Anticipating a reforming pope’s radical plan to curtail the Roman Curia

roman curia

Some are cautiously looking forward to it with hopeful expectations. Others are fearing it with dread and despair. It’s the upcoming reform and restructuring of the Roman Curia.

As Massimo Faggioli recently pointed out, it could be one of the most significant structural changes Pope Francis makes in a determined effort — contested by some members of the hierarchy — to bring about a more decentralized and synodal Church.

The Jesuit pope has spent his entire pontificate working on curia reform with the help of an international group of senior advisors called the Council of Cardinals (C9).

When he announced the establishment of this unprecedented body just four weeks after being elected Bishop of Rome, he said its purpose was “to advise him in the government of the universal Church and to study a plan for revising the apostolic constitution” that defines the curia’s purpose and structures.

Most observers made little of the C9’s primary mandate (to advise the pope on governing the worldwide Church) and focused almost exclusively on its second and more specific task at hand — re-writing the apostolic constitution.

They foresaw the project’s completion within a year or so.

Instead, the reform has not yet been concluded despite the fact that Francis has been in office just a few months shy of six years.

During this long period those who eagerly want the reform have expressed frustration with the 81-year-old pope for not acting more swiftly.

But, in actual fact, Francis has been rolling out major changes in the Vatican structures all along. By reducing and merging a number of offices, for example, he has already begun changing the complexion of the curia.

Because of this, once an all-encompassing reform is finally unveiled, it may not seem to be as jolting. But with a pope who has not been afraid to make startling changes, that may not be a safe bet.

We’ll all find out soon enough.

It’s all but certain that before Francis begins the 7th year of his pontificate next March, the first Roman “outsider” to be elected pope in over a hundred years (the first since Pius X not to have studied or worked in Rome) will have issued a document that is likely to radically re-shape the Catholic Church’s central bureaucracy.

Praedicate Evangelium

A substantial “final” draft of the new apostolic constitution on the curia was already under study by last summer. Greg Burke, head of the Holy See press office, told reporters in June that it has also been given a provisional title — Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel).

In the months since then the heads of the various Vatican offices have had the opportunity to review the draft and make further recommendations and comments.

The contents of the text, however, have been kept under wraps.

One thing we know for certain is that Pope Francis wants to decentralize decision-making authority in the Church.

And that means many Vatican offices — especially the congregations that have traditionally acted as minders of the local dioceses, Church institutions and Catholic individuals around the world — are likely to lose real power.

“The dicasteries of the Roman Curia are at the service of the pope and the bishops. They must help both the particular churches and the bishops’ conferences. They are instruments of help,” the pope said in September 2013 in a major interview with Italian Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro.

“In some cases, however, when they are not functioning well, (these offices) run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship,” Francis said. He then proclaimed words that sent shockwaves through the Vatican: “The Roman congregations are mediators; they are not middlemen or managers.”

The pope gave that interview as he was putting the final touches on his most important document to date — the apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, his blueprint for Church reform and renewal.

“It is not advisable for the pope to take the place of local bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization,’” he wrote.

“Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach,” he said. Continue reading

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