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First Step

from tomorrow's L'Osservatore Romano:

Following a suggestion made during the General Congregations that preceded the Conclave, Pope Francis has established a group of cardinals to advise him in the governance of the universal Church and to study a project for the revision of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus on the Roman Curia.This group consists of: Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, President of the Governorate of Vatican City State; Cardinal Francisco Javier Errzuriz Ossa, Archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile (Chile); Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay (India); Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising (Germany); Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa, (Democratic Republic of the Congo); Cardinal Sean Patrick OMalley, ofm Cap, Archbishop of Boston (USA); Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney (Australia); Cardinal Oscar Andrs Rodrguez Maradiaga, SDB, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa (Honduras), with the office of Coordinator; Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, with the office of Secretary.

Update:from Father Lombardi's press briefing:

Briefing press Saturday the Holy See Press Office Director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, noted that the communiqu comes exactly one month since Pope Francis' election to the Pontificate and shows that the Holy Father listens attentively to the suggestions of the College of Cardinals his closest collaborators.He also noted that the Group will have no legislative power and that its main function is to help and advise the Pope. Fr. Lombardi added that the Group will not in any way interfere in the normal functions of the Roman Curia, which helps the Pope in the daily governance of the Church.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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Theres a howler in the third sectionMaybe you could send them a note suggesting they delete the "trying"?

What guided the selection of the choices? Why did the Pope pick those people in particular?

I was disappointed to see that the first meeting won't be until October, and that the membership is limited to cardinals only (with a bishop secretary). Why not six conference presidents, also? And how many meetings will it take?Is Father Lombardi's clarification meant to suggest that the present Curial system will remain for now and perhaps even into the future since the cardinals' group is only advisory? I was under the impression that some needed reforms were urgent. But I guess "urgent" can mean a year or two in Rome. When the waiter promises to bring the bill "fra un attimo"( within a moment), count on half an hour, at least.

Patience, John Page. If Vatican Council II had been carried out on the Curia's pace it never would have happened, of course. But if it had been convened earlier, it would have ended with another condemnation of atheistic communism, permission for bishops to make minimal use of the vernacular in the Mass upon approval of the appropriate discasteries, and an appeal to the pope to appoint a few dozen more auxiliary bishops. Did I leave out anything important, Father Imbelli?Even the Romans can't work in Rome during the summer, and if the cardinals convened some place civilized, like, say Banff (send me! send me!), you can imagine the kvetching and bellyaching that would ensue from the sweltering laity.

Note:Only cardinals O'Malley and Maradiaga were among the papabile.Cardinal Pell is a super-conservative who squelched Bishop Robinson for saying the Church should reconsider some teachings.Cardinal Marx is from Pope Benedict's old diocese.The public critics of the Curia (e.g., Schoenbron) are conspicuously absent.

As John Allen notes at NCR (, Cardinals Marx and O'Malley "have played key roles in the church's response to the child sexual abuse crisis."I find the global makeup of the group (representing all six inhabited continents and including only two Europeans) both interesting and encouraging. Others here know more about the interests and views of these cardinals. I would just observe that it's common practice when forming a committee to name to the committee one or two key leaders of the "loyal opposition" so that, 1) their views are heard and accounted for, and 2) they have some degree of ownership of the decisions made.The dates for the groups first meeting are also interesting, for those of a speculative nature. If the group meets Oct. 1-3 in Rome, then isn't there a good chance the first official statement to emerge from the group's deliberations will be on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi?

