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Ignore Curial Reform—It’ll Go Away

I’m so surprised, and actually disappointed, that Desmond O’Grady’s “Can Francis Cure the Curia?”—posted to the Commonweal homepage on August 31—seems to have received little or no attention. It’s important, maybe the most important thing on the horizon for the future of the Catholic church, and thus in some sense important for all the churches. Does no one have an opinion, a concern, a perspective on what is happening in this arena?

Here’s an online petition to Cardinal O’Malley to bring up the problems with how translations are being imposed. It’s not all that well-written, but least that group sees that something could change here. I wonder if there are others who are writing, asking, seeking.

And here at Commonweal the comments box is silent. I don’t get it. Are readers here uninterested in the Curia’s reform? Don’t they see that this is directly related to how, say, bishops are chosen, policies formulated and reviewed, directions implemented? We are good at complaining about the results, but apparently we have little or no interest in how these dishes are cooked up in the kitchen.

Pope Francis can be charismatic to the hilt, but if the Curia doesn’t change we will still have the same complainers pulling strings behind the scenes and calling the shots. We’ll have the same failures of collegiality, and nothing will change in the way the Church is run: It will continue to function like a renaissance court, with palace intrigue and who has got the ear of whom—and totally without transparency.

About the Author

Rita Ferrone is the author of several books about liturgy, including Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Paulist Press).



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I read O'Grady's article, I printed it out, and I will be using it in my ecclesiology course. It is really insightful. 

An aside: I often don't follow the link to "On the homepage" posts on dotCommonweal, and, when I do, can't decide where to comment. If the article doesn't show up in my reader (I use InoReader now that google's gone), I'm much less likely to engage with it. I wonder if that's true for others?

O'Grady comment (somewhat contradictory) that John Paul II fought the Curia ("The Holy Father will decide...")  ("To a large extent, he left the Curia to its own devices.."), says it all. Nice Try by John Paul II. But the Curia is still there now that he passed. No one has demonstrated how the Curia can be dealt with directly. They have more lasting power than the pope. The only solution seems to be that Francis can change the language and make the Curia irrelevant or bring them into the fold. A big change Francis is making is insisting on pastoral bishops instead of revolting automotans who never set foot in a parish. He also benefits by the legacy of John XXIII. So far his impact is prodigious. 

For my part, I'm interested in the reforms, but don't really have a specific idea of who should do what.  I hope that some "fresh blood" will be injected into curial leadership positions, and that whoever those leaders are, they are competent and have a reform approach.  Beyond that, I am waiting and watching.

My sentiments are much like those of Jim Pauwels. I am, though, convinced, that any significant positive reform of the Curia will take many years to accomplish and will probably have to be pursued in the next few pontificates. In any institution with any broad powers, changes cannot be sudden without being likely to have numerous bad unintended consequences. Hence the great value of the personal example Pope Francis is giving in his emphasis on mercy and compassion. That emphasis has immediate and life-giving consequences even before significant structural changes can be effected.

In my own case, though I find the new texts for the Mass to be awful, Pope Francis's way of expressing our faith has led me to be much less annoyed by these bad texts than I would otherwise be. Similarly, I find it less dispiriting to have as our local bishop a younish member of the "old guard" now that I kkn ow that he's not the kind of bishop Pope Francis is looking for. I remain concerned that the "old guard" will actively work to reduce the impact of Pope Francis and will try to "wait him out," hoping to have his successor undo what he is doing.

Rita --

I wonder how many of the laity realize that most of the decisions coming from "Rome" are actually made not by the popes but by curial officials, especially under the last two popes who allowed the Curia to largely run itself.  For Catholics the Curia is in effect theh pope.   

For the laity the big recent issues have been the sex scandals cover-ups, the changes in the Mass, the hot-button moral issues, and the ordination of married priests and women. But only the bishops in the Curia are allowed to make statements about those issues.  The bishops in the field have often been stymied when trying to get rid of errant priests by curial officials.  The liturgical decisions by the Curia have been extraordinarily arbitrary -- the Curia  even  disobeyed the requirement of V II that the bishops make the final decisions about changes in the Mass -- the Curia requires the bishops to submit change to it for approval!  The cowardly bishops have obeyed, and Popes JP II and Benedict let them get away with it!!!  People know that theological issues are settled in Rome, but i wonder how many know that the CDF formulates those decisions, and the popes are highly influenced by the CDF theologians.  Unfortunately, too many popes have not been master theologians and probably can't argue theology very well, Pope Benedict being a great exception.

