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There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around...

Not the first reform of the curia

Vatican CuriaThe first was that of Sixtus the Fifth, in 1587 – it laid the foundations of the modern Curia.  It introduced the system of cardinalitial congregations.  It set up a bureaucracy charged with government – the temporal government of the Pontifical States and the spiritual government of the Church.  This network characterised the Curia until the modern epoch.

In 1908 Pius the Tenth re-organised the Curia, taking in count the disappearance of the Pontifical States.  The Curia was set up in three levels – congregations, tribunals, and offices (minor in comparison with the other two).  The secretariate of state was one of these offices.  

It was really with and after Vatican 2 that the secretariate of state took on its present importance.  This was due to Paul the Sixth.  He had worked for more than thirty years in that secretariate…. He gave it the major role of coordination.  At this time, the Curia was the object of strong criticism.  This was directly chiefly at the Holy Office, judged to be Inquisitorial.   In 1967 Paul the Sixth took up the will of the Council Fathers of Vatican 2 and published a large scale reform of the Curia.  The Holy Office became the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Secretariates and pontifical councils were introduced, with new organisms linked to the great themes of the council - laity, ecumenical dialogue, non-Christians and non-believers, justice and peace (Cor Unum – sometimes called the Solidarity Curia).  

John Paul the Second modified it all in 1988 to put it in line with the new Code of Canon Law (1983) and with the Synod of Bishops (1985).  That synod was about the reception of Vatican 2.  The accent in it was an ecclesiology of communion. John Paul’s document – Pastor Bonus – insisted on the Curia as a ministerial instrument at the service of the pope.  

These successive reforms of the Curia were not always applied.  The secretariate of state, introduced as a coordination office, did not function in that way.  Paul the Sixth had introduced a five year mandate for the cardinals responsible for dicasteries, but it proved difficult to replace them with bishops taken from dioceses.  And what did you do with retired Curial cardinals??  The idea was good, but it did not function well.  There were exceptions, like Konig (Vienna, and head of the secretariate for non believers) and Roy (Quebec, and head of the pontifical councils for laity, family, and justice and peace).  

And now the G8

Reforms of the Curia are assumed to take a long process.  Under Paul the Sixth, in he seventies, it took five years of preparation.

Pope Francis chose the group of eight cardinals from every continent of the world, a month after his election.  The group was created by a papal chirograph.  The first closed meeting is October 1st 2013.  It began in the papal private library of the apostolic palace, and then moved to Assisi – for the coming feast of Saint Francis.  It had already received 80 documents.

A change of attitude

Pope FrancisPope Francis says (in his interview with the Jesuit magazines) that the primary reform of the Curia is its manner of being.  The pope began it from moments after his election, and since, with gestures of simplicity and humility.   He insists that the manner of living of the Curia translate the spirituality of the Church.     His travels are to places of the poor, like Lampedusa and Sardignia.  

His model of the church is people of God.  He has said that he believes that in the eyes of God the least of the baptised is equal to the pope.  He wants terms like ‘his holiness’, ‘eminence’, ‘excellency’, etc officially dropped, and this may be one of the outcomes of the Assisi GB meeting.   It is clear that his reform of the Curia is directed primarily at the personnel of the Curia.  He says so often in his little talks at his morning mass.   If you are looking for Jesus, don’t look in first class.  There are real fears and resistances in the Vatican….

A change of organisation

VaticanThey may be secondary, but real structural and organisational reforms are intended by Pope Francis.  He is against a well organised church of functionalism. He seems to suggest that there are too many dicasteries, each ruling its own little world.  The great congregations (clergy, doctrine of the faith, evangelisation) will probably remain, but it looks as if there will be a fusion of several pontifical councils whose fields of competence overlap.  Certain commissions may be declared redundant.  

Cardinal Maradiaga has said that there is a strong desire to rationalise the Curia.  He adds that all the Curia’s decisions and documents must be transparent and verifiable.  That demands an effective administration.  So says Cardinal Marx to the German press.  These two cardinals are in the G8.

Already Francis has brought in two expert committees.  One is for the Vatican Bank.  It has published (October 1st date) its annual financial report – for the first time ever.  The other committee is to oversee the economic structures of the Vatican.  He has also indicated that he is looking at a redefinition of the competence of the secretariate of state.  He says he doesn’t want a number two, but a number of number of threes!