I think it is a pretty strong group, and only Bertello representing the Curia in a sense (though he's not formally curial). This is pretty speedy action from a standing start a month ago, and it promises more. The language reassuring the curia is pretty standard -- they know they are under the microscope, and the curia has to work, not be abolished. This is the way the Vatican works, like many organizations -- such panels provide cover for the leader to do what he or she really wants, or cover to do nothing at all. I think this will be a case of the former rather than the latter, and I hope so. These cardinals have a variety of temperments, certainly, but they are mostly concerned with reforming the curia and share goals in that regard. And they have administrative experience, like Gracias. Interesting that O'Malley and not Dolan made the cut. The statement also made it clear that Francis is already working with them on reforms. That's obviously the smart way to go. Then you have a meeting and come out with some decisions soon after. I'm not sure how else one would expect the pope to go about this. You come into the job and don't know the people or the details of the problems. How else should he have begin this process? Two points:One, this "group" (such a funny word) is aimed at reforming the curia structurally and procedurally. That is a separate task from appointments. I've always maintained that simply appointing good and effective people to curial posts is about 90 percent of the solution. No bureaucratic system will be perfect, though the curia could be much much improved. Look to see who Francis appoints in the coming months. That is still huge. Two, one of the most important things about this announcement is the template it sets -- namely that he is adopting the kind of collaborative model that so many have been hoping for. Beyond the substance of what the group does or does not do, it is important that Francis has convened a groups of non-Romans, and one small enough to actually work, to begin this huge task.

The combination of the October 1 meeting date and the comment that "Pope Francis however is already in contact with all of the above mentioned Cardinals." may suggest that this isn't a "committee" that will get the usual remit to go off after the October meeting and come back in a year with a collective proposal, but that they may really be advisors to Francis that he can talk to day by day either individually or collectively by telephone or teleconference as he is deciding what to do. In that case, work can start right away without waiting for October.

I am too impatient. However, I don't see this decision as even in the slightest way comparable to Pope John's 25 January 1959 announcement of the convening of an ecumenical council. Pastor Bonus is a fairly brief document, though it runs roughshod in more than one instance, liturgy, for example, over the authority given to bishops' conferences by the Council and the documents for implementing the Council. That is why I would have been happy to see the inclusion of a half dozen presidents (not cardinals) of episcopal conferences.Maybe a further committee is planned for considering revisions to the College of Cardinals.

Rocco Palmo has some interesting observations about the group and about some of its members. Rocco also quotes Francis' homily of today about confronting problems, which, if he really means what he said (and what reason is there to doubt him?) is extremely good news for the Church. Speaking about disagreements among member of the earliest Church, Frances said:"'The Apostles, with the help of the Holy Spirit, responded well: they summoned the group of disciples and spoke to them. And this is the first step: when there are difficulties, we need to look closely at them, and confront them and speak about them. But never hide them."

The "Comunicato" from the Secretariat of State is interesting in that it seems to say that Pope Francis had already set up the group on his own, and that the Secretariat was reduced to simply making the announcement after the papal action was a fait accompli.

Picking up Ann's reference to this morning's homily, "L'Osservatore Romano" gives a fuller account, including these words of the Pope:"Non hanno detto: Ma, domani vedremo, pazienza. No, no. Hanno preso la decisione e il finale tanto bello: E la Parola di Dio si diffondeva e il numero dei discepoli a Gerusalemme si moltiplicava grandemente. bello. Quando ci sono i problemi, bisogna prenderli e il Signore ci aiuter a risolverli.""[the Apostles] didn't say; 'we'll see about it tomorrow, patience." No, no. They made a decision and the outcome is lovely: 'the the Word of God spread and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly.' It's lovely. When there are problems, it's necessary to take them on and the Lord will help us resolve them."

In keeping with U.S. Senate practice, adopted from the People's Republic of China, isn't this the Gang of Eight?

I'm glad to see that Francis included qualified laity, particularly women.Oh ... he didn't?

Cardinal Pell is really conservative, not just in his response to Bishop Robinson but in his response to sex abuse investigations in Australia, in his beliefs about the primacy of conscience, and as the leader of Vox Clara (the missal translation team).Cardinal Marx, on the other hand, has said some interesting things about women's ordination :) ...

Representatives from every continent seems to have been a criterion, which pretty much meant Pell would be included. Marx is head of European bishops organization, Gracias ( another papabile) of Asian bishops, Pasinya of African, all either past or present, so they were selected by peers ratherf than Pope.

Federations of bishops' conferences and other joint entities set up for inter-episcopal cooperation do not have the same status in law as individual conferences of bishops. As well, officers of episcopal conferences are chosen by the vote of each member of the particular conference. This is not true of CELAM or FABC or the European Union of Conferences, etc. I still would like to have seen six current presidents of bishops' conferences added to the working group.

