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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Pope begins curial reform by establishing high-powered Cardinals' Commission

The first step towards a more collegial leadership of the Catholic Church seems to be have been taken – but instant reports are not to be expected.

Francis Pope does seem serious about a comprehensive reform of the Roman Curia. On Saturday, he appointed a committee of eight cardinals from all continents, which will draw up proposals for the reorganization of the Catholic Church leadership. And not only that: The Commission shall also advise the Pope on the management of the universal Church.

The calls for a reform of the Roman Curia are as old as the institution itself: but at last the criticism in the daily meetings of the cardinals seemed before the Conclave to have reached a new level: Not only did cardinals from the church worldwide complained about patronizing the local churches or lack of coordination and inefficiency in the Vatican administration, but Curial cardinals also called for a more collegial style of government and complained that even heads of Curial departments often had to wait months for an appointment with the Pope.

Finally many linked such a reform to the election of the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Lombardi identified the Commission explicitly as a signal that the Pope had responded to the wishes of the Cardinals.  (Cathcon- Lombardi also stated that the body has an advisory role and not any formal decision making power).

Pope Francis' predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, who from his own experience was only too well informed about a number of abuses of the Curia, had not ventured onthe risky projects. The former professor of theology was a man of words, not of administration. He left this to others, especially his Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. He showed his trust in the Italian even recently, when the criticism of th discharge of his duties, especially after the affair of the Holocaust denier Richard Williamson became louder and louder. Pope Francis confirmed Bertone in office for the time being. That it must vacate his post in the near future, but no one doubts the Vatican.

The Commission appointed contains many familiar names, its "coordinator" being Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras. The president of Caritas Internationalis is one of the most prominent cardinals of the world church. Striking to all is the clear dominance of the World Church: Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello is the one Vatican representative represented in the new body. He comes not even significantly from the Curia itself, but is head of government of Vatican City, that the primary responsibility for administration and infrastructure of the papal territory. The second Italian in the Commission is the Bishop of Albano, who acts as secretary. The other members are with one exception incumbent archbishops large dioceses: Sean Patrick O'Malley of Boston (Cathcon- the Franciscan influence- will have great influence given the Pope's preference for all things Franciscan), George Pell of Sydney (Cathcon- the conservative influence), Laurent Monswengo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay and Cardinal Marx of Munich (Cathcon- an indication that the quiet Cardinal is destined for higher office in Rome). Also noteworthy is that Latin America is represented by two members: Besides Maradiaga, the retired Cardinal of Santiago de Chile, Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa belongs to the Commission.

A key point of the reform is expected to be the role of the Vatican Secretariat of State: Even Curial cardinals had recently complained again and again about the great power and a wealth of comprehensive jurisdictions of this Curial department. The Secretariat of State gained its strong position not least by the papal decree "Pastor Bonus" of 1988, a document by John Paul II that the Commission is now to revise. Its official mission is to study “the project for a revision of the Apostolic Constitution" Pastor Bonus'” It is not without irony that the Cardinal Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone, was greeted as "Secretary of the Pope in the fullest sense". For the powers of the Secretary of State now go far beyond these original function.

The first step towards a more collegial leadership of the Catholic Church seems to have been taken. Where the path leads under Pope Francis remains, for the time being, still open. Quick results are not to be expected. The first official meeting of the Commission is scheduled for October. The Pope is however already in contact with the Cardinals.

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