The Pope’s advisers have finally created a blueprint for reform. But what’s in it?
To say the progress report on reform of the Roman Curia that appeared last week at the press office of the Holy See was short on specifics would be something of an understatement. The presentation of the work of the “C9” Council of Cardinal Advisers on the new framework for the Church’s central governing bureaucracy was not so much missing particulars as almost entirely lacking in them, apparently quite deliberately so.
We have learned that a draft document is finished and awaiting the Holy Father’s questions, remarks and revisions. We know it is a draft of a new apostolic constitution whose working title is Praedicate Evangelium (“Preach the Gospel!”).
The briefing package also contained a short history of reform under Francis, which is far more interesting for what it leaves out than for what it includes.
One thing it does include is a laundry list of reform milestones already reached during Francis’s five-year reign: things like the creation of the Cosea – the Commission for Reference on the Organisation of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See – which was at the centre of the infamous VatiLeaks trial. The commission was troubled almost from day one and folded not long after its creation. None of that history came up in the rehearsal. The list mentions the creation of the office of auditor general – a first for the Vatican – but doesn’t mention that the first person to hold that position, the highly regarded former Deloitte CEO Libero Milone, was forced to resign and threatened with legal action for doing what he says was only his job.
The list mentions the creation of the Secretariat for Communications, but skates over the “Lettergate” fake news scandal that led to the resignation of the secretariat’s first prefect, Mgr Dario Edoardo Viganò (hand-picked for the job by Pope Francis).
The list mentions two reforms connected to the fight against clerical sexual abuse: the creation of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, from which two founding members resigned in protest before their terms were up, and which has been the focus of scrutiny especially since the abuse scandal in Chile burst onto the international scene (though none of that came up in the summary); and the motu proprio “As a loving mother”, which provides on paper for the removal and prosecution of bishops guilty of negligence (or worse) in cases of abuse, but – the summary also did not say – appears thus far to have been rather underused.
The summary also discussed the criteria the Holy Father has set for the reform, though mention of an idea that has seemed to be a guiding principle of the work was conspicuous by its absence: this being “organisational clarity”, by which Pope Francis intends respect for each dicastery’s particular area of competence “on the basis of the principle that all dicasteries are juridically equal”. That sounds nice, but – at the risk of sounding like a broken record – the fact is that if the bureaucracy is going to function, some dicasteries will have to be more equal than others. Its omission from the summary may indicate a quiet abandonment of the principle (and that might not be a bad thing).
Press office director Greg Burke’s briefing notes mentioned that Cardinal George Pell was absent from the latest C9 meeting. Cardinal Pell is at home in Australia facing charges of sexual misconduct that are decades old and highly contested.
All other members of the C9 were present, including Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, who is implicated in the Chilean theatre of the clerical abuse and cover-up scandal.
C9 member Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston is connected to Chile as well, insofar as he leads the Commission for the Protection of Minors and supposedly delivered a letter from Chilean abuse victim Juan Carlos Cruz to Pope Francis in 2015. This complicates Francis’s claims in January 2018 that no victims had ever come to him directly with evidence of the wrong-doing of which they accused Bishop Juan Barros and others – including Cardinal Errázuriz, whose continued participation in the council is baffling to Vatican watchers.
Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa is also accused of impropriety – financial in nature – and is too close for comfort to his auxiliary bishop Juan José Pineda, who is accused of sexual misconduct against seminarians and priests, as well as of financial misdeeds. Both men deny all the allegations.
Other members of the Council of Cardinal Advisers have taken serious hits of late.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising recently found himself on the receiving end of a curial smackdown delivered at the explicit behest of Pope Francis by Archbishop Luis Ladaria SJ, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This was over the German bishops’ attempt to allow Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion in German Catholic churches.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin also has his hands full these days with major diplomatic crises including the controversial détente with China.
Meanwhile, we are assured that the work is well in hand.