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Council of Cardinals: Real curial reform is coming.

Pope Francis's Council of Cardinals will recommend major changes to the Roman Curia, not merely "cosmetic" ones, according to Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi, SJ. The cardinals won't suggest "marginal modifications" to Pastor Bonus, John Paul II's 1988 document reforming several aspects of the Curia. Instead, Lombardi explained, they're planning to write a whole new constitution "with significant new aspects."

Guiding these reforms will be an ethic of service--a theme Francis touched on in his recent interview. The idea is to refashion the Curia "in terms of subsidiarity, rather than the exercise of centralized power," Lombardi said. To that end, the Council of Cardinals will discuss the possibility of creating a moderator for the Curia who would facilitate communication between the various dicasteries--and the pope. (Paging Cardinal Kasper.)

It looks like the Secretariat of State will get a makeover too. The office “should be the secretariat of the pope; the word State should not give rise to doubt. This body serves the pope in the governance of the universal church," according to Lombardi.

The role of the laity also featured in the council's deliberations, "so that this dimension of the life of the church is properly and effectively recognised and followed by the governance of the church," Lombardi said. In the run-up to the meeting, the eight cardinals received many suggestions and questions on this subject, which, according to Lombardi, could result in the "strengthening" of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

The Council of Cardinals will meet again in December, and again in February, but, Lombardi cautioned, that doesn't mean its members won't communicate with one another--and with the pope--in the meantime.

That Santa Marta phone bill is going to be a doozy.

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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I sincerely hope that we see some significant recognition of the value and contributions of the laity and that this recognition translates into increase participation in and influence over the highest levels of church governance.  Otherwise it will be just another exercise in rearranging the deck chairs.

The idea of "new evangelization" could be given a shot in the arm by Rome's sending a signal that rampant clericalism is no longer the law of the church.

Talk is cheap...

The world's oldest continuous ruling feudal oligarchy and beauracracy is not going to go away without a fight.  

As much as I would like to believe that Francesco has the political and pastoral skill to make things happen along the Tiber, I remain skeptical.  

Remember this is same crew who over time [really the last 40 years ever since Wojtyla was elected] has effectively strangled and left for near dead the great aggiornamento of Vatican2.

As mentioned already, I fear that this so-called Council of Cardinals is more about re-arranging the proverbial deck chairs on the Titantic.

The requisite reform the Catholic Church desperately needs: The Catholic priesthood must be reformed and renewed from parish to pope.  The key to untying this Gordian knot of a pastoral problem is a complete revolution in Church thinking about the role of women in the church.

If Francesco is really interested in making a change:  LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!

I think I'll try to find a comfortable deck chair from which to watch the Roman kabuki dancing about to begin in Rome ...

Two references to the deck chairs of a sinking ship so far.

It may turn out that at least some of the reforms will leave us scratching our heads.  The cardinals all have at least one foot planted in the workings of the Holy See, and we don't, so they see things from a different point of view than we do.  I confess I can't immediately identify what impact on my life a reform of the Secretariat of State is going to bring about.  But I'll give it a chance to bring about some good.

Well Blackburn, what metaphor do you think is most appropriate?

Very early on Francesco said that the church can't remain so self-referential.  If this reform movement becomes about the clerics and the curia, it will be doomed - another exercise in "solemn nonsense."

Reforming the curia sounds impressive, but real change in the issues that have caused the most dissent in the church .... the way the church has been dealing with women's ordination, LGBT people, sex abuse, enforced celibacy for clergy .... doesn't seem to be happening.  Today I saw a story in the Tablet ...  .... which basically says the church will never alloow women to be priests   :(

Crystal:  your link (correct btw) won't take the non-subscriber to what is essentially a free article.  Who knows why?  However, I opened my subscription and here is the article for the benefit of other readers:


Latest News

Lehmann rules out women priests

3 October 2013

Women's ordination would split the Church, Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz has warned.

