One of my early reporting assignments in Rome was to cover the European Synod in 1999, and I remember sitting down over dinner my first night in town with a few veteran vaticanisti. They gave me the lay of the land, among other things explaining that the liberal bloc in the European church had long been led by three towering cardinals: Carlo Maria Martini of Milan, Basil Hume of Westminster (who died shortly before the synod), and Godfried Danneels of Brussels.
tMore than ten years later, Hume is gone and Martini is retired, and in a matter of days it seems likely the third member of the trio will also be out of job. Rumors in Belgium suggest that sometime soon, Pope Benedict XVI intends to appoint Bishop André-Mutien Léonard of Namur to succeed Danneels in Brussels.
tIf so, the changing of the guard at the senior levels of the European church will be virtually complete.