Beyond the Curia, Francis is looking at a much larger collegiality in the whole church.  This means the consultation of episcopal conferences.  The role of the secretary general of these conferences will be strengthened.  In this he is clearly inspired by the Orthodox churches and their tradition of synodality.  

The potential of the laity is also under discussion. Cardinal Marx has said that ‘certain catholics still think tha a priest must be present for the church to function.  This is absurd!’

Other changes on the agenda

After the election of Francis, an Argentinian canonist said that it will be a pontificate of government and not of Magisterium.  He named some areas of discussion, like the place in the church of remarried divorcees and the nullity of marriages.  In Francis’ interview with the Jesuit magazines, he said he wants a deeper theology of the feminine worked out, and a more precise statement on the place of women in the church, even where authority is exercised.

Parolin, the new secretary of state, has reopened discussion on the obligation to celibacy of diocesan priests.  

Francis has said that while collegiality is the highest aim, no one can escape the responsibility of decisions that they make.  

In the curia, the diplomats are on the way back

Bertone had a long time as secretary of state, and in that time a majority of those in responsible positions were Italians living and working in Italy.  That Italian centred epoch seems now over.  In the G8 there is only one Italian.  He is Cardinal Bertello.

The new secretariate of state – Pietro Parolin – has been papal nuncio in VietNam and China, in Israel, and in Venezuela.  He is the product of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the school for future nuncios and apostolic delegates.  It has been run by Benjamino Stella (now 72) who has been made cardinal in charge of the congregation for the clergy.

A uniuversal vision of the Church

Lorenzo Baldisseri was secretary of the last conclave. He is now director general of synods of bishops.

We seem to be moving away from a language too calibrated on Europe. And more aware of Asia and Africa.

The careerist are afraid of losing their careers

Francis is showing a preference for open-minded moderates.  The vice rector of the Lateranum said ‘he names people who exercise authority without using the external signs of power’.  A member of the Curia said, the careerists are gone.  The pope also prefers people he has known.  He has broken with a long tradition by promoting people from a long way from Rome.  He has demoted cardinal Piacnza by making him Grand Penitentiary (a not very important post).

He is changing the customs of the Curia by his own style of simple and direct management.  He behaves like the patron of the whole enterprise.  Benedict was instrumentalised by his administration.  Now there is a more determined one.

Phlippe Chenaux, Il ne faut pas croire que c’est la premiere reforme de la Curia
Sebastien Maillard, Le pape Francois consulte son “G8” pour reformer lÉglise
Sebastien Maillard, A la Curie, les diplomats font leur retour

All from La Croix, October 1, 2013

In a broader context

  • Synodality (the role of the college of bishops in the church) was one of the great ambitions of Vatican 2. It was still born.  A Nota Praevia was attached to Lumen Gentium by Paul the Sixth, directing that none of the council’s teaching on collegiality or the synod of bishops should prejudice the rights and privileges of the pope and the Holy See.   As a result, the synod of bishops has been consultative, not deliberative.   The only teaching document ever issued by such a synod was Justice in the World in 1971.  Since then the results of synods have been published by the pope in person, after the synod was over, as apostolic exhortations.  Under JP2 the church became more centralised, the teaching power of bishops more restricted, and the synods tightly controlled.  Francis has called the synod of bishops a ‘half baked’ development of Vatican 2 (in the sense of a work in progress).   
  • Francis has indicated that the G8 may be replaced in future by a council elected by a synod of bishops.
  • Francis in giving the pallium to some new archbishops, said it is a symbol of unity with the pope but also a symbol of collegiality as well.
  • The next planned synod (general assembly) is 2014.  Topics talked about are ecology, and of course an ecclesiology that can be the basis of synodality.
  • The Orthodox churches have a very big investment in synodality.  For over a millennium the main difference between us and them has been our monarchical papacy and the centralised Roman government.  When Francis initially called himself not pope but bishop of Rome, and described the Roman church as presiding over the other churches in love, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew went to Rome for Francis’ inauguration.  

From Drew Christiansen, America Magazine, July 1, 2013-10-01