Asked in an interview with the German Catholic Church's official internet portal when he thought the Church would allow women to become priests, Cardinal Lehmann said that, although he personally could imagine it happening, as a Catholic theologian he did not see how the Church could change the teaching of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

But he said women's ordination must not be made a yardstick of women's standing in the Church. "I wish we could have been definitive on the ordination of women as permanent deacons. The discussion over the last 20 or 30 years has been too slow for my taste ... Meanwhile we must open all the other important positions there are in the Church for women."

Asked to evaluate the first six months of Pope Francis's papacy, Cardinal Lehmann said Francis had made a strong start but it was worth remembering that as regards spiritual renewal, theological world vision and analysis of the Church's place in the world, Pope Benedict XVI "did a great deal which will have a lasting place in the future Church."

Pope Francis's "impulses and charismatic impacts" must now lead to renewal, he stressed.


Of course, the last time I looked, Lehmann is not the final word on these things.

Thanks, Jim!  :)

I'm sure that the captain of the Titanic wasn't too worried about the placement of the deck chairs, but this man had a legitimate concern:   "He who travels in the barque of Peter had better not look too closely into the engine room."   Msgr. Ronald Knox

 It is about time that this is taken into account: “Quod omnes tangit debet ab omnibus approbari.”

I like them against the Pirates. With Francis, they have a full lineup.

Jim Jenkins (6:01 p.m.): The deck chairs on the Titanic are a metaphor for useless activity in a crisis. Reforming the Curia is not, right off the bat, a useless activity, since everyone on the left and right and in the center seems to agree it is necessary, even if they disagree about how the Curia should change.

It might be argued that no matter what Pope Francis does, the Curia, like a waterbed, will resume its old shape when he gets off of it. But that would call for Sisyphus as the metaphor, not the Tintanic, ainna?

The important thing here is that Pastor Bonus is dead, collegiality is restored, and Vatican II is going to be implimented, showing the continuity of Francis with The Popes of Vatican II.  The most important consequence of this development is that history will show that the papacies of John Paiul II and Benedict XVI were aberations. They were bumps in the road to the full implementation of Vatican II, driven by egos of two Popes who favored power over collegiality, and tried to undo the work of the Holy Spirit with their perverse interpretation of the hermeneutic of Vatican II.    They have a lot to answer for.  And BTW it is for this reason that I think it is a great disservice to John XXIII that he will be canonized on the same day as JPII, who worked assiduously against John XXIII's view of the Church.  In my opinion each should have his own canonization ceremony.

Alan, do you think they should be canonized at all? 

Grant wrote, "That Santa Marta phone bill is going to be a doozy."

Not necessarily.   Skype, anyone?

Remember that the operating priciple for this pope is mercy. He may be strong minded and strong worded but he is also politically shrewd from working under a cruel dictatorship and striving to save some victms of that dictatorship.


It is merciful to canonize both at the same time, signalling that the partisans of both belong in the church.


It is politically shrewd to canonize both at the same time. The partisans of the anti-Vatican II pope will have a harder time using "their" pope as a dissident rallying point. I would suspect that any future parishes that want to name thmeselves after one of these popes will have to name themselves after both.


In a sense these two to-be-canonized popes are the thesis and the antithesis, and Francis will produce the synthesis. Mainly by incorporating the reforms of Vatican II, since those against the reforms have merely re-installed the pre-Vatican II habits in need of reform.


Above all the pope wants to emphasize practice and not ideology.

It has been announced that the Council of Cardinals will meet again from 3 to 5 December. Then, a third meeting in February. They are setting a brisk pace.

The year was 1965 and my classmates and I were lining up for the procession into Boston's cathedral for the ordination of deacons to the priesthood. There had been great foment in the seminary that year with the pro and anti aggiornamento crowds dueling it out with each other. A buddy of mine turned to me and said, "It all looks like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic". I agreed, but as it turns out the ship is still operational though it has suffered (and caused) untold damage. Think of the iceberg as a symbol for the countless victims of churchmen.

