- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009

An unusual person will become an archbishop Saturday afternoon at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington; unusual, in that he’s a home-grown Dominican priest soon to be second-in-command at the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

That is important, as that congregation will soon release a new Mass translation for the world’s English-speaking Catholics, and the Vatican needed a native English speaker and theologian to oversee it.

Enter the Rev. Augustine “Gus” Di Noia, who turns 66 on Friday and who, in 2002, was whisked from his job at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center to the No. 3 position at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). The head of the CDF was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was soon to become Pope Benedict XVI.

His friends at the Dominican House of Studies here in town, where he was a student and later a theology professor for 20 years, say he dearly misses Washington and wanted the ceremony here.

At least 130 Dominican priests and seminarians will be at the event, the Very Rev. Giles Dimock, prior of the Dominican House, told me.

“He’s very solid, very Catholic, very human and a lot of fun,” he said of Father Di Noia. “He loves to talk theology and eat Italian food.”

I’ve tried to interview this priest many times. While in Rome for the 2005 papal election, Father Di Noia effusively praised his boss as a “a saintly and spiritual man … [who is] decisive, fearless” to a group of reporters who were at best cynical about Cardinal Ratzinger.

He had a habit of cutting off people and was amazingly adept at explaining other religions. I was amazed to hear him quote the Buddha.

When I tried asking him about his work at the CDF — and about a specific priest whose file was there — he brushed me off. After all, he said, employees there sign an oath of secrecy on an altar in the CDF building that they will not reveal what goes on there.

Catholic University President David O’Connell told me even he was not permitted inside Father Di Noia’s Vatican office. He first met the archbishop-elect 12 years ago when Father Di Noia headed up the doctrinal office for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“He was the theologian for the bishops and quite well-respected and counted on for advice,” the CUA president said. “Ratzinger was impressed by him from the beginning, so when the opportunity came to bring him into the [CDF], Gus was his choice.”

I asked his longtime friend, Michael Sean Winters, what the man is like.

“He’s incredibly learned,” he told me. “He inhales literature. He reads everything. But if you are a journalist in the Vatican, he is useless. He does not leak.”

No kidding. Well, I may never get to talk to the man. While in Rome, I left lots of unanswered calls — in my best Italian — at his office. And now he’s on retreat at a Dominican monastery in the hills of Linden, Va.

Wait — I just thought of an angle. Father Di Noia also will be made titular archbishop of Oregon City, Ore., a small town about 20 miles south of Portland. My first newspaper job was there, and I am betting he has never seen the place.

So, archbishop, if you want the low-down on Oregon City, you know who to call.

• Julia Duin’s column “Stairway to Heaven” runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at [email protected]

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