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Everything listed under: Curia reform

  • Don't look for laity in top Roman Curia positions under reform plans

    “Downsizing expectations.”

    That’s the title I’d give Father Federico Lombardi’s briefing today on the College of Cardinals’ meeting to discuss Roman Curia reform.

    For one thing, the cardinals were told it could take years to complete the reforms. An explicit comparison was made to Pope John Paul II’s modifications to the Roman Curia, which took 10 years to design and implement, with multiple stages of consultation and approval.

    I’m not sure Pope Francis has 10 years to dedicate to this project.

    The cardinals were also offered a vague outline of a proposal to combine six or seven pontifical councils into two new congregations, which are more important Curial agencies. The hypothesis, which has been floating around a while, would foresee a Congregation for Laity, Family and Life, and a Congregation for Charity, Justice and Peace.

    The latter congregation, Father Lombardi said, may have a special sector for environmental issues and “human ecology,” which are the focus of an encyclical that Pope Francis is expected to publish this year.

    But the Vatican spokesman illustrated the limits of change when he said it was “unthinkable” for any Vatican congregation – even one for laity – to be headed by a lay person. Because of the level of responsibility involved, that position will no doubt continue to be filled by a cardinal, he said.

    That tells me that whatever the pope’s advisors have in mind, Curia reform is not going to touch the fundamental clerical framework of decision-making in the Vatican.

    Nor is there serious discussion of adding a “moderator” office to the Roman Curia, a position responsible for coordinating the various activities of the Vatican’s many agencies. The role of moderator will probably be implicit in the role of the Secretariat of State, which would be no change at all.

    In this morning’s discussions, it appears that even relatively modest proposals like rolling some councils into congregations met with objections. Some said congregations had a traditional function in church governance, while councils did not.

    There were different points of view, as well, on whether term limits for Curia officials made sense. Some favored distinct terms, and others thought experience sometimes argued for open-ended terms.

    The cardinals only began to explore the concepts of collegiality and synodality, which the pope wants to strengthen in the way the Roman Curia functions. Those issues probably offer material for many years of further discussion.

    It seems to me that it may take some forceful leadership moves by Pope Francis to advance this reform movement beyond the “endless study” stage.


  • Pope opens cardinals' meeting, says he's determined to bring reform to Roman Curia

    Pope Francis delivered a brief but significant talk to open a two-day meeting of cardinals, convened for a progress report on Curia reform.

    At a time when the pace of the reform project is slowing and resistance has increased inside the Vatican, the pope underlined his “determination” to follow through on plans to streamline the Vatican bureaucracy, establish transparency and end the power struggles and careerism inside the Roman Curia.

    He reminded his audience that two years ago, in meetings ahead of the conclave that elected him, the majority of cardinals pushed strongly for these reforms.

    “The goal is to favor greater harmony in the work of the various agencies and offices, so that there is more efficient cooperation, carried out in that absolute transparency that builds true synodality and collegiality,” the pope said.

    “Certainly, to reach that goal is not easy. It requires time, determination and above all the cooperation of everyone,” he said.

    Pope Francis also underlined that merely structural reforms at the Vatican – which have been the focus of the work so far – are only a means to an end. That’s an important point: the pope wants to change the culture in the Curia, not just the office nameplates.

    The real purpose of these reforms, he said, is to better witness the Gospel (yes, even in Vatican affairs), to make evangelization more effective, to promote an ecumenical spirit and to “encourage a more constructive dialogue with all.” In short, he wants a simpler Vatican bureaucracy so that it can better keep the faith and spread the faith.

    He said that means “perfecting” the identity of the Roman Curia, which he described as helping the pope in his pastoral duties “for the good and for the service of the universal church and particular churches.”


  • As Curia reform moves (slowly) forward, Cardinal Muller weighs in

      Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman

    I’ve seen this week described as “crucial” for Pope Francis and his plans for Vatican reform, a “turning point” in his pontificate, a make-or-break moment for the Francis “revolution.”

    But so far, there have been no dramatic announcements and no final decisions, just a series of progress reports from an array of councils and commissions that seem to meet a few times a year.

