The Holy Father says he is too ‘disorganised’ to reform the Roman Curia. But the corruption has to be driven out. What he needs is a Godly hit man

Pope Francis (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

After a meeting earlier this month of the presiding board of the the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious Men and Women (CLAR), a transcript of the Pope’s words was made by those present; a translation can be found here.

From his remarks, I found myself (as have others) homing in on the following words: “… it is difficult. In the Curia, there are also holy people, really, there are holy people. But there also is a stream of corruption, there is that as well, it is true… The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned, and it is true, it is there… We need to see what we can do…

“The reform of the Roman Curia is something that almost all Cardinals asked for in the Congregations preceding the Conclave. I also asked for it. I cannot promote the reform myself, these matters of administration… I am very disorganised, I have never been good at this. But the cardinals of the Commission will move it forward. There is Rodríguez Maradiaga, who is Latin American, who is in front of it, there is Errázuriz, they are very organised. The one from Munich is also very organised. They will move it forward.”

The Munich connection is worth a second look. According to Sandro Magister, as well as Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich, who is a member of the commission, there is also a certain Thomas von Mitschke-Collande, who was the manager of the Munich branch of what Magister calls “the most famous and mysterious company of managerial consulting in the world” (McKinsey & Company, an American global management consulting firm that “focuses on solving issues of concern to senior management.”)

In matters of the Church, Magister says, this Mitschke-Collande “knows his stuff. Last year he published a book with a title that was hardly reassuring: ‘Does the Church want to destroy itself? Facts and analyses presented by a business consultant.’ The diocese of Berlin turned to him to get its accounts back in order, and the German episcopal conference asked him to draw up a plan to save on costs and personnel. The proposal, which [Pope Francis] welcomed enthusiastically, was made to him by Fr Hans Langerdörfer, the powerful secretary of the German episcopal conference, a Jesuit.” So it appears that Mitschke-Collande has in fact been appointed to sort out the Roman Curia’s notorious functional inefficiencies: a good and indispensable thing to do.

But can the Roman Curia actually be reformed (rather than simply reorganised) by a management consultant expert? The problem seems to be more than one of managerial disorganisation, though no doubt it would be helpful to get things moving a little more smoothly. But how will he diagnose and solve the deeper, more spiritual problems of corruption and intrigue that have caused such scandal in recent years? What about that “gay lobby”, which Pope Francis says definitely exists?

And what exactly is the function of the commission of eight cardinals the Pope has appointed to “advise him in the government of the universal Church and to study a plan for revising the apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus”? They are Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, who will coordinate the whole operation; Cardinal Guiseppe Bertello, governor of the Vatican City State; Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, the retired Archbishop of Santiago de Chile, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston; and Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney. They, says Pope Francis, will also “move it forward”, the reform of the Curia, that is.

But how can they? They don’t meet until October, and they are chosen to represent the whole world, they live at the four corners of the globe: the problem is in Rome. No doubt they will be crucial in revising the apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia. But isn’t there a more urgent problem? What will revising Pastor Bonus do to cure the wicked corruption which undoubtedly helped to overwhelm poor Pope Benedict, bringing his pontificate to a tragically premature end? Don’t heads need to roll now? We need these people out, quickly, we need a purge of the guilty men. We need, surely, someone who knows the curia but is not of it, preferably an Italian, someone committed to reform who can actually sweep the place clean. We need a Godly hit man. That “gay lobby” for instance: someone must know who these people are: why can’t they simply be fired? The trouble seems to be that there is nobody on the spot with both the authority and the will actually to do the deed.

The obvious person to do all this on the Pope’s behalf ought surely to be his secretary of State, his “prime minister”: but if Sandro Magister is right (and he usually is, it seems) the present incumbent, Tarcisio Bertone, is a part of the problem: a year or two after the election of Pope Benedict he wrote an article describing Bertone sardonically as “the man who was supposed to help the Pope”. It is generally supposed that he is on his way out; it has not gone unnoticed that he was not appointed to Pope Francis’s new commission. So, who will replace him? It will be a key decision in all this, perhaps the key decision. The name that keeps on occurring to me is that of Cardinal Angelo Scola, who is supposed to be the papabile the curial Cardinals least wanted to be elected Pope, precisely because of his apparently rather fierce views on curial reform. He sounds ideal: but what do I know?

The Holy Father is obviously not rushing into the reform of the Roman Curia, and I have no doubt that he is wiser than I am in all this. He is, it seems, getting to know his Curia personally, not least importantly in the Casa Santa Marta. Perhaps I am being unduly impatient; perhaps, too, there is a touch of culpable vengefulness in my strong desire to see those who betrayed Pope Benedict struck down and sent far away from Rome to desolate parishes in swamps and industrial wastelands where they will have to do some real pastoral work rather than spending their every waking hour plotting against each other before enjoying a leisurely lunch in the Borgo Pio. The trouble is, of course, that though this might turn some of them into holy priests and save their souls, it would not in the case of others be fair on their people. In those cases, their bishop would need to keep a close eye on the situation.

Either way, the thing has to be done; and it can surely only be done on the spot by a single strong man loyal to the Pope and with his authority to act (rather than by a commission of distant cardinals at the ends of the earth). I hope and pray it will be done soon, so that the Holy Father does not have this problem on his shoulders as well as all the other cares of his office. He urgently needs it: and he deserves nothing less.