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BY Edward Pentin
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi confirmed today that the members of the council of cardinals do not intend to update “with retouches and marginal modifications” the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus, John Paul II’s 1988 instruction on governance of the Roman Curia.
Instead, they wish to introduce “a new constitution with significant new aspects,” ones which aim to lead away from a centralized form of governance.
Father Lombardi made the announcement during his recap of yesterday afternoon’s and this morning’s sessions of the cardinals meeting, convened to discuss Church governance and Curial reform.
“It will be necessary to wait a reasonable amount of time following this council, but the idea is this,” Father Lombardi said: “The cardinals have made it clear that they do not intend to make cosmetic retouches or minor modifications to Pastor Bonus."
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 that just changing “this and that” with regards that document. (Read Jimmy Akin's excellent background and analysis here.)
The intention of the cardinals is to emphasise 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 said. “The intended direction would be to put this into practice in the service of the Church in all her dimensions.”
Another important theme raised was the nature and functions of the Secretariat of State, which “should be the secretariat of the Pope; the word 'state' should not give rise to doubt.”
“This body serves the Pope in the governance of the universal Church,” Father Lombardi explained. “The meeting of the council is very useful at the moment, in view of the directions the Pope will give to the new secretary of state, who will assume his role shortly, on Oct. 15.”
Also, in relation to the Curia, the Vatican spokesman said the council will address the matter of relations between the heads of the dicasteries and the Pope and coordination between the various bodies. “In this context, mention was made of the role of a 'moderator Curiae' (moderator for the Curia) and the functions of such a figure,” he said.
“The issue was touched upon, but no decision has been made as to whether it will form part of the new constitution; 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, clearly, they have been insufficient.
This may be a response to a criticism aired recently by Cardinal Walter Kasper. In June, the cardinal called for monthly meetings between the heads of Curial dicasteries and for direct communication between dicastery heads and the Pope without going through the secretary of state.
“The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing,” he said, adding that the secretary of state “has become, of late, like a government middleman.”
With regard to a possible reorganization of the administration of temporal goods, Father Lombardi said the cardinals touched upon this matter, but without exploring the theme in depth, since they are awaiting the “reports of the referring commissions on the matter, who will communicate the results of their work [to the council].”
The question of the laity merited “significant attention” from council members, as they had received many suggestions and questions on this subject from their various areas of origin.
“When dealing with the reform of the Curia and its institutions, the council also plans to give more specific attention to issues relating to the laity, so that this dimension of the life of the Church is properly and effectively recognized and followed by the governance of the Church,” Father Lombardi said. “Now there is a Pontifical Council for the Laity, but it is still possible to think of ways of strengthening this aspect.”
Today was the last of the three-day meeting. No date had been set for the next meeting, although mention was made of a meeting in the spring of next year, of an informal nature.
“The intention,” Father Lombardi said, “is to continue, without waiting for too long. Also, it would be incorrect to assume that nothing happens between one meeting and another; the cardinals and the Pope continue to exchange opinions and messages, even in the absence of a plenary meeting of the council.”