But there's is good news.  The Pope will meet with his Group of 8 reformers on Oct. 1-3.  Reform of the Curia will be high on the agenda, with implementation of collegiality being high on the list.  Andrea Torniello reports on it over at La Stampa.  To me the best news is that the 8 members of the group have been conferring with the bishops back home.  Now if they would only get around to talking to the priests and laity. 

The engine of Curia reform is warming up - Vatican Insider

I think that the Mass should be a high priority of the Group of 8, but that looks like it will have to wait.   I haven't seen much talk about it except among the liturgists, God bless them.  I fear that the theology of the Church, which is supposed to be reflected in the Mass, is too unsettled at the moment for much positive change to be made in the Mass.  ISTM we haven't talked enough about it here, and I would welcome more input from the theologians here.   (I think that human guilt is not sufficiently taken into account in the new Mass, but I seem to be a minority of one.  I also think that the whole Caholic theology of sin needs to be looked at and revised in accordance with the discoveries of modern psych.) And then there are always the aesthetic problems with the Mass, which, truth to tell, are indeed highly subjective and/or cultural.

Why hasn't our little dotCommonweal community asked more questions about the Curia's role in the Church??  I"m not sure.  Probably one reason is that the press doesn't dover the Curia in any detail.  But the laity doesn't seem to be interested anyway.  The Curia for the laity seems to be some malign force over on another planet that has no direct influence on our lives.  But, come to think of it, except for the planet part, isn't that true?

I only see things through the lens of the issues that have caught my interest, so I cannot stand back and talk about reform in general, but I have my own agenda for the Curia:

- Dealing with the sexual abuse scandal. Immediate personnel issues: Bp Finn must resign. Abp Myers must, at least, step aside and let someone else be in charge of the diocese while his case is examined. Some Irish bishops should resign. Abp Martin should be recognized for his efforts, for example by becoming a Cardinal. Issues of dysfunction:  No diocese should have to suffer a bishop whose credibility has been shattered. A mechanism must be created by which bishops can be held accountable for cover ups.

- Freedom of speech: the CDF can criticize publications that it judges to be unorthodox but must not stifle people's creativity. People should only speak with one voice because they want to, not because they have to. All silencing orders should be promptly revoked. They harm the church.

- New Missal: bishops should be given broad latitude to deal with the mess as best as they can in their diocese, including the possibility of letting some Masses use the previous Missal if they judge it advisable.

I'm not optimistic about curial reforms, given that guys like Pell and O'Malley are on the reform team.

Ann, thank you for that link to the Vatican Insider article.  Very interesting.

I am not sure that adding more dicasteries to focus on items of pastoral importance like the laity or marriage, or "streamlining" by reducing the number of dicasteries, really gets at the root of what needs to be done.  I tend to think that what is needed is urgent focus on some of the things Claire mentioned, particularly those related to the sex abuse scandals; and putting the right people in charge of the departments that need to drive the urgent reforms.

I do support reforms that would strengthen the structures of collegiality.  Rita, I suspect this would be the path forward for any liturgical "reform of the reform of the reform".


I hardly ever go to the Commonweal home-page, so I didn't even notice the O'Grady piece. (And I also don't think of commenting there.  Perhaps I'm not alone in this...)  It will get more attention now that you've opened this thread, Rita.

Reform or lack of it is about power. You're really asking how can power be better distributed in the church? And does the church need a clear system of checks and balances?

I'm not a conservative but I think the revival of a medieval custom is in order. Issues and proposed decisions and policies should be submitted to theological facultites before the pope is able to approve them. The commen/s/analyses/proposals from the theorlogy faculties should be publicly debated for two years before any final decision. In some cases Protestant and Jewsih and possibly Muslim faculties should also be asked to respond.

Issues and proposed decisions and policies should also be submittled to a worldwide group of religious and lay people certified as working directly with the poor. Their rresponses also need to be publicly aired and discussed for two years before any final descions. This group should also be empowered to make proposals; when the certified approve the proposals by a majority of 65% the pope and theological faculties and the curia must be obliged to respiond to them and consider them for implementation.

concentrated power is dangerous and seldom used with transparency or wisdom.




Why do so many  give JP and BIVII a pass on who's running the shop?  They didn't like what was going on but were afraid to rock the boat?   How come I never had a boss like that?

