The confirmation of Gehrard Ludwig Mueller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith can lead to the conclusion that Pope Francis is following the paths traced by Benedict XVI. But appearances can be deceiving. Pope Francis is putting the Church in a completely different path. If Benedict XVI was the man of collegiality, Francis focuses more on synodality. And he want a Church close to the people. To achieve this goal, he is going to do everything he can.
As the pieces of the «puzzle» of Pope Francis Curia are put in place, the “Francis’ thought” becomes better understood. A a great means to comprehend Francis’ thinking is the interview he granted to fr. Antonio Spadaro, chief editor of the Italian Jesuit-run magazine La Civiltà Cattolica. The interview was published contemporary by 16 Jesuits magazines all over the world.
The interview provides a good overview of Pope Francis thought. There are three areas covered in the interview that have possibly not received the level of attention they deserve. Precisely these three parts seem to give a clear indication about the direction of the Pontificate. Maybe the hypothesis they give rise to are somewhat far-fetched. At the same time, however, Pope Francis is no stranger to give big surprises.
Will the Congregazion for the Doctrine of the Faith be dismantled?
In Pope Francis’ words: «It is amazing to see the denunciations for lack of orthodoxy that come to Rome. I think the cases should be investigated by the local bishops’ conferences, which can get valuable assistance from Rome. These cases, in fact, are much better dealt with locally. The Roman congregations are mediators; they are not middlemen or managers».
This would lead us to think to a reform of the modus operandi of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Often described as the «Guardian of the Catholic Orthodoxy in the World», the CDF could in fact be roughly defined as a theological and disciplinary clearinghouse and coordinator. Its centrality has been strenghten to better manage the clergy sex abuses cases. Previously, most of the clergy sex abuses cases were not even notified to Rome, and the scandal was kept under wraps in local diocesis.
Pope Francis has a different plan. He wants to give a new breathing space and a higher profile to the local Churches, also with regards to issues of orthodoxy and pronouncements. It would entail a complete overhaul: from a coordinating center to a series of local bishops that can decide on their own, according to particolar needs. Even if Francis speaks about a «valuable assistence from Rome», and this does not mean it will be a supervision.
So, what could the future be like, after a local bishop approves a doctrine that another local bishop may not consider orthodox? Will there be a need for a central coordination, or would all bishops preserve their freedom?”
Maybe the answer to the second question is: yes. In another passage of the interview, Pope Francis explaines that «the dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow».
Synodality vs. collegiality.
On Pope Francis’ words: «We must walk together: the people, the bishops and the pope. Synodality should be lived at various levels. Maybe it is time to change the methods of the Synod of Bishops, because it seems to me that the current method is not dynamic. This will also have ecumenical value, especially with our Orthodox brethren. From them we can learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality. The joint effort of reflection, looking at how the church was governed in the early centuries, before the breakup between East and West, will bear fruit in due time».
Clearly, there will be new rules for the synod of bishops. A new secretary, Lorenzo Baldisseri, whom Pope Francis give his berretta rossa at the end of the conclave, will handle the new rules. Until now number two of the Congregation of bishops, Baldisseri lived for a long time in the Domus Sanctae Marthae where Pope Francis also lives. They spent a lot of time together and Baldisseri likes to be considered one of Pope’s most loyal friends. He will be tasked with changing the synods, maybe giving them more decision-making power.
This also follows from another excerpt in the interview, in which Pope Francis underlined that
«the consistories [of cardinals], the synods [of bishops] are, for example, important places to make real and active this consultation. We must, however, give them a less rigid form. I do not want token consultations, but real consultations. The consultation group of eight cardinals, this ‘outsider’ advisory group, is not only my decision, but it is the result of the will of the cardinals, as it was expressed in the general congregations before the conclave. And I want to see that this is a real, not ceremonial consultation».
Is this different from the path set by Benedict XVI? In fact, yes. Pope Benedict perfected a governing modus operandi based on collegiality from the time he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith. Card. Bertone, Benedict’s secretary of State, referred to that modus operandi as a model he wanted to apply to the governing bodies of the Church.
Collegiality means to have meeting of peers, and make decisions as such. One might have challenged before a meeting, but at the meeting itself a spirit of peer review prevails and favor agreements. The new impetus Benedict XVI gave to the priesthood comes from a collegial dynamism: the Year of Priests, as well as the missionarity based on Jesus Christ, come from the need to give a collegial direction to the Church.
Card. Mauro Piacenza, prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy, took the responsability to carry out this reform. Piacenza has now been appointed Major Penitentiary, because – it is whispered in the Vatican – perspective have change, and it is now time for synodality, not for collegiality, and Piacenza has been rightly or wrongly a paladin of collegiality.
Synodality means to have meetings with people of different backgrouds and ranks. This kind of meetings are not designed around decision making, but they may lead to the adoption of some decisions neverthless, as it happens in the synods of the Orthodox Church. This is the approach Pope Francis may want to follow.
Reform? No thanks… or maybe yes!
On Pope Francis’ own words: «The dicasteries of the Roman Curia are at the service of the pope and the bishops. They must help both the particular churches and the bishops’ conferences. They are instruments of help. In some cases, however, when they are not functioning well, they run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship». These words provide the gist of everything that was said by cardinals during the General Congregations, when those from afar the Church expressed their disappointment with a Curia that was so detached from them (really was more complex than this, however).
In response to the aspirations expressed during the pre-conclave meetings, Pope Francis asked eight cardinals to counsel him about a reform of the Curia. One of the first reforms should be the installation of a moderator curiae, a sort of workflow comptroller and coordinator. The moderator curiae idea was raised at the General Congregations by card. Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative text. This idea was so popular that Coccopalmerio was the most voted Italian cardinal at the Conclave. Card. Giuseppe Bertello, a friend of the Pope, number one of the Vatican City State administration, may become moderator Curiae.
It seems, however, that Pope Francis does not feel that a reform of the Curia requires urgent attention. «The structural and organizational reforms are secondary—that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude».
This assertion provides an answer to those who wondered about the imbalance between the many gestures and the dearth of administrative initiatives. The Pope wants foremost a change of the attitude (toward the fancy cars, the ostentation , the luxury) and only after he eventually succeeds at this, to deal with the structural re-organization of the Roma Curia. The eight cardinals have left many proposals on Francis table. But Pope Francis will ask for a conversion of the hearts, and only after that he will think about a structural reform .
In conclusion, there may not be a structural reform, other than that of a new synodality; local bishops will become more important, maybe at expense of the administrators in Rome; the Pope’s spoils system is in action.