Friday, January 06, 2017

The new face of Pope Francis’ Curia

Within the corridors of the Roman Curia, many people are pleased to have discovered new meaning in their work since Pope Francis launched his reforms. 

Others, whose roles have been downgraded, complain of a pope who is not satisfied with “we have always done it this way” or “we have never done this” attitudes.

Others are said to regard the prospect of more synodal and collective work as amounting to a “protestantization” of the Church. Following the abolition of several dicasteries and related posts, there are also staff who fear being “decommissioned” and sent back to their home dioceses.

These are the various forms of resistance condemned by Pope Francis in his December 22 Christmas message to the Curia, characterizing the worst of these as “spiritual leopardism” on the part of those who claim to be ready for change precisely to ensure that everything stays the same.

The Curia must “conform to the needs of the times,” as the pope explained in his speech to the Curia. Thus, the pontiffs of the last century, including Pius X and Paul VI, sought to adapt a thousand-year-old system of administration to the needs of their own eras.

More recently, Pope John Paul II introduced the current structure with his 1988 constitution Pastor Bonus. 

Nevertheless, difficulties at the end of Pope Benedict’s pontificate, particularly the Vatileaks affair, including leaks from the pope’s own office, illustrated the limitations of this system of organization. 

As a result, the cardinals who elected Pope Francis were almost unanimous in their request for a far-reaching reform of the Curia.

To achieve this, Pope Francis created a council of eight, then nine cardinals – the famous C9 – responsible for advising on Church government and the review of Pastor Bonus. The group meets two or three times per year for a “general review” of the working methods of the Curia.

Over the course of 17 meetings, the cardinals thus studied the functioning of most dicasteries – the Vatican equivalent of ministries. Although the work is ongoing, concrete proposals have already been made to the pope.

While the new constitution that will eventually replace Pastor Bonus is not yet ready, reforms have already started. 

In his Christmas speech, the pope referred to eighteen documents issued over the past three years that have already begun to change the face of the Curia.
Thus, although the architecture established by Paul VI and John Paul II remains in place for the moment, the difference is diminishing between congregations, which share in “the power of government,” and the Pontifical Councils, whose mission is to simply to advise.


The number of pontifical councils has dropped from twelve to five. 

Meanwhile two new “dicasteries” with broader competence have been created, namely, the Dicastery for Lay people, Family and Life in September and the Dicastery for Integral Human Development officially launched on January 1. 

In addition, two new “secretariats” with cross-cutting competence have been created dealing finance – a notorious problem area in preceding pontificates – and communication.

The Secretariat for the Economy, which is responsible for working on and overseeing the finances of the dicasteries, thus fills the gap left by the lack of a central budget body. 

In June, however, the pope took a step back to avoid the creation of a “monster” responsible both for spending and for monitoring expenditure. 

Thus, the Secretariat returned control of Vatican property to another entity, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See.

Meanwhile, the Prefecture for Economic Affairs is also destined to disappear. This body has not had a prefect for more than a year, nor a secretary since the previous one was sentenced to prison in the Vatileaks affair (before being freed and sent back to his Spanish diocese before Christmas).

In the communications field, the reform has led to the creation of the Secretariat for Communication. 

Taking up the responsibilities of the former Pontifical Council for Social Communications, it has combined the functions of the press office and various media bodies.

A major effort at rationalization and cost reduction is also under way. 

Although necessary, this has not taken place without some gritting of teeth. 

At Vatican Radio, which previously operated with its own genuine editorial line, journalists have seen their work re-oriented towards communication. This has led to concerns that the Vatican may become too closely linked to major internet groups.

Going beyond organizational charts, however, the main way that Pope Francis intends to reform the Curia is in its manner of working.

“Structural or organizational reforms are secondary,” the pope explained at the beginning of his pontificate. “The first reform must be in the way of being.”

“In (Pope Francis’) view, it is clear that reform cannot be reduced to organizational change but comes through personal, pastoral and missionary conversion,” confirms a close collaborator.

These are the criteria that Pope Francis advanced in his message to the Curia. Based on the reflections of the C9 group, he set out a vision of a more flexible Curia working in a more collective spirit.

In this sense, the coordination role of the Secretariat of State should be determining. 

However, in Pastor Bonus, there is nothing explicit about this. On the contrary, the document specifically states that “the dicasteries are juridically equal among themselves".


As a result, each one jealously guards its own territory. Nevertheless, several dicasteries have managed to adopt a genuinely collectively pattern of work. Cardinal Ratzinger, for example, introduced a pattern of meetings at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where each person was free to express their views. 

On the other hand, there are other dicasteries that have not held meetings of their cardinals and bishops from around the world for several years.

Reforming the Curia promises to be a genuinely Herculean task!

Note

(1) Based on the formula of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard: “Everything needs to change so that nothing changes.”

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