You're absolutely right about the apparent lack of interest shown, but perhaps that's because the problem seems insoluble to most of us.

A former colleague of mine, now unfortunately departed this life, used to argue with me about who invented bureaucracy. He was a medievalist, and saw the Roman Church (he was a high Anglican himself) as the fons et origo, but since my field was China, I tried to persuade him that the Chinese beat the Romans to the punch by many centuries. However you come down, though, you are soon faced with examples of bureaucracies that are self-perpetuating and all too often self-aggrandizing, particularly when they serve monarchies, presidencies, prime ministers, governors, and so forth, who think they have better things to do than those dealing  with the minutiae of institutional life.

Here's a question for you: What do you think a truly reformed Curia should look like? It's easy enough to say that it should get rid of the obvious sins and occasions of sin that have weakened the Church in the past, from nepotism back then to the Vatican Bank today. Clearing away such detritus is negative job. It's less easy to say what it should do postively. Should it simply be the servant of papal policy, as the permanent civil service in Britain is (supposedly) the servant of the government in power, Labor today, Tories tomorrow?  But in Rome, that could be (and has been) very dangerous indeed, depending on the personality and vision, or lack of vision, of a particular pope.

Should it be a kind of a sounding board to advise the pope, to discuss and indeed to argue for an against, papal policies, both real and proposed? That might be the most effective and most attractive possibility, but how many popes would be willing to permit those who disagree with them to become curial officials? President Lincoln may well have chosen his cabinet officials to be a "team of rivals" as Goodwin calls them, but it's hard to imagine the average -- or indeed above-average -- pope doing the same thing.

It's interesting, by the way, that there are signs (no more than that) in China today that the powers in charge (Xi Jinping and his underlings) are trying to do something about the massive corruption that infects every level of government in that country. Or it may be that the governors are using the charge of corruption simply as a way of nailing their political enemies. Do Rome and Beijing have anything to learn from one another? (I can find many similarities in the two regimes, but won't bore you with that now).

In ancient China, one way the civil service was able from time to time to bring about reforms was to build on the belief that natural calamities and unnatural signs were manifestations of Heaven's displeasure with the reigning Son of Heaven. Floods, great fires, storms, or for that matter the appearance calves born with two heads, the arrival of dragons, and so forth, were all portents that civil servants reported up to the emperor, the clear implication being that if he didn't clean up his act (in the way the civil service thought best), worse would follow. Even today, the massive earthquake that killed some 400,000 or more people in the mining city of Tangshan in August 1976 is taken by many as a prediction of Chairman Mao's death a month later. I'm not sure there's any analogue in Rome, but perhaps the defection of massive numbers of Catholics -- particularly European, Canadian, and American, for that matter -- ought to be seen as a portent of worse to come, and the leaders of the Church encouraged to clean up their act.

But what would the role of the Curia be?


John McG. --

The idea of checks and balances in the Church is VERY interesting.  But how to implement it?  Who would check and balance whom?

I very much like your idea of having the theology faculties (NOT a CDF-like group) debate current issues.  If I know the Curia, though, only the theology faculties of the certified "pontifical universities" would be taken into account, but the others should also participate.  

ISTM that Rome would also have to include  the philosophy faculties in the debates because morality is their field.  At least the teachers of ethics and metaphysics (which it utterly foundational to everything) need to participate.  

I'd also require all of the hierarchy and theologians and relevant philosophers to become expert in the philosophy of language.  Prodigious strides have been made in the last 150 years in understanding how language is used.  Speaking from outside of theology, it seems to me that many current theological problems have huge semantic components, e.g., ecclesiology and the meaning(s) of "Church".  The new language studies have had huge positive influences on many of the other basic disciplines (e.g., political science, literature, psych, math) surely theology could also benefit, and some unnecessary debates could be avoided.  Not to mention the fact that the Curia's own specialized language, Vaticanese, with its own special modes and rules, is itself one of the great scandals of the Church.  It must be recognized for what it is and not be tolerated any longer.


Perhaps at a future stage the wider Church will be asked by the Pope and the eight CARDINALS, or some successor group, to write, ask, seek, but this hasn't occurred in advance of the three-day meeting, announced in April and now just two weeks away. Andrea Tornielli, who, I think, is uneven in his reporting, says that the eight cardinals have been consulting the bishops in their conferences. All the bishops? Or only a selected group? 

