• John Thavis

Advisory group is first big step toward real reform at Vatican

The new advisory group of eight cardinals established today by Pope Francis marks a giant step toward reforming the Roman Curia and cleaning up the missteps and power struggles that have embarrassed the Vatican in recent years.

The Vatican’s brief announcement made it clear that the pope wants to take a new look not only at specific reforms of Roman Curia offices but also at general governance of the universal church.

In establishing the group, the Vatican said, the pope was “taking up a suggestion that emerged during the General Congregations preceding the conclave.”

Several aspects here are noteworthy:

— The group includes only one Roman Curia official and seven residential archbishops from outside Italy. That means that instead of turning to the usual suspects when it comes to Curia reform (insiders who “know the terrain”), Pope Francis is branching out and making this a project of the universal church. The group includes at least one cardinal from every continent.

— By forming such a group, the pope has signaled that he wants to look at bigger issues of governance and organization at the Vatican, and not merely make cosmetic changes. Instead of shifting the pieces around the chessboard, Pope Francis may choose to redesign the board completely.

Already, rumors are percolating through Rome about how a revamped Secretariat of State might work. Others have suggested that major Vatican offices could be combined.

— The group is small enough to work. A larger group would have been unwieldy, but eight cardinals (and one secretary) can convene and reach consensus more easily. Their first official meeting is scheduled for Oct. 1-3, but the Vatican statement hinted that their work has already begun when it said the pope has already been in contact with the cardinals.

— The decision demonstrates collegiality in action. Pope Francis has shown that when it comes to such an important project, he recognizes he’s going to need help from fellow bishops.

Speaking to reporters, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, underlined that the new group was consultative, not decision-making, and that it did not diminish the role of the Roman Curia. That remark seemed designed to reassure Curia cardinals, who probably recognize that on the issue of Vatican reform, Pope Francis is planning an overhaul not a tune-up.

Here are the members of the advisory group as announced by the Vatican:

Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State; Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile, Chile; Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, India; Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany; Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley O.F.M., archbishop of Boston, USA; Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, Australia; Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, S.D.B., archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in the role of coordinator; and Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, Italy, in the role of secretary.

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