Is Filipino cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle really “the Asian Francis”?

The media portrays him as a progressive. It’s not that simple.

Last year, Philippine cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle received a prestigious new appointment as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangeli­zation of Peoples. I admit to a sneaking regret that this congregation of the Roman Curia left behind its original and far more evocative title, the Congre­gation for the Propagation of the Faith, in the 1960s. Propaganda Fide: in a literal sense, this is the institution that invented propaganda.

Whatever its name, the congregation remains one of the critical institutions within the church, and Cardinal Tagle’s role highlights his vital personal significance within the Vatican under Pope Francis and beyond. Few accounts of the man fail to invoke the description of him as “the Asian Francis.”

Tagle served as archbishop of Manila from 2001 through 2019—a doubly significant appointment. This historic diocese was founded in the 1570s as the cutting edge of Catholic expansion into Asia. It is also the preeminent see in what is already one of the world’s most populous Catholic nations, and that role will grow mightily in coming decades. By 2050, the country could have 120 million Catholics. And unlike in Latin America, the Philippine church faces little serious challenge from newer Protestant rivals.