As for liturgical texts, I don't expect that the present process will get more than cursory notice, at best, during the gathering. Though it appears that whether monsignors will still be named has made the agenda. In any case, the three members of the group from conferences where the revised English Missal of 2011 is used are Cardinal Pell, president of Vox Clara, the group set up by Rome to vet the conferences' votes on the Missal texts; Cardinal Gracias, a vice-president of Vox Clara; and Cardinal O'Malley, who, as far as I know, did not speak out against the Roman-dictated process that led, after eight years, to the 27 November 2011 implementation of the revised Roman Missal.

Collegiality/synodality and Curial reform are vast undertakings. For the enacting legislation to have strong, and lasting, teeth every "t" has to be crossed and every "i" dotted. Only then will apostolic constitutions be ready for promulgation. This is the work of many months, if not several years. The meeting of 1 to 3 October will be a start. With many others, I am praying that it will be a good start.

I just don't care anymore. Over the years, I have had such awful experiences working for a Catholic university, seeing the news unfold over the sex abuse scandals, knowing nuns who are being hounded by Vatican officials, and on and on. I am someone it should have been easy for this church to keep within the "fold," given my interests, spiritual and personal inclinations, family and educational background, etc. But it's just become too tiring to try to navigate it all the time and figure out how not to be in complicity with the terrible aspects of the church while not talking about it all the time, to feel excluded so often as a woman and lay person from any meaningful input, etc. I'm just too tired to care what happens in Rome because it will have little effect on my life because I'm not actively involved in any Catholic community anymore. I am interested in things like how to live the Gospel using the best tools of the Catholic tradition and how to nourish faith when you can't stand being around church things anymore. But all these articles in Commonweal on the pope and stuff going on in Rome ... I just flip the page now. I have neither the time nor the emotional energy to invest in that anymore. 

I have a question for all of you.  It has to do with Bernard Dauenhauer’s comment:

I am . . . convinced that any significant positive reform of the Curia will take many years to accomplish and will probably have to be pursued in the next few pontificates. In any institution with any broad powers, changes cannot be sudden without being likely to have numerous bad unintended consequences.

My question:  is it necessarily true that, as Bernard suggests, more “sudden” changes would have “numerous bad unintended consequences?”  I’d like to believe that it wouldn’t have to be that way.  Part of me is saying, “let’s go for it now, while there’s an opening, a window, a chance.  This pope will soon be 77.  He may not be in office all that long.  Who knows who/what will follow, especially given the pushback we’ve already seen?”

Nicholas Clifford wrote,

What do you think a truly reformed Curia should look like? It's easy enough to say that it should get rid of the obvious sins and occasions of sin that have weakened the Church in the past, from nepotism back then to the Vatican Bank today. Clearing away such detritus is negative job. It's less easy to say what it should do positively.

I’d happily settle -- at least for openers -- for clearing away the detritus.  Hopefully that would provide some breathing space, some room, at atmosphere in which it would be more possible to move on to other, positive reforms.

Your thoughts?

Here’s an online petition to Cardinal O’Malley to bring up the problems with how translations are being imposed.

Cardinal Pell, also on the team to fix the curia, was (is?) the head of Vox Clara.

Gene ==

If the Curia is the den of vipers that it's sometimes accused of being, then maybe astute personnel changes would be the main thing that's needed.  But the quick election of Francis indicates that even in the Curia there are people who see the need for radical reform.  So maybe change won't be so traumatic. It also seems that some of the problems are structural --- too much overlap of functions, not enough communication, and other such structural traps.  

Pope Francis is said to be an excellent administrator so I'm hoping he'll restructure it wisely.  i really don't see why, give a lot of determination on his part, it can't be changed fairly quickly.  I expect him to make the Curia a tool for the hierarchy, not the other way found, which should satisfy the bishops.

However, implementing collegiality itself is likely to be problematic because there are some extremely powerful egos among the extra-curial bishops, and human nature being what it is, there will probably be a ;jockeying for power within the hierarchy after the Curia's wings are clipped.  In other words, just because the power of the curial bureaucrats is broken that doesn[ mean that power struggles in the Church will cease.  

That's another reason why I hope that the function of the theologians in the Church will be better defined and defined quickly -- they should have a *right and duty* to speak candidly to the hierarchy about what is and isn't competent theological assumptions.  Maybe they could supply some checks  and balance to the workings of a newly powerful hierarchy.