    This doesn't mean important things aren’t happening. But they are happening at a slower pace than many would have foreseen two years ago.

    Pope Francis came out of the gate fast. Elected with a mandate to reform the Roman Curia and streamline Vatican structures, he quickly named a council of eight cardinals (now nine), established financial watchdog agencies and let it be known that his reforms would be deep, not superficial. Later he set up a child protection commission, another commission to revamp Vatican communications and brought in outside consultants to make recommendations on best practices.

    But Francis soon came face to face with an inconvenient reality: The Vatican operates in its own time zone, a dimension where you can check your watch and calendar at the door, and where change is always in slow-motion.

    When Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters that he hopes the statutes for the Secretariat for the Economy (instituted a year ago) will be ready soon, there was soft laughter in the room. The reporters know that, in Vatican time, “soon” can mean months or even years.

    Today, Lombardi was asked whether the College of Cardinals, when they meet Thursday and Friday, will be reviewing a draft for the new constitution of the Roman Curia. The answer was no.

    “We’re still in a phase of considering the outline of the structure of (Vatican) agencies. Considering that legal experts are being consulted when these texts are pulled together, it’s not going to happen in a very brief time,” the spokesman said.

    Yesterday, Lombardi referred to an interim report presented by the commission studying how to better coordinate the Vatican’s media structures. He underlined that it was too early, of course, to be looking for final proposals – the commission began its work only five months ago. But before that, there was a separate seven-month study of Vatican media by outside consultants.

    The Vatican’s child protection commission held a press conference this week, and its members sounded mildly optimistic about the progress they had made. But Peter Saunders, an abuse survivor and commission member, summed things up when he said: “I have learned that the church and the Vatican operate in a slightly different time dimension than the rest of us.” Given that reality, he said he was willing to allow the Vatican another year or two to take steps to make bishops accountable for covering up abuse cases.

    The line-up of important meetings at the Vatican this month has included the Council for the Economy, a 15-member panel of lay and clerical experts. They are trying to figure out how the Vatican’s new economic agencies will operate and coordinate their specific activities. One big task is to more clearly define the competencies and authority of the Secretariat for the Economy, headed by Australian Cardinal George Pell. This month’s meeting ended with no conclusions, at least none that were published. (Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, who is on the council, said after the meeting that the rollout of economic reforms has been met with some resistance, even by those who were "shouting the loudest" for the Vatican to clean up its act during the 2013 conclave.)


    In a sense, this is the “working out the details” phase following the bold steps announced by the pope. But it’s a phase that involves not only issues of efficiency and transparency, but also questions about the very nature of the Roman Curia.

    That was the subject of a very interesting article written by Cardinal Gerhard Muller and published a few days ago in the Vatican newspaper. Cardinal Muller, who heads the doctrinal congregation, said it was important that Pope Francis’ reform project be understood as a spiritual purification, and not as a rearranging of ecclesial power, influence and prestige.

    He strongly defended the traditional role of the Roman Curia, which he said helps the pope in a special way to exercise his primacy, reflecting the unique function of the “Roman Church” in the pastoral and doctrinal governance of popes.

    “The Synod of Bishops, bishops’ conferences and the various groupings of particular churches belong to a category that is theologically different from the Roman Curia,” he said.

    For that reason, Muller said, decentralizing the church’s administrative structures “does not mean giving more power to bishops' conferences.” As for the Synod of Bishops, he said, it does not really belong to the Roman Curia.

    “The Curia and the Synod are formally distinguished by the fact that the Roman Curia supports the pope in his service for unity, while the Synod of Bishops is an expression of the catholicity of the church,” he said.

    Cardinal Muller’s words seemed to sound a note of caution about Pope Francis’ idea of enhancing “synodality” in church governance. There has been talk, for example, about giving the Synod of Bishops more authority, or of making the pope’s “Council of Nine” a permanent advisory body that would give greater voice to the world’s bishops in papal decision-making.

