When it comes to curial reform, one dicastery must always reign supreme

Pope Francis leads a meeting of the C9 council of cardinals in 2017 (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)

And the rumour is that it will be a new 'super-dicastery' for evangelisation

A senior papal adviser let slip that the reform of the Vatican bureaucracy with which his electors tasked Pope Francis at the start of his pontificate will come soon — possibly as soon as June 29 — setting off a round of parsing, commentary, and speculation.

The senior adviser was the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, one of two cardinal members of the C6 Council of Cardinal Advisers to which Pope Francis delegated the drafting of the reform law, to speak to Spain’s leading Catholic weekly, Vida Nueva.

While we wait to see the full spread in Vida Nueva — which drops Saturday — it’s a good idea to review what we already know about the coming reform.

Its overarching goal is said to be twofold: to streamline the bureaucracy and make it fit for service to the local Churches and the universal Church. That is fine. The principles driving the reform effort, however, make one wonder whether any structure or system animated by them can work.

Pope Francis himself articulated the principles driving the reform in a 2016 Christmas allocution to the Roman Curia, in which he stated: “On the basis of the principle that all dicasteries are juridically equal, a clearer organisation of the offices of the Roman Curia was needed, in order to bring out the fact that each dicastery has its own areas of competence.”

The juridical equality of all dicasteries may look fine on paper, and could sound sweetly in some ears. The fact is, however, that it cannot be the principle on which a functioning bureaucracy is built. The Roman Curia exists to assist the Roman Pontiff in governing the universal Church. It is an organ — a tool — of governance. It is a power structure.

Not to put too fine a point on it: the talk of all dicasteries being juridically equal has the ring of Orwellian dystopia about it — as though the man directing the reform read Animal Farm and mistook it for a handbook.

Some dicasteries — the thing bears repeating — must be more equal than others.

One specific of the reform anticipated in the Vida Nueva teaser and the anteprima from Crux seemed to acknowledge this fact. Both report there is to be a “super-dicastery” for evangelisation, which will take pride of place in the new order. The Pontifical Council for New Evangelisation is to be absorbed by what is now the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, which is apparently slated to become the senior of the new super-dicasteries.

Just exactly how the new super-dicastery for evangelisation is supposed to be above the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — the former Holy Office of the Inquisition, still styled La Suprema in Roman circles — remains to be seen. It is apparent, however, that the principal draftsmen of the Apostolic Constitution, Praedicate evangelium, by which the reform is to be effected, believe the evangelisation department will be — at the very least — in some sense, primus inter pares. This is going to take some getting used to.