And somehow, somewhere, the priests should have a forum in which they have a right to speak.  Not to mention the laity.  In this Age of Communication all of the elemens need their spaces.


It occurs to me that if the bishops object to having the theologians expressing their views about  what the the bishops should thingk and do, then maybe they should not be part of the hierachy's structure but should become another advisory arm of the popes, independent of the bishops.  Or is that really asking for trouble?

More important than what they decide is who decides it.  My understanding is that staff in the curia is about 20% women?  And none of the top positions are staffed by women?  Up  both of those numbers (total staff/ leadership) to 50%

If the right people are making the decisions, most of the decisions will be right.



"Pope Francis is said to be an excellent administrator so I'm hoping he'll restructure it wisely."

I have see very little commentary about his administrative skills except a kind of back-handed  comment by Cardianl Dolan who said that the cardinals also thought they were electing a dynamic manager, and so far the pace of change has been slower than some expected.

There are more comments about his pastoral skills. Maybe his administrative skills may not be the kind that are expected.

I think his waiting a bit to makes changes is perfectly reasonable.  Even if he was hired for a clean-up, he would be really foolish to start making sweeping changes right away. Taking six months or so to understand the business he's now running - to know what's broken and what's not- before he starts fixing- shows pretty good sense.  I don't  think his grace period's over yet.

I think a big contributor to the lack of comment on curial reform is that much of it is "inside baseball." To the typical Catholic in the pew, the workings of the Vatican Bureaucracy is really not that relevant except until it makes decisions like the new Mass translation (almost unintelligible) or is implicated in some scandal.  I suspect that almost everyone would agree that "something needs to be done" but in some ways it is not dissimilar to the way people feel about the local Motor Vehicle Department.  When you have to wait in a 20 minute line to renew your license ort change your registration you think they ought to blow the place up and start over.  Bu tfor the next 3 years or however long before you go back, you could care less.  Far more important in my view is replacing bishops who view their roles as middle managers for Vatican Inc with true pastors, even to the point of firing a few of the worst offenders, maiking it clear that cultural warriors can expect to watch from the sidelines while pastoral bishops will have access and influence.  pastoral bishops can effectively minimize the negative and accentuate the positive decisons of the curia within theri own diocese, I suspect, as they have done forever. 

Some random thoughts re Curia:

Recently the pope has implied that the approach to divorced and remarried persons may take a more merciful (pastoral) approach.

Isn't that issue decided in Cardinal Burke's congregation?

I recall that last year (April, 2012) there was some talk about tightening up the annulment process at a meeting that the Cardinal attended.

(I'm looking for some recent pics of the good cardinal to see if he is following the new fashions for clerics at the Vatican.)

I guess what has me in a "wait and see if anything actually happens" mode is really simple: it doesn't seem to have even occurred to Francis that having a group of cardinals "reform" the curia is itself same-old, same-old. It's not like they are in any way representative of the people who live where they run the show.

Where are the lay people, a.k.a. the vast majority of the People of God?

Similarly, if he really does think that women are so darned important to the Church, why wouldn't women have a voice in its administrative reform? Especially since he seems intent on keeping women OUT of the ordinary structures of leadership. Sorry, being on staff isn't enough. Gotta have voice and vote, and so far it's only the same old men who rose up in the messed-up structure who have either. 

Helen --

The reports on Francis' executive abilities that I've seen usually comment that his method is essentially that of a Jesuit --  he collects information from everyone involved, mulls over it, makes his own decision, then implements it forcefully.  It is also often said that he gets into details himself and communicates directly.  That all sound consistent with his behavior so far.

The one thing that has alarmed me is his appointment of Cardinal Pell to the Group of 8.  Pell is sometimes conservative to the point of irrationality, and I think C. Tagle or one of the Indian cardinals would have been a better choice.  But I suppose it is a good thing ot have all sides represented, including the extreme conservatives.  Sigh.

As to the divorced-remarried problem, I read this week that he said that it has to be considered  as part of a reconsideration of marriage as a whole.  And that sounds like a good idea to me too.

I say that however strong his conservative instincts are, his heart is in the right place, and no doubt some progress will be made.  Just to slam on the brakes to stop the recent ultra-conservative movement of recent popes will be a great accomplishment.