John Page--I didn't realize that there are different kinds of bishops conferences. Could you tell us more about them, please.

Ann Olivier:National bishops' conferences are the primary ecclesiological instruments for addressing the pastoral needs of individual countries. However, in some areas of the world, notably Latin America, but also Asia, Europe, Oceania, national conferences of bishops have formed joint consultative bodies for the sharing of information on areas of common interest, and in the case of Latin America, even deliberative bodies that issue statements every few years on questions that affect all the conferences in the region.The Latin American union (CELAM) goes back several decades and has formal standing in Rome as a component of the Congregation for Bishops. But individual conferences of bishops, even in Latin America, remain the primary episcopal agents. Their participation in CELAM cannot, does not supersede their autonomy as individual bishops' conferences.Since I first saw the announcement, early yesterday, of Pope Francis's decision to set up a working group of cardinals to advise him on issues of governance, and particularly on a re-consideration of Pastor Bonus, the 1988 motu proprio of John Paul II on the role and functioning of the Roman Curia, I have gradually come to appreciate its vision and daring. I keep a slight fear, however, that the devolution of the Curia's role may end up benefitting the College of Cardinals to the detriment of the conferences of bishops. But, realistically, this may be the only way to start out on what could prove to be a very bold course.I have probably been too technical. And all this a bit off the top of my head, very! early on the Third Sunday of Easter.

Pastor Bonus is an Apostolic Constitution, so of higher authority than a motu proprio.

Didn't Pastor Bonus play a role in downgrading episcopal conferences? Why does Francis not pick the heads of episcopal conferences rather than cardinals (though in the case of the USA I would not like to see the current head of the episcopal conference). Pell was never the head of the Australian episcopal conference.

May I add that word of this development reached us at a conference yesterday on Vatican II at Chestnut Hill College during our first breakout session, and the timing was propitious. It was nice to have Pope Francis as an unofficial participant, particularly after so much discussion already about the regrettable recentralization following the Council at the expense of episcopal collegiality and transparency in the Church. Much regret among conference participants about only cardinals having been chosen, too. But it is a crack in the wall. It is good news.

From Pope Francis' sermon today at St. Paul Outside the WallsMi viene in mente adesso un consiglio che San Francesco di Assisi dava ai suoi fratelli: 'Predicate il Vangelo e, se fosse necessario, anche con le parole'. Predicare con la vita, la testimonianza. Lincoerenza dei fedeli e dei Pastori tra quello che dicono e quello che fanno, tra la parola e il modo di vivere mina la credibilit della Chiesa.Testo proveniente dalla pagina del sito Radio Vaticana "This brings to my mind the advice St Francis of Assisi gave to his brothers 'Preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words.' Give witness with your life. Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Churchs credibility."

John Hayes,thank you for the link. Here are some further excerpts:"Ma annunciare e testimoniare sono possibili solo se siamo vicini a Lui. Questo un punto importante per noi, dice il Papa: vivere un rapporto intenso con Ges, unintimit di dialogo e di vita. Vorrei che ci ponessimo tutti una domanda: Tu, io, adoriamo il Signore?, chiede Papa Francesco ricordando cosa significhi adorare il Signore: fermarci a dialogare con Lui, credere, non semplicemente a parole, che Lui solo guida veramente la nostra vita, vuol dire prosegue il Papa che siamo convinti davanti a Lui che il solo Dio, il Dio della nostra vita, della nostra storia. Fare questo, spiega, ha una come conseguenza nella nostra vita di spogliarci dei tanti idoli piccoli e grandi nei quali molte volte riponiamo la nostra sicurezza e che spesso teniamo ben nascosti come lambizione, il carrierismo, il gusto del successo, il mettere al centro se stessi, la tendenza a prevalere sugli altri, la pretesa di essere gli unici padroni della nostra vita e ancora qualche peccato a cui siamo legati, e molti altri.I translate the main points:"Announcing and bearing witness to Christ are possible only if we are close to Christ ... living in intense relation with Jesus, in an intimacy of dialogue and of life. I'd like each of us to put the question: you and I do we adore the Lord? convinced that he is the God of our life, of our history ... to do so is to strip away many idols, both small and large, like ambition, careerism, thirst for success, putting ourselves at the center of things, seeking to prevail over others, the pretense of being the sole masters of our own lives ... some sin to which we are attached ..."