We should not have unrealistic expectations for institutional reforms because they involve people and people can mess things up badly, even with the best of intentions. Francis has already driven several rhetorical nails into the coffin of clericalism and monarchical government of the church. I think we should also give JPII and BXVI a little credit for their efforts to deal with some of the crazier initiatives spawned in the wake of VII. In the early 70's it was really beginning to look and feel chaotic with an "anything goes" mentality spreading far and wide. Unfortunately, they went too far and anti-renewal forces in the curia were unleashed to do lots of damage.

I believe we will see lot of laymen and women appointed to significant positions in a new curia which will clearly missioned to be of service to the Pope and the bishops. I have a feeling that he's going to do some innovative things with cardinals and may even change the rules of papal elections to involve greater representation. I think he may name some "ordinary" bishops as cardinals, rather than rewarding only those with large dioceses. Maybe he'll name the bishop of Little Rock or DesMoines or Oklahoma City. That would send a signal about careerism, huh?

Jack Foley:  San Francisco has always felt snubbed that its imcumbant Abp has never been made a cardinal.

I hope that Francis doesn't have a change of heart about that UNTIL the current occupier of the chair has moved elsewhere.

"It is merciful to canonize both at the same time, signalling that the partisans of both belong in the church."

I realize this may sound 'snarky' but since when does canonization have anything to do with keeping people happy? I am appalled that JPII was 'fast-tracked' to sainthood and even more so because it was initiated by his closest confidant. I would honestly appreciate some one explaining to me 1) Why the 'normal' canonization process  was tossed aside for JPII, and 2) why, oh why did Rome find it necessary to canonize both Pope John XXIII, who initiated Vatican II, and JPII, who tried to erase it, on the same day?



I believe we will see lot of laymen and women appointed to significant positions in a new curia which will clearly missioned to be of service to the Pope and the bishops. I have a feeling that he's going to do some innovative things with cardinals and may even change the rules of papal elections to involve greater representation. I think he may name some "ordinary" bishops as cardinals, rather than rewarding only those with large dioceses. Maybe he'll name the bishop of Little Rock or DesMoines or Oklahoma City. That would send a signal about careerism

That should be the organizational trajectory all right and that would be a very good start. It needs to begin with clear vision and it seems that Francis is doing that extraordinarily well. Now we just needs leaders with the skills, resources, and planning to implement this vision and it will be set. But Francis is definitely doing his part as a strong leader in terms of modelling and articulating a clear vision. Lets just hope the senior leadership is on board with a strategy!

The whole tenor of these Pope Francis reorganization conversations is that leadership should be broadened and more inclusive; that ordinary people and excluded groups should have more of a voice in church governance.

Yet now that we see a concrete instance of hierarchs listening to what people are asking for, folks gripe about it.  Those outcries for sainthood for JPII from hundreds of thousands in St. Peter's Square were real.  What better basis is there for declaring someone a saint than (to not coin a phrase) to let the people decide?

I remember a Commonweal editorial, probably from the days of Margaret's stewardship, whose title was, iirc, "Pio NoNo".  It argued against the canonization of Pius IX, in part because there was pretty much no evidence of an actual cultus - an actual popular following.  So to summarize, we exclude one guy from the canon of saints because too few people love him, and we exclude another guy from the same canon because ... too many people love him?  I take it that the only people who should be declared saints are when *the right* people love him?

Btw, I find the assertion that JPII "tried to erase" the Second Vatican Council, pretty amazing.  What are some concrete instances of his trying to undo Vatican II?  I've always thought that the key to understanding his pontificate was that he tried to implement Vatican II.


Jim P - "....he tried to implement VII....."

