The signal was a letter signed by Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and delivered to every head of dicastery of the Roman Curia. The economic outlook for the Holy See in 2014– the Secretary of State wrote – requires «immediate measures to limit spending» on personnel. Which means: a hiring freeze, no overtime or work on Sundays; no replacement of staff going into retirement, except for the “generous” coverage employees already in a dicastery’s roster may be able to provide; and facilitating – in case of a pressing need – internal transfers. With the obvious exceptions.

All of this gives rise to the thought that the economic crisis was just an excuse, even if supported by real data. And that, in the end, the need for a freeze on hiring is motivated by the upcoming streamlining of the Roman Curia. A step forward in Pope Francis’ path of reform.

Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa (Honduras) and coordinator of the Council of Cardinals, has spoken several times about a possible new Congregation for the Laity. This Congregation would include as its departments the current Pontifical Councils for Laity, for the Family, for the Migrants and for Justice and Peace. A hint of this “amalgamation” would be that Pope Francis has confirmed the heads of these Pontifical Councils just until the end of their current terms in office. By contrast, the heads of other dicasteries have been so far confirmed for full new terms in office (i.e. their terms have been renewed, resetting the clock to keep them in office for five years from the time of Pope Francis’ election).

The Congregation for the Eastern Churches and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity have been the last dicasteries’ heads that Pope Francis fully confirmed, on Feb. 19.

The general project of Curia reform – according to rumors – would include the creation of a Congregation for Culture and New Evangelization, which would include the Pontifical Councils for Social Communication, for the New Evangelization and for Culture.

These moves would allow Pope Francis to make some further changes without the necessity of amending the Pastor Bonus, the Pastoral Constitution that regulates the functions of the Curia.

One of the changes would have to do with the head of the dicasteries. Until now, Congregations must be chaired by cardinals, while Pontifical Councils can be chaired by a cardinal or an archbishop. According to these rules, layman cannot chair a dicastery.

Changing a pastoral constitution requires time. But if a dicastery is turned into a department, the latter can be chaired by anyone. For instance, a married couple could lead the Department for the Family.

In fact, none of these changes represent a definitive reform. The meetings of the Council of Cardinals are still in the general discussion phase. Also the Commission for the Protection of Minors, announced at the end of the December meeting, is just a proposal still to be realized, as Father Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See Press Office, explained during a media briefing.

It is the same for reforms. Cardinals have just put on the table some proposals, gathering opinions from the dicasteries in a somewhat lose manner (just asking employees directly, rather than asking the dicasteries).

Those who were waiting for a quick and drastic reform had to change their mind when Cardinal Maradiaga, in one of his countless interviews to the press (that not every cardinal appreciated), said: «Time is needed for reforms.»

So, Pope Francis’ revolution is increasingly becoming a series of “cosmetic” changes, perhaps useful to clean the Church’s tarnished image, but not deep enough for real change.

Also the reviled Vatican finances may be subjected to this cosmetic treatment. Since the beginning of their meetings, the cardinals of the Council have been talking about the establishment of a sort of Vatican “Ministry of Finances” (to consolidate in one place all the Vatican financial activities). Perhaps the cardinals do not remember that the reform of the regulations of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs issued 22 February 2012 (exactly two years before Pope Francis’ first consistory) already tasks this Vatican dicastery with financial programming similar to that of a Ministry of Finances.

The Institute for Religious Works (IOR), wrongly known as the “Vatican bank”, is always a target. It is thought that the IOR will be absorbed into the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), thus keeping its functions even if it is placed under another dicastery.

The backers of this idea are not taking into account, for instance, that APSA has been structured over the course of the years as a public authority, and that its diminishing banking activities are being phased out to strengthen its public authority profile.

On the other hand, those who had been served by the IOR understand its importance. Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop Emeritus of Chicago and considered one of Pope Francis’ ‘super electors’, noted in a recent press interview: «During my 12 years as General Vicar of my religious congregation, the Oblates of the Immaculate Mary, I found the IOR very useful. We used it to transfer money from the richer provinces to places with an inadequate banking system. As a lay tool of the Pope’s sovereignty, the Vatican should have at its disposal the required means to enjoy financial independence. The characteristics of this independence and its necessary limits to prevent that the bank becomes a commercial bank are still to be analyzed.»

The road ahead is long. At the end of the week, Pope Francis created 19 new cardinals, some of them completely unexpected.  The Pope had two main goals: break careerism, showing that there are no ‘class A’ or ‘class B’ dioceses; and at the same time show that he is paying attention to the world’s peripheries.

The cardinals selected last week took part in the extraordinary consistory on the family. Once again, the cardinals addressed the issue of holy communion for Catholics that remarry after a divorce.  Father Lombardi’s briefing made it clear that it was a very general exchange of views.

In the end, even the awaited reform on communion for divorcees who remarry seems to be less than what was expected, or what the public was made to believe it could be. Pope Francis’ revolution is mostly a reform of the attitudes, of pastoral approach. Now, the challenge is not to reduce every reform to a «change everything in order not to change anything.» This would be just marketing. And the Catholic Church is not a company which needs a new, improved image, despite what the many consulting companies recently hired by the Vatican may think. 

4 Responses to Pope Francis on the path of reforms

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  2. [...] Andrea Gagliarducci argues that Francis’s curial revolution is “increasingly becoming a series of ‘cosmetic’ changes“. [...]

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