In one weeks’ time, the international group of eight cardinals Bergoglio chose to advise him on Curia reform will be holding their second meeting to discuss the progress of the work being done.
The process of reform will not necessarily be a quick one: Paul VI’s reforms were several years in the making and even John Paul II’s Curia, which was decidedly smaller, took about two years to reform completely.
After December’s meeting and another meeting in February on the occasion of the Consistory announced for the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, there will be yet another, apparently informal, meeting between members of the College of Cardinals.
During this meeting it is likely that cardinals will at least be given some general guide lines.
For now, very little information has been given about concrete plans.
The interview the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley gave a few days ago to the National Catholic Register doesn’t seem to provide any clues either.
“As has been announced, there is a desire to reform the curia, to make it more at the service of the Holy Father and the local Churches. The goal is to make the curia more efficient and thus to allow the Holy Father to govern more effectively. It is important to review the functions of the dicasteries and pontifical councils, to see how they can work better.”
Then there is the question of internationalisation, a subject which has been debated for many years and which has been dealt with at the top levels of the Catholic Church (this is the third non-Italian Pope in a row) but perhaps not so much at other levels.
“The Church has grown so much and is more international. So there is a desire to internationalize the curia to some extent. That could be difficult, however, because of linguistic challenges and the need for people to live in Rome.”
But, the US cardinal stressed, “the council is not only to reform the curia, but to advise the Holy Father on the government.”
The question is, can this council become a model for Church governance at other levels?
This seemingly innocent question in fact opens up a decade-long debate about the form of “power” the Church has; about whether it is more or less shared and more or less “autocratic”. O’Malley - and possibly Francis too - is in no doubt:
“The Church is not a democracy. But the Church can only function if there is a sense that you are trying to discern God’s will, and we don’t do that just as individuals, we do that in an atmosphere of dialogue and prayer. But ultimately, the Holy Father will make decisions and we will abide by them.”
The National Catholic Register’s interview with Cardinal O’Malley is quite long and focuses on typically American subjects. But two more points are worth mentioning. The first is to do with same-sex marriages, Massachusetts was the first state in the US to legalise such unions.
“In Boston, we have a commission set up to study the impact of same-sex marriage, and the issue of homosexuality. We are looking at what is being taught in the public schools. We know it is an entirely different anthropology from that of the Church.”
There is such an aggressive attitude toward anyone defending traditional marriage that many people are intimidated. And there is a movement now that is trying to stop religious people from adopting ... Every study shows that the optimal circumstance for raising a child is with their biological parents in a loving committed marriage. But at the same time, we need to communicate — and this is difficult — that homosexual persons are not unwelcome in the Church.”
The second point is to do with the issue of remarried divorcees.
The Holy Father “wants us to find ways to help people in second marriages to return to the sacraments and be reconciled, and to see if the annulment process can be more user-friendly.”