The Vatican website has posted the homily:'s a howler in the third section of the English translation that should leap out even without consulting the Italian.P.S. has Francis' page on the Vatican site been transfigured "motu proprio?" John Page, aiutaci!


John Page --Thanks for the clarification. One more question: does the autonomy of the individual bishop take precedence over that of the national bishops conference? (I suspect this is a theological question -- or should be.)

Ann, i believe the answer is that the USCCB cannot require individual bishops to do anything unless there is a unanimous vote of all the bishops or it gets a recognitio from Rome. Bishop Bruskewitz became famous when he refused to be involved in the USCCB auditof compliance with its child bause guidelines:"[H]e rejected an audit by the Conference's National Review Board of his plans to implement national guidelines on sex-abuse programs, making reference to both the Review Board and the former president of Pace University:[13]

Some woman named Patricia O'Donnell Ewers, who is the chair of something called 'A National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People,' has said that her board 'calls for strong fraternal correction of the Diocese of Lincoln.' The Diocese of Lincoln has nothing to be corrected for, since the Diocese of Lincoln is and has always been in full compliance with all laws of the Catholic Church and with all civil laws...The Diocese of Lincoln does not see any reason for the existence of Ewers and her organization.

The issue brought his diocese to national attention. Bruskewitz was the only one of 195 bishops attending a June 2002 meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who refused to sign the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Ann Olivier, Father Imbelli:While I was at Mass, exercise at Georgetown U. (or what passes for it at this point in my life), dinner, I think all has been answered. (Four babies were baptized at Mass, including twins. "Padre Jorge" would have been right at home!)---Ann O., you may want to look at Apostolos suos (1996) regarding the authority of bishops' conferences. Cardinal Ratzinger's Congregation played the primary role in its elaboration. Commentators have seen it as placing some unwarranted limits on the role of episcopal conferences. But I will leave that to the theological judgment of our expert contributors and commenters. Two in particular! As Newman was wont to say, "You open a large subject."I was a very minor player at a meeting at the CDF with the then Prefect in mid-October, 1995. Cardinal Ratzinger was clearly concerned that in the approval of liturgical texts by bishops' conferences a two-thirds majority vote (according to the provisions then obtaining) was inadequate.I hope the link works. My computer skills are just this side of primitive.

Seven years ago, we had a discussion of episcopal conferences here: sent the following note:The issues at stake in the debate over episcopal conferences are well set out in a book that can be found on the web at wrote the preface and one of the chapters in that book.My article on Apostolos suos, which set out the official line on the theological and juridical status of bishops conferences can be found at:

Alberto Mellini has a comment on the pope's appointment of the eight cardinals, worth reading also for his coining of a new word when he speaks of those who "si stavano affrettando a bergoglizzarsi," that is, of people who "are rushing to bergogliarize themselves" ...."

Does empowering bishops' conferences put the rest of us Catholics in a better place? Is this a step towards including all of the rest of us in the decisions affecting our Church?Other than that, I could see a situation where I would rather have a Pope calling the shots than the USCCB (or vice-versa).But I guess it is always good to have more voices in our decisionmaking, even if we're not yet at a place where those voices include my own.

Many thanks, Father Joe K.--Slightly related. I believe today's meeting between the prefect of CDF and LCWR will be of interest to those who follow dotC. The communique is found on the Vatican web site. Was the prefect of Religious, Cardinal Braz de Avis, consulted?

jAK, thanks for the link to the Mellini article. He has a view of Vatican I that surprised me:"Starting in the eleventh century, the papacy took on the appearance of a monarchy: what seemed like a mere analogy became an ideology and a system of papal power.It took two councils to stop this trend: Vatican I, which strictly circumscribed infallibility and made it almost unusable; and then Vatican II, which ruled that by divine law and his episcopal ordination every bishop had the right to share with Peter and under Peter in the government of the universal church."(My translation - corrections welcome)I'm not sure that "circumscribing" was the intent of Vatican I but, in any case, the "creeping infallibilty" of more recent times means that even statements that are not infallible by the Vatican I standard require "assent."

