VATICAN CITY — At the end of their first three-day meeting to examine Church governance and reform of the Roman Curia, members of a select “council of cardinals” have recommended that Pope Francis make radical changes to the way the Vatican is run.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters Oct. 3 that the international group of cardinals did not intend to update the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus — Blessed John Paul II’s 1988 instruction on governance of the Roman Curia — “with retouches and marginal modifications.”
Instead, they wished to introduce “a new constitution with significant new aspects,” with the aim of decentralizing the governance of the Church.
“It will be necessary to wait a reasonable amount of time following this council, but this is the idea,” Father Lombardi told reporters in a final briefing on the Oct. 1-3 meeting. “The cardinals have made it clear that they do not intend to make cosmetic retouches or minor modifications to Pastor Bonus.”
The intention of the cardinals is to emphasize “the nature of the service on the part of the Curia and the universal and local Church in terms of subsidiarity, rather than the exercise of centralized power,” Father Lombardi added. “The intended direction would be to put this into practice in the service of the Church in all her dimensions.”
Such a move had been expected after the leader of the eight cardinals on the council, Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, said recently that the plan was to go much further than just changing “this and that” with regards to that document.
Secretariat of State Changes
Another important theme raised was the nature and function of the Secretariat of State. This should be viewed as “the secretariat of the Pope,” Father Lombardi said, and “the word ‘state’ should not give rise to doubt.” He also explained that the meeting of the council had been very useful for the Pope in order to offer direction to the new secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who will take up his position on Oct. 15.
To help improve relations between the heads of the dicasteries (Vatican offices) and the Pope, and coordination between the various bodies, the cardinals also examined the role of a moderator Curiae (moderator for the Curia) and the functions of such a figure.
“The issue was touched upon, but no decision has been made as to whether it will form part of the new constitution,” Father Lombardi said. “However, it is, in fact, one of the hypotheses suggested by the council.”
Diocesan curias often have a “moderator Curiae,” a kind of “chief operating officer” who coordinates the administrative duties and oversees those who hold positions of authority in diocesan administration. Some of these duties rest with the Vatican’s sostituto, the deputy secretary of state, but these have evidently been judged insufficient.
This may be a response to a criticism aired recently by German Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In June, the cardinal called for monthly meetings between the heads of Curial dicasteries and for direct communication between department heads and the Pope without going through the secretary of state.
“The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing,” said Cardinal Kasper, who served at the Vatican as a senior official for more than a decade under both John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He added that the secretary of state “has become, of late, like a government middleman.”
Also discussed were possible changes to the organization of the Synod of Bishops that the Pope convenes to discuss the specific themes of Church life. Father Lombardi said this was moved to the top of the cardinals’ agenda because the synod council is due to meet at the Vatican Oct. 7-8. He also said the theme of the next synod is expected to be announced “in the coming days.”
The role of the laity and their contribution to the Church also figured highly in the discussions. Pope Francis and the cardinals discussed “how to ensure that this dimension of the Church’s reality is more adequately and effectively recognized and followed in the governance of the Church,” Father Lombardi said. “There is a Pontifical Council for the Laity, but it is still possible to think of ways of strengthening this aspect.”
Vatican finances were also examined, but not in great detail, as the Holy Father has appointed several commissions to deal with financial issues, and their work continues.
The council of cardinals, made up of eight members from six continents, comprises Cardinals Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, retired archbishop of Santiago, Chile; Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India; Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany; Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Congo; Sean O’Malley of Boston; George Pell of Sydney; Giuseppe Bertello, president of the commission governing Vatican city state; and Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
At the beginning of the three-day meeting, which took place in a small room in the St. Martha guest residence and followed an intense schedule, Pope Francis emphasized the council’s “juridical status, stability and continuity.” He also specified that the members are not “continental delegates,” but were chosen for their rich pastoral experience and because they come from large dioceses.
‘Open and Constructive Dialogue’
Father Lombardi said the Pope holds the eight cardinals in high regard and values their advice in helping take “the most suitable approach” in governing the Church. “This is not an insignificant task, since confidence and esteem foster the climate of serenity necessary for an open and constructive dialogue,” he said.
The first meeting on Oct. 1 examined the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council, not only to give direction to organizational matters, but to help provide “a broader theological and spiritual vision of the Church,” with a view of creating new “structures of governance.” Each of the participants presented a brief summary of the suggestions they had received.
The cardinals also looked at the Synod of Bishops in their discussions. Father Lombardi said the subject of the next synod wasn’t yet known, but added that the Pope had made reference to a “theme of an anthropological nature, the family according to the Gospel, but, in any case, it is not yet precise.”
“The Holy Father also said that prominent themes such as family and matrimonial pastoral (duties) will be the order of the day in the activity of the Church in the near future,” Father Lombardi added. This may include examining the status of divorced and remarried Catholics in the Church — a subject often raised by Francis and Benedict XVI in the recent past.
The Vatican announced in the evening of Oct. 3 that the next meeting of the council will take place Dec. 3-5, with another one expected in February 2014. “In this way, the work of the council, especially at this early stage, may proceed expeditiously,” a statement said.
Father Lombardi stressed that the Pope and the cardinals “continue to exchange opinions and messages, even in the absence of a plenary meeting of the council.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent and a contributor to EWTN News Nightly.