The histories on this have yet to be written and you can find folks across a broad continuum.  But, allow me to list a few things that historians will eventually weigh:

(VII laid out principles but not the actual step by step directives, action plans, etc)

- Collegiality/Subsidiarity - VII proposed that episcopal conferences be empowered to make decisions about their local affairs e.g. liturgy, pastoral guidelines, etc.   (JPII never allowed this; in fact, read Pastor Bonum and you see that he continued to solidify and centralize power in the curia/Vatican

- Synods - Paul VI idea flowing from VII.  JPII allowed the curia to gut this idea - they were carefully controlled, limited, etc. and became mere mouthpieces for curial policies

- Liturgy - would agree that he did not undo but by the late 1990s, he had appointed or allowed curial folks to turn back the clock e.g. Liturgicam Authenticam; disbanding ICEL, Vox Clara, at least two CDW heads who had no liturigical training, and overriding episcopal conferences on liturgical decisions (effectively squashing any type of VII enculturations)

- Curia  - probably his greatest failure along with sexual abuse.  Historians will probably show that he ignored the curia; appointed men who were ambitious, careerists, clericalists (key was loyalty and his orthodoxy litmus test rather than strong, spiritual, pastoral leaders).  This resulted in appointments of bishops around the world who implemented VII per their own ideologies, partisan biases, etc.  We continue to suffer from this trend.

- Sexual abuse - okay, separate from the question about VII implementation

- 1983 Canon Law Revision - he really did not have much to do with this but this revision did not always produce canons that reflected what the council fathers and the VII principles laid out

- Significant loss of catholics and participation - okay, again, probably separate from VII implementation but another area that gets overlooked... something happened during his exceedlingly long papacy resulting in millions leaving the church.  Think that historians will analyze and draw insights that connect failure to implement VII to this pattern (compare to the current reaction to Francis....JPII drew millions to his world jaunts but they were one time supershows that appeared to have little impact on the local churches or appealed to a small minority of catholics.

- Ecumenism - think that you can make an argument for fulfilling VII goals

- Interface with the world - think that historians will judge this as implementing VII but also as a mixed bag e.g. fall of communism; clearly addressing bio-ethical questions; world finances; supporting the disadvantaged; addressing a culture of death and individualism.  OTOH, he too often reacted poorly to regional initiatives - liberation theology; theologians working on the edges with gender, sexual ethics issues, etc.

I wonder if the phrase - let the people decide - is just a truism that covers over lots of things.  Yes, folks in the emotions of JPII's death, screamed for sainthood.  But, at least until JPII changed the process, sainthood, by design, was a slow process that took hundreds of years resulting in careful analysis, histories, knowledge, and a balanced approach (yes, realize that you can  find exceptions to this).What we see now is that lots of folks did not call for his immediate sainthood (they just didn't happen to be in Rome).  Can think of one other glaring problem with this truism - the dogma of Mary's assumption.  Per history, this originated from the people and eventually was pronounced (behind the scenes, many scripture scholars, theologians, and some bishops questionned the wisdom of this dogmatic pronouncement and its impact on ecumenism and subesquent to modern scriptural exegesis/research methods)


Thanks Bill for documenting the roll back so completely.  We need to remember, too, that since 1981 JPII was aided and abetted by Josef Ratzinger, who then aggressively pursued the undoing of Vatican II when he succeeded JPII.  

We were always taught that the Church's teachings that carried the most weight were those of the Extraordinary Magisterium, of which the Pope gathered with the bishops in council forms one part.   I find it remarkable that two Popes working in tandem could have done so much to undermine Vatican II. Thank God that Francis is getting us back on track.

- Ecumenism - think that you can make an argument for fulfilling VII goals

Can I nominate this for understatement of the year?

Mark - think that you will find experts on both sides of this evaluation.  JPII accomplished some dramatic, public gestures......but, the proof is in the structures and movement towards understanding.

But, compared to Benedict, yes, JPII was miles ahead.  Benedict approached the issue as if it was a theological debate and was too concerned with sparsing theological terms to protect the institution.

Thanks, Alan......guess the tension between papal power and councils have been going on since well before Trent with no resolution...the pendulum appears to swing from one side to the other.