John Page, the CDF/LCWR meeting didn't seem to change much:"Finally, Archbishop Mller informed the Presidency that he had recently discussed theDoctrinal Assessment with Pope Francis, who reaffirmed the findings of the Assessment and theprogram of reform for this Conference of Major Superiors."

John Hayes:Exactly!

Re: LCWR and CDF MeetingIt would be interesting to know - when this meeting was scheduled: before of after the election of Pope Francis.

Helen:Most likely well before, but meetings can always be cancelled, especially given the resignation of a pope and the election of his successor, a process that began on 11 February.

Correction:before of after the election of Pope Francis.

John Page:You did not need my correction which needs correction:before or after the election of Pope Francis.A search of the web brings up a blog that has a headline on this meeting: "This is huge" "Huge" is a hugely overused term today, in my opinion. It seems to me that this issue is small potatoes in light of all the issues facing our Church today.

No mention of anyone from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life at the meeting. I wonder if Fr. Rodriguez was invited?

The issues at stake in the debate over episcopal conferences are well set out in a book that can be found on the web at wrote the preface and one of the chapters in that book.My article on Apostolos suos, which set out the official line on the theological and juridical status of bishops conferences can be found at:, but both links give me error messages.

John Allen on the Group of Eight:"In some early reporting, the mission of this body has been described as helping Francis to reform the Roman Curia. Yet reading Saturday's announcement, that's not what it says. The key line states that Francis has assembled this group "to advise him in the government of the universal church," and only then "to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus."In other words, curial reform is only the second task. The first is to advise the pope on decisions about the universal church, meaning there's almost nothing that falls outside its purview.To invoke parallels from secular governments, this isn't a blue-ribbon commission assembled to handle a single task, like reforming Social Security or recommending military base closings. This is more akin to a Cabinet, a body to advise the chief executive on almost everything that comes across his desk.

Sorry, Claire: The two sites seem no longer to be viable.

Re: John Hayes 04/14/2013 - 9:46 pm:As Rocco has pointed out (Monday, April 08, 2013): ---- the pontiff named Bishop Michael Jackels of Wichita as the ninth archbishop of Dubuque.A CDF aide to the future B16 from 1997-2005, the Kansas prelate who turns 59 on Saturday succeeds Archbishop Jerome Hanus OSB, 72, at the helm of the church in Iowa, a bastion of tradition in the mostly rural outpost that's home to the famous "Field of Dreams."For a Pope whose shifts of style have won an extraordinary amount of raves from progressives, it is indeed conspicuous that Papa Bergoglio's first American personnel moves more than any other aspect of a pontificate, the place where the rubber hits the road have both gone to priests of Lincoln, a diocese that's made its name in recent decades on anything but a liberal bent.I have a lot of family living in and around Dubuque. Abp Hanus is well liked in the main and is considered to be a humble and pastoral man. While the Archdiocese of Dubuque is far from a hotbed of rampant liberalism, I do hope that they have not been inflicted with a Bruskewitz protg and wannabe! They deserve much better than that.

John Page --Thank you for the Apostolos Suos site. It will be highly relevant, I'm sure, in coming discussions of what Pope Frances does (or not) about decentralizing the Church or about making it more collegial. We should keep in mind, I think, that decentralizing the Church and making it more collegial are not necessarily the same thing.

In his homily at Domus Marthae this morning, Francis said we resist the Holy Spirit. That Vatican Ii was inspired by the Holy Spirit but we resist moving forward and there are even people who want to move backwards. He says "This is called being stubborn, this is called wanting to tame the Holy Spirit, this is called becoming fools and slow of heart." (paralleling Jesus' reproach on the road to Emmaus Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!") only, so far.

English summary (shorter than the Italian one I quoted above)

Note that in his wishes for Benedict on his birthday, "may the Love be with him" should be "may the Lord be with him"

"from tomorrows LOsservatore Romano"Doesn't it strike you as strange to be writing those words, like a time traveler?

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