How Pope Francis is Changing the Shape of the Roman Curia

While waiting for the Curia's organization chart to be finally completed and for all appointments to be confirmed or not, these episodes help to understand the criteria that may underlie some choices.

Pope Francis in April 2022
Pope Francis in April 2022 (photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA / EWTN)

The new round of promotions and demotions in the Vatican is the consequence of two decisions recently taken by Pope Francis: Firstly, the publication of the apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium, which regulates the functions and tasks of the Roman Curia. And secondly, the publication of Traditionis Custodes. This motu proprio restricts the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass after Benedict XVI had liberalized it.

As a result of the reform of the Curia, several priests who served in the Vatican’s dicasteries no longer have a position there. Others are called to leave Rome because they have completed the reform's five-year mandate, and their role has not been renewed.

On the other hand, the question of Traditionis Custodes is more complex. Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken of the risk of "backwardness" (looking backward, in Italian  ‘indietrismo’) and defended his decision to restrict the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) as a “necessity.” 

In other words, the Pope argued he was restricting the celebration of the ancient liturgy to avoid what he sees as a tendency to go “backward.” This thinking appears to guide his choice of appointments in the Vatican.

In fact, these two criteria are dominating the reshuffle of the Roman Curia. 

Now, as we know, after Praedicate Evangelium came into force, Pope Francis did not immediately proceed with naming or appointing the heads of dicasteries.

For example, the Dicastery for Education and Culture is the result of a merger between the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Council for Culture. The prefect of the Congregation is Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, while the President of the Pontifical Council is Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi. Ravasi will turn 80 on October 18, while Versaldi turned 79 on June 29. Both are well beyond retirement age.

Not only has no successor been formally appointed yet. The responsibilities of the previous heads have not been defined, even if it is logical that Versaldi is the one who, for now, continues to lead the Dicastery.

Moreover, the secretary and undersecretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education have ceased their office. Archbishop Vincenzo Zani is still waiting for a new position, while it seems that the undersecretary, Monsignor Friedrich Bechina, will be sent back to his home diocese.

That the undersecretaries are destined to return to their diocese seems evident from the fate of another undersecretary, Monsignor Matteo Visioli. 

Since 2017, Msgr. Visioli has been Number 3 in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. With the reform, it was thought that Monsignor Visioli would be promoted to Secretary. Instead, the papal reform resulted in the appointment of two secretaries for the disciplinary and doctrinal sections, both taken from the ranks of the Dicastery: Monsignor Joseph Kennedy for the disciplinary section and Monsignor Armando Matteo for the doctrinal section.

On July 6, Monsignor Philippe Curbelié was appointed as undersecretary of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. In the announcement, there was no mention of the fact  that he would take the place of Monsignor Visioli. Curbelié, among other things, was an official of the Dicastery of Culture and Education.

Monsignor Visioli has returned to his original diocese of Parma, where he was assigned to the post of the parish priest of Fornovo, a small town. His new post is a first effect of the reform: he does not stay in the Vatican for more than five years, and he returns to the diocese, to whatever post he may be assigned according to rank.

Given that for Msgr. Visioli, there was insistent talk of promotion to Secretary of the Dicastery, his new position immediately made us think that the problem was not operational but ideological.

According to the generally well-informed traditionalist blog Messa in Latino, Msgr. Visioli would not have been renewed because he was considered close to Archbishop Giacomo Morandi. In addition, as Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was involved in the official confirmation that blessing homosexual unions was not possible.

Archbishop Morandi was nominated bishop of Reggio Emilia last January, kicking off the profound renewal of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which will soon see the appointment of a new prefect.

There is, however, a case of repression that would concern traditionalism. On May 7, Father Tait Cameron Schroeder was appointed office head of the Disciplinary Section of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Father Schroeder, a priest and canon lawyer from the Diocese of Madison, was already working in the Congregation and had been promoted because he had handled the abuse cases of the English language desk very well. But the promotion never took place, despite being published in the bulletin. This news, too, was first reported by the Latin Mass blog.

According to a CNA source, Cardinal Ladaria called the promoted priest in, apologizing and hinting that the decision came from above — in other words, Pope Francis personally. There was a report that Father Schroeder had occasionally celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass for groups of pilgrims. This had only happened sometimes and never after the publication of the Traditionis Custodes. However, because of this, there seems to have been pressure by the pope for the Monsignor to resign from the post he had just received — which he promptly did.

While waiting for the Curia's organization chart to be finally completed and for all appointments to be confirmed or not, these episodes help to understand the criteria that may underlie some choices. In the end, when the term is five years, a transfer is effortless, and it can happen even for those officials whose mandate has just been renewed but who have already been in the Curia for more than five years.