One thing about him that is constantly remarked upon is that he is an enormously great-hearted man, for which we are all grateful, no doubt.  But people forget that before he became a priest he was a chemist by trade -- a scientist!  Scientists generally have a great respect for  reason and don't make decisions strictly by feelings.  So I don't expect him to make all his decisions on the basis of whata his "heart" tells him (whatever "heart" means).  He'll be quite rational in making his decisions, another mark of a good executive.  And isn't that what we should expect from a Jesuit.

"But people forget that before he became a priest he was a chemist by trade -- a scientist!'

When it was announced that the new pope was a Jesuit, being the Phildelphia Catholic that I am, I went to the St. Joseph's Univerisity website a few hours later.  On a sidebar was a tweet by the Admisssions Department:

#FrancisI studied chemistry before starting seminary.  Are you a budding scientist? Study chem at SJU!

Effective curial reform will only happen by using the Old Guard's worldview against them.  What I mean is that service in the Curia should be recognized as a diaconal ministry (which is what it is) and that those serving there be in the office of deacon, save a few who entered other offices because of pastoral duties prior to their curial service.  It would change the dynamics of the way the Curia relates with local bishops when the curial official no longer is a bishop, archbishop or cardinal himself, but a deacon in the Pope's service. 

@ Gene:  First of all, "curial reform" is way too much inside baseball for most folks.  Not on the radar screen for most Catholics - at all.

Albeit critical for the elites to the future of the Catholic Church, curial reform is not something that affects the everyday lives of the vast majority of Catholics.  Mainly, because most of us have moved on in our lives ... from especially the clerical hegemony that dominates the internal politics of the church, that continues to disrespect our basic humanity, especially for women.

The salient issues for most of us sheeple in pews regarding the Catholic Church seems to me to be the safety of our children around priests;  Will there be a priest there to baptize and marry our children? Will there be priests to bury us when the time comes; Will we be able to receive Communion when we do attend Mass? Will our children and grandchildren have a place to learn and practice the corporal works of mercy? etc. ...  Those kind of things.

I deeply believe that the Catholic priesthood must be reformed from parish to pope if the church is to even survive till the end of the century.  The meaningful reform of the curia can only take place AFTER reform of the priesthood is realized.  What are we Catholics up against:  Indeed, the priesthood today is dangerously alienated and hopelessly irrelevant to lives of millions of Catholics and Christians around the globe.  

I don't believe that the hierarchy even has the capacity anymore to reform itself.  Reform of the curia, as contemplated in most of the postings on this blog, is more akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titantic.  

If any meaningful reform of the priesthood that takes place it will have to come from the PEOPLE - not from any hierarchs, and that includes Papa Francesco - despite all his obvious pastoral genius.  

Will the hierarchs and clerics in the church have the faith and confidence in the People to entrust to them the lead for the renewal and reform of the priesthood?  I don't think so.  I have no reason to believe that the hierarchs are even capable of this leap of faith.  I'm very skeptical if the collective will and courage can be summoned from among the hierarchy to make this required act of faith.  It will require the hierarchs and clerics to relinquish centuries of political power to the People. 

The papacy of Papa Francesco will not solely be enough, or even several like-mined pontiffs, to achieve the necessary reforms.  How could Bergoglio have risen to rank of cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, then be elected pope without the support of the most reactionary elements in the hierarchy?  And now how could Francesco so easily turn his back on the very men who shepherded his rise to the papacy?

Not going to happen.  Francesco, if he has really set his eyes on reform, can only encourage the People to take the lead.  It up to us to take matters into our own hands.

I have only a faith that we Catholics can reach this historic achievement.  All of us must help.  We must do what we have always done:  Teach.  Pass on the Gospel, the Beatitudes, and the corporal works of mercy to new generations.  Work for the day when new voices will be valued and heard in the church of our birth.


How to reform the Curia?

#1:  stop assuming that a curia is necessary.

#2:  figure out how the church could be restructured without a curia.

#3:  if that can't happen completely, then permit only those functions that absolutely cannnot be managed by geographical bishops' conferences.

Simplistic?  yes.  But to keep on assuming that a curia is indispensible ensures rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, not true reform.

Question:  is the objective of reform to be efficiency or integrity?

Jim McCrea:

There is a lot of wisdom in what you're suggesting.  

My own fantasy would be for Papa Francesco to order the forced resignation of every cardinal, bishop, priest in the Roman curia effective over a specific length of time and ask each to return to his home diocese where he would need to engage in some kind of pastoral work with real people.

Then Papa Francesco should as each diocese around the world to nominate each a man and woman to serve in the curia.  Then turn the Roman curia into the world's most effective NGO putting thousands of young men and women serving the interests of the world's poorest societies.

