Thursday, March 14, 2013

A house that needs putting in order

Robert Mickens
The Tablet
March 14, 2013

Much criticism has been directed at the Roman Curia in the past few months and that has only intensified in the immediate run-up to the 2013 conclave. The media, fuelled by documents emerging from the so-called VatiLeaks scandal, have portrayed it as a dysfunctional bureaucracy mired in sexual and financial impropriety. Some even depict it as the root cause of all the Church’s problems. Others maintain that the alleged corruption and vice inside its various departments prompted Benedict XVI’s sudden resignation from the Chair of St Peter, in a similar way to the moment when the 1968 student riots led him to leave his professorial chair at the University of Tübingen.

Defenders of the Roman Curia and those who want to reform it were reportedly the main two opposing blocs squaring off in the conclave. At least that’s the storyline many reporters and commentators were following, especially the pundits from Italy.

However compelling, the “Curia vs reformers” billing has been simplistic. Think of this: at least 51 of the 115 cardinal electors have worked in the Vatican’s central bureaucracy, either currently or in the past. And like the so-called reformers, almost all of them agree that “the Pope’s own house has to be put in order”, as Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, a non-Curialist, so vividly put it.

Certainly there are divisions in the curial camp; some quite sharp. But these factions still agree on at least one thing – that Curia reforms should be led by insiders like themselves who already know where all the light switches are in the Apostolic Palace, rather than by outsiders who are coming in from the dark. Indeed, there is a long-standing view that only a pope who is an insider can be trusted with reforming the Curia. That’s what happened with the election (exactly 50 years ago next June) of Paul VI. And it was supposed to happen with the election in 2005 of Benedict XVI. Unfortunately, it did not.

But Francis is the first Pope from the Americas, and the first from outside Europe in over 1,000 years, and there is a firm belief among the cardinals and many bishops around the world that he must show a greater interest in administration than his predecessor did. That includes carrying out an internal bureaucratic reform at the Vatican.


...... a rapid succession of decrees that would culminate in the complete overhaul of the Curia in 1967 with the apostolic constitution, Regimini Ecclesiae Universae.

This 46-year-old text remains to this day the basic blueprint for the Vatican’s central bureaucracy. It began the process of inter­nationalising a Curia that was for centuries monopolised by Italians. It took steps to make the Curia’s work more efficient and internally coordinated by decreeing that the various offices hold regular inter-dicasteral meetings. And it made diocesan bishops members of the major Vatican offices, which was seen as providing a practical way for them to assist the pope in governing the whole Church. Pope Paul’s restructuring effort was thus aimed at enhancing the Vatican II doctrine of episcopal collegiality.

In the first years after the council it seemed to be succeeding, even despite resistance from the Curia’s “old guard”. But by the second half of the long pontificate of John Paul II, that resistance had regrouped and many bishops around the world began complaining that the Curialists had clawed back much of the controlling power that Paul’s reforms had taken from them.

More and more the Roman Curia began forming policy without widespread consultation. Then during the last eight years under Benedict XVI, there was yet another turn. Rather than reform the Curia, the Pope just ignored it and began issuing motu proprio decrees. These were decrees issued by his “own initiative” and seemingly without consultation, either with the Curia or the world’s bishops.


“How is this next pope going to govern the Church?” asked Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor before the conclave got under way. “A lot of bishops and cardinals think it has to be done perhaps in a more collegial way. It is not just the pope who rules the Church, it is the Pope with the bishops,” he said. In other words, it is not the pope with the Roman Curia, and certainly not the pope with the Curia instead of with the bishops.


Pope Francis I should make it a top priority to appoint a Secretary of State and other top aides that will move immediately to fix “his” Curia and bring it more fully into line with the vision set out by Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council.

However, that alone will not resolve the Church’s more crucial crisis, which is its increasingly anachronistic model of ­monarchical governance. Francis I could provide a marvellous service to church unity if he consults widely with the world’s ­bishops and tries to find a fruitful way of restoring the more ancient and more ­evangelical model of synodal governance. Tinkering with the Roman Curia while ­ignoring this bigger ­problem would be like healing a broken foot on a cancerous body. As Paul told the Corinthians, if one part ­suffers, every part suffers with it.

Full article at The Tablet

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