    Muller’s article helps explain why the pope cannot rearrange the Vatican’s bureaucratic landscape overnight. Francis would face objections and resistance if reform is not done carefully, and with some level of consensus. There is an equal risk, however, of allowing time to slow the pope’s momentum and take the edge off reforms.

    I remember that when Pope John Paul II unveiled his reform of the Roman Curia, it turned out to be a rather disappointing touch-up rather than an upheaval. It was a project that took the Polish pope ten years – a flash in Vatican time.


  • Decision time on Vatican reforms? "Pazienza"

                   Pope Francis with his advisory group of cardinals

    I’m in Rome, where Pope Francis’ “Group of 8” cardinal-advisors are meeting this week to discuss prospects for administrative and economic reforms at the Vatican.

    As Francis’ one-year mark approaches, many are expecting to see the pope’s reform agenda take concrete shape in structural changes, new policies and bureaucratic streamlining.

    But judging by the comments of Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, the week is likely to pass without major decisions on reforms.

    That kind of lengthy timeline is not a surprise to those who have followed Vatican affairs – Pope John Paul II’s Curia reform effort took 10 years to prepare, and it was a relatively minor touch-up of the Vatican’s network of offices.

    But I think the wider audience will soon be asking, What’s the hold-up?

    Part of the answer is that Pope Francis has named several advisory bodies, in addition to existing ones, to help him in the reform process. Their tasks sometimes overlap, and that complicates things.

    This week and next week, for example, the Vatican is experiencing a virtual gridlock of commissions, councils and consistories. There’s the commission on administrative and economic reforms and a separate commission on the future of the Vatican bank, both of which have reported to the Council of 8. Tomorrow, the “Council of 15,” an advisory body of cardinals established by Pope John Paul II to monitor financial affairs, will meet with the Council of 8. Thursday and Friday, a special consistory of cardinals will discuss themes of the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family, and next week the synod’s secretariat will hold a two-day meeting. The Council of 15 will hold its own session next week, too.

    For reporters asking when decision-time might arrive, Father Lombardi was very cautious, noting that all these entities are advisory. Essentially, Pope Francis will decide when to decide.

    Meanwhile, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, who with 18 others will become a cardinal at a special liturgy Saturday, has been actively taking part in the meetings of the Group of 8. No one would be surprised if the pope makes Parolin a permanent member of the group, which would mean that the Secretariat of State would be weighing in on every proposed reform.

    Let’s not forget that the Vatican has also hired outside consulting agencies to help simplify and coordinate its bureaucratic structures, especially in communication, and has turned to other financial management consultants to review Vatican financial practices. Their input also must be evaluated.

    At today’s briefing, Lombardi cast doubt on predictions that the major reform decisions could be made by late April, when the Council of 8 is expected to meet again in Rome.

    If I had to predict, I’d say that the framework for reforming the Vatican’s economic affairs and in particular the Vatican bank will come first, and changes in Roman Curia offices will take shape much later.

    (UPDATE: On Wednesday, Father Lombardi said the two commissions looking at financial affairs handed in sets of proposals to the pope, who will now study them. That's further evidence that Francis wants to move more quickly on the financial reforms.)

    Meanwhile, the Synod of Bishops has a fixed date, Oct. 5-19, and it is expected to take up some controversial topics, including the issue of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Father Lombardi emphasized that the cardinals’ two-day meeting this week on these topics would not “pre-empt” the synod, but was merely a free discussion without proposals or recommendations.

    Much has been made of the fact that Cardinal Walter Kasper, who long ago recommended a degree of pastoral flexibility for divorced Catholics, will be giving the opening talk at the cardinals’ meeting. I have no doubt that participants will also hear a strong defense of the current policy, which prohibits divorced Catholics who have remarried civilly without an annulment from receiving the sacraments. For many cardinals, the issue boils down to the defense of marriage as indissoluble.

    One member of the Group of 8, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, suggested in a recent interview that part of Curia reform might mean bringing in a married couple to head the Pontifical Council for the Family. Father Lombardi said he knew of no concrete proposal to do that, but he said there were a lot of ideas floating around.