinal Baum and Stafford there was italian Archbishop De Magistris at the top of the Penitentiary. But I don’t know why he has to leave without the red hat.

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