I'd like to respond to a few of these comments; although I don't have time to go into them all, I am gratified to see so many people weigh in on this -- thank you to everybody.

First of all, I'd like to dispel the notion that Jim Jenkins and others have voiced, that the Curia doesn't have anything to do with ordinary Catholics and their lives. That's completely untrue. They are involved in everything concerning Church governance, from deciding what words we use to pray the Mass, to what doctrines are proposed as binding on the faithful and what happens when these are challenged, to how church discipline functions, to the canonization of saints. The ecclesiastical court system is within the Curia, as well as doctrine, liturgy, dialogue, and charitable works. If you are Catholic, you are being affected somehow by the Curia -- positively and negatively, in big ways and in small ways. Often the Curia is the "hidden hand" behind decisions that affect us all. Look at this list of what is included in the Curia, and you'll see it has a vast range of areas of influence:

Second, although the idea that we should throw out all these institutions is certainly one point of view, this neglects the fact that there are some genuine needs being met by a central system, and we would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Neither is it simply a case of "put better people in those offices and better things will issue forth from them" -- it's not purely a personnel or staffing problem.

Finally, I agree with Gene Palumbo, the time for Francis to do something is now. He can do something, the opportunity is here. Act on it. My fear is that the group of eight -- seeded with bishops from a wide-range of places, will be cowed into business-as-usual and nothing-much-can-be-done by the insiders (and Pell, despite being based in Australia, has his own house in Rome and is as much of an insider as any curial Cardinal). But we'll see. 


Neither is it simply a case of "put better people in those offices and better things will issue forth from them" -- it's not purely a personnel or staffing problem.

Rita - what is it, in your view?




Well, Rita Ferrone ... Maybe in your world, but in my world of family and friends, I can't name one person whose life is significantly affected by "[anything] concerning Church governance."  Most people go about their lives with little or no care about what goes on along the Tiber River.

99% of Catholics couldn't even tell you what the Roman curia is, or does.  Haven't you ever watched The Tonight Show where Jay Leno goes "Jaywalking" and he encounters folks on the street who can't even identify who George Washington or Abraham Lincoln is? 

The "ecclesiastical court system'??? Really???  Please, talk about a vestigial organ on the Body of Christ!  Ask all the survivors of priestly sexual abuse how much justice and reconciliation, redress of grievances and due process they ever received from that pack of useless clerics.

The "hidden hands" of the curia, for sure!  Do you know that that term historically refers to the "Illuminati," the Free Masons, and the Mafia?  Will we ever know how many "hidden hands" were involved in the seemingly forced retirement of B16?

Let's get real [as we used to say back in the 60's]:  The Roman curia neither adds or subtracts to our lives.  How do we know that?  If they all disappear tomorrow, 99.99999999% of Catholics would go about their lives without missing a beat.

That being said, I also agree with Gene Palumbo that the time for Francesco to move on reform and renewal is at hand.  Francesco is right to distance himself from "all abortion and all birth-control, all the time" moral stances.  The Church is dying out here - it's time for action.

Maybe I didn't explain this very well.

The point is not whether people think about or know about or care about the workings of the Curia. Just like the Federal Government or Con Edison, most people do not know or want to know that much about how it operates. But the decisions they make have an impact on the whole. If a system has problems or corruption, there are negative consequences. If they do work well, we benefit. 

Jim P., thanks for your question.

I think the system needs more transparency and should be recalibrated to respond to the local churches' needs. Rather than trying to centralize control, the system could give some of its prerogatives back to the bishops' conferences, and to local bishops, and to other stakeholders. Jack Marth and Ann Olivier brought up the role of theologians. Great example. 

Back when there were regional synods of bishops, there was grumbling among the Asian bishops that what they said on the floor never made it into the minutes. This sort of spin-doctoring has to stop. But who watches the watchman? We need to give attention to such questions.

Pope Francis himself today made mention of the orthodoxy complaints coming to Rome as if they are the police. Well, we have the Curia to thank for that; they've been giving preferential treatment to complainers over orthodoxy for as long as I can remember. Redemptionis Sacramentum, a work of the Curia released when John Paul II was in his dotage, tells people explicitly to complain to Rome, not to their local bishop, if there are liturgical abuses. Guess who gets more power that way? 

I certainly don't have answers, but these are some issues that need systematic review and attention.

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