One of the most important moments in the pontificate of Francis could be the publication, probably sometime in the next few months, of the apostolic constitution Praedicate evangelium, about the reform of the Roman Curia. It will be interesting to see what Francis’s reform will keep of the old Roman Curia created by Pope Sixtus V in 1588, which is still very similar to the one we have today. It will also be very interesting to see what place is accorded to new institutions, especially the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, established by Francis in March 2014. The relationship of that commission to the other congregations and dicasteries of the Vatican has, until now, been unclear and precarious.
Francis’s use of the Roman Curia—and his way of governing the church mostly without it—says a lot about his vision for the future of Catholicism. What is most remarkable is that this pontificate has caused so much opposition even though there has been so little institutional change in the five-and-a-half years since Francis became pope. The Bishops’ Synod is an exception. Otherwise, Francis has been remarkably reluctant to make changes in the curial status quo. We can see this from the kind of lay people he has appointed in the curia. On October 6 the Vatican announced new appointments to the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life. These included bishops and clergy, but also new lay members. Many of the new members come from the so-called new ecclesial movements: International Ecclesial Team of “Worldwide Marriage Encounter,” Schoenstatt, Communion and Liberation, the Catholic community Shalom (Brazil), Community of Sant’Egidio, and the Focolare movement.
These appointments raise an important question about the kind of laity that is represented in the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life. The problem is not that these new lay members are particularly liberal or conservative; the problem is that the ecclesial movements they represent are hardly representative of the Catholic laity overall. These movements are very good at promoting themselves—witness their success in securing recognition from church authorities. But the vast majority of the Catholic laity are not affiliated with any of these movements and are represented by no one in the Vatican, unless we count the nonordained members of this dicastery who were appointed for their professional expertise.