Expect reforms of the curia, but only after Francis reforms the papacy first
ROME – John XXIII
appointed his new secretary of state on the very evening of his election as pope. And he was the great diplomat Domenico Tardini
, at the time an ordinary priest, not yet bishop or cardinal.
But that is prehistory, compared to the earthquake of today.
Pope Francis has arrived in Rome “from the ends of the earth
,” and he is innovating the manner of governing the Church from on high, starting with himself. The reform of the curia will come. And many other things will come as well. But after “a certain time,” he has cautioned.
Meanwhile, he has told all of the heads of the curia whose mandates ended with the resignation of his predecessor to get back to work. “Temporarily,” and “donec aliter provideatur," until he, the new pope, decides. Since March 13 the Vatican curia has been a tremulous army of functionaries without a certain future.
At his first appearance on the loggia of the basilica of St. Peter
, the newly elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio
wanted two cardinals at his side. At his right his vicar for the diocese of Rome, Agostino Vallini
, and at his left his Brazilian friend Cláudio Hummes
, a Franciscan. A pair that personifies his program.
The new pope wants to be the bishop of Rome for all intents and purposes, as he implied immediately on the first Sunday of his pontificate, with the Mass celebrated in the parish of St. Ann on the border of the Vatican and the Borgo, amid a rejoicing crowd. He will go from church to church, he will visit center and periphery, “for the evangelization of this city that is so beautiful.” In direct contact with the people of the diocese which now is his “bride.”
Above all, Pope Francis loves to call himself “bishop of Rome.” But he also holds firm, and said so immediately, that “the Church of Rome is that which presides in charity over all the Churches.”
They are the words of Ignatius of Antioch
, a bishop and martyr of the second century, which since then have served as a guide for the difficult balance of power between the successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome, and the successors of the college of the twelve apostles, the bishops of the whole world, between the exercise of papal primacy and the exercise of episcopal collegiality. At the beginning of the second millennium this balance was toppled and schism divided the Church of Rome from the Churches of the East.
But within the Catholic Church as well papal primacy, pushed to the limit, is waiting to be balanced by the college of bishops. This was called for by Vatican Council II, so far with scarce practical application, and again forcefully by Benedict XVI in one of his last discourses as pope, a few days before his resignation. His successor Francis has already made it known that this is precisely what he means to do.
To do this he has available to him a rough and ready implement, the synod. It consists of the approximately two hundred bishops, the elite of the almost five thousand bishops of the whole world, who every two years meet in Rome to discuss an issue of particular urgency for the life of the Church.
Its powers are purely advisory, and its twenty-eight editions so far, since the first in 1967, have risen only rarely above tedium. Pope Francis could make it deliberative, naturally “together with and under” his power of primacy.
But above all he could transform into a proper and permanent “council of the crown” that restricted group of bishops, three for each continent, which every synod elects at the end of its work, to act as a bridge to the following synod.
For a pope like Francis, who wants to feel from Rome the pulse of the worldwide Church, this group is the ideal instrument. Suffice it to say that among the twelve elected by the last synod are almost all of the outstanding names of the recent conclave: the cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York, Odilo Scherer of São Paulo, Brazil, Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Peter Erdö of Budapest, George Pell of Sydney, Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle of Manila.
By gathering around himself a summit of the worldwide episcopate of such a high level, once a month or even more frequently, physically present in Rome or by videoconference, Pope Francis could govern the Church just as Vatican Council II wished: with stable collegial support for his ultimate decisions as successor of Peter.
The curia will come afterward and secondarily. Brought back to its more modest tasks of service to decisions that are not its responsibility to make, much less force.
Cardinal Hummes expressed himself this way two days after the election of Bergoglio as pope: "Very many are awaiting a reform of the curia and I am certain that he will do it, in the light of the essentiality, the simplicity and humility asked for by the Gospel. Always in the footsteps of the saint whose name he has taken. St. Francis had a great love for the hierarchical church, for the Pope: he wanted his friars to be Catholics and to obey the 'Lord pope,' as he put it.”
This reference to Francis is not trivial, for a pope who is expected to “repair the Church.”
In the pseudo-Franciscan and pauperist mythology that in these days so many are applying to the new pope, imagination runs to a Church that would renounce power, structures, and wealth and make itself purely spiritual.
But it is not for this that the saint of Assisi lived. In the dream of Pope Innocent III painted by Giotto, Francis is not demolishing the Church, but carrying it on his shoulders. And it is the Church of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the bishop of Rome, at that time recently restored and decorated lavishly, but made ugly by the sins of its men, who had to be purified. It was a few followers of Francis who fell into spiritualism and heresy.
Pope Bergoglio has the solid formation of an old-school Jesuit. He is not dreaming of abolishing the curia. But of cleaning it up, yes. In a morning homily to a small number of cardinals two days after the election, he insisted on the word "irreproachability.” Bergoglio has always carefully kept his distance from the Roman curia, but he understands its disorders and sins.
He will demand the effective loyalty of all of its members, scandalously violated in recent years with the leaking of the most confidential papers, even from the personal desk of Benedict XVI.
He will demand the faithful and rapid execution of all of his orders.
He will demand a cost-cutting revision of expenditures, for accounts that in 2012 went dangerously back into the red, according to the projections provided to the cardinals in the pre-conclave.
At first Benedict XVI had tried to trim down the curia. He combined the two councils of culture and interreligious dialogue. And also those of “Iustitia et Pax" and for migrants.
But then everything went back to the way it was before and an extra dicastery was even created, that for the new evangelization assigned to Archbishop Rino Fisichella.
But the worst thing is the disunity. Every office fends for itself. Sometimes keeping the pope in the dark.
Two winters ago came the blatant and almost successful surprise attack intended to wrest approval from Joseph Ratzinger for the bizarre liturgies of the Neocatechumenals. The pope found out and thwarted everything in extremis. He was saddened to see that among the architects of the maneuver was a cardinal in whom he had placed the greatest trust, the prefect of the congregation for divine worship Antonio Cañizares Llovera. He ordered the congregation for the doctrine of the faith to put the liturgies of the Neocatechumenals under examination. The results are now sitting in a drawer.
Another dysfunction is presented by the curia officials who use their offices as a platform for highly personal ambitions. Proof of this is Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who became head of the pontifical council for the family in spite of the fact that he comes from a community, that of Sant'Egidio, whose internal history is not exemplary in this matter, peppered as it is with arranged and failed marriages. The statements that he customarily releases, in their vagueness, are at odds with the very clear and unwavering papal magisterium, but they earn him the approval of public opinion in favor of “gay" marriagie, which applauds his supposed "openness."
And then there are the gatecrashers. Personages who do not occupy any role in the curia and yet have succeeded in infiltrating the key places, to squeeze out all of their advantages. Like Andrea Riccardi, the founder of Sant'Egidio, who miraculously entered into the good graces of Benedict XVI himself and of his personal secretary Georg Gänswein. Or Marco Simeon, irremovably in the orbit of the cardinals Mauro Piacenza, prefect of the congregation for the clergy, and Tarcisio Bertone, the outgoing secretary of state.
For this latter the gatherings of the pre-conclave were a Calvary, because the remonstrances of the cardinals over the mismanagement of the curia hammered incessantly upon him, as prime minister. But his age of almost 79 will allow him a gracious retirement.
In his place, it is possible that Pope Francis may call to Rome from Latin America a rigorous and faithful diplomat, whom he knows and esteems. He is Pietro Parolin, 58, undersecretary for foreign affairs from 2002-2009, today archbishop and apostolic nuncio in Venezuela.