My issues with Benedict have to do with his self-appointment as theologian of the church and of VII...thus, we, the church, have had to endure Benedict's biased and skewed re-interpretation of VII (which, to be charitable, was not the mainstream.  Couple that with his role as CDF/Pope and you have a dangerous combination which sidelined episcopal conferences.  (you also had a man who spent almost his whole career in Rome - his stint as a local bishop was so short that I doubt he learned much from the experience).  Finally, Benedict appears to have conceded power to the curia and stepped aside when confontation happened.....what does it say when most of your time is spent isolated and writing your own personal works.  Don't think that historians will be very generous to him nor that they will see his tentative steps to manage abuse as significant.


Bill deHass,


You hit the nail on the head with Benedict.  He desperatly wanted to be Pope and orchestrated his election.  I think Bergolio was supposed to be Pope in 2005, but he was out maneuvered by Benedict.  As when he was a professor and the student turmoil kicked up, he left the papacy when the turmoil in the curia became too much for him to handle.  He is a quitter at heart, and thank God for that becuse otherwise we might not have Pope Francis.  Historians will not be kind to Benedict or JPII, with his empowerment of the Legionaries and Maciel.  He may become a saint, but his sainthood will not be equivalent to that of his betters in the history of the Church. Francis is canonizing him bot because he jumped on the santo subito bandwagon, but because it is a way to get his preffered choice, John XXIII canonized.  JPII's canonization is cheapened by this fact.

I'm  not sure that the reasons for the coupled canonization on 27 April next are all that neat. I believe that Francis is an ardent, not reluctant, advocate of the canonization of John Paul II, the pope who named him auxiliary bishop, archbishop, and cardinal priest of the titular church of San Roberto Bellarmino on 21 February 2001. I realize that the Pope's schedule is very full, especially in the Easter season, and that cost is also a factor. But I fail to understand (a euphemism) why John XXIII was not given his own day, for example, 1 June, two days before his day of death. Yes, this is the Solemnity of the Ascension in most countries, including Italy, but not in Vatican City, where since the Ascension is not transferred to Sunday, 1 June is the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

--- --- ---

There is evidence that the cries of "santo subito" on the day  of Pope John Paul II's funeral were orchestrated by certain groups. A local cultus, perhaps. Universal? Dubious.  There is stronger evidence for a universal cultus in respect to Archbishop Romero, and yet his cause waits in the wings, not eight years after his death, but thirty-three.

--- --- ---

Since the establisment after the Council of the Congregation for Divine Worship, as the successor to the Congregation of Rites, none of the nine Cardinal Prefects has had a background in liturgy. I was present at a meeting at the CDW in 1981 when the then Prefect, Archbishop (later Cardinal) Giuseppe Casoria, announced at the outset of the meeting that he would remain silent during the discussions since he had no expertise in the liturgical field. Before his appointment as Prefect of CDW some months before, Archbishop Casoria had spent many years in the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints (formerly a section of the Congregation of Rites).

Bill - thanks for that wide-ranging comment in response to mine.  I don't have major areas of disagreement with anything you wrote.  I'll stipulate that not everything that has happened since VII has beeen for the best, and a lot of what has happened since the Council happened on JPII's watch, as it spanned three decades, i.e. most of the postConciliar period to this point.  

My own view is that the Council, for the most part and of necessity, gave general guidelines, and left it to the church (including the Curia) to implement those guidelines.  Under Paul VI, under JPII, and we hope now under Francis, the church seems to have made a good faith effort to stay aligned with the Council.  But that is not to say that everything always has pointed in the same direction, as general guidelines are amenable to a number of possible implementations.  I certainly understand that some of the things that happened during JPII's pontificate, such as Liturgiam Authenticam, rankle.  I'm sure Comme le prevoit rankled some people as well.  There is no pleasing everyone.  

All these things still leave us a very long way from the claim that JPII 'tried to roll back Vatican II'.  I think the most that can be said is that he looked at some things that were started by Paul VI (pursuant to Vatican II), thought they weren't going well, and tried something different (also pursuant to Vatican II).  Francis now gets his turn to bat, and he certainly has the same prerogative to fix what needs fixing, and the indications are that he will do so.  My expectation is that whatever Francis does will still fall within those guidelines given to us by Vatican II.


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