The appointments of Bishop Matteo Zuppi as Archbishop of Bologna and of Father Corrado Lorefice as Archbishop of Palermo prove that Pope Francis does not have curial reform primarily in mind. Pope Francis’ real reform is the profile of new bishops. More than well-known individuals, he prefers candidates with the smell of the sheep. More than individuals with broad strategic (and theological) views, the Pope prefers people with a clear pastoral orientation. This reforming process has already led to a reform of the criteria to get the red hat of a cardinal. In the future, it could even imply the reform of the Vicariate of Rome.

Matteo Zuppi was already a bishop, serving as auxiliary of Rome for the downtown area. A member of the Sant’Egidio movement, he has served as parochial vicar and then as parish priest at Santa Maria in Trastevere for more than 20 years. He was  then transferred to the parish of San Giuda Taddeo on the outskirts of Rome, and after that appointed auxiliary bishop. His profile is that of the “pastor with the smell of sheep” that Pope Francis loves, but he is also smart enough to maintain good relations with the “intelligentsia”. Once his appointment was made public, he sent a letter to the Archdiocese of Bologna. In the letter, he mentioned the recently beatified Salvadorian bishop, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, killed in 1981 by a death squad while he was celebrating Mass. In spite of the fact that he was not a liberation theologian, and was even fairly conservative in views, Archbishop Romero has been turned into a sort of icon by the secular left, even an anti-Church icon. The Sant’Egidio Community had worked tirelessly for his beatification, and the Postulator of the cause was Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family and member of Sant’Egidio himself.

Fr. Corrado Lorefice has a different story. He is a parish priest from Modica, in the Sicilian diocese of Noto. He has been labeled as an “anti-Mafia priest,” very active in the anti-Mafia network, “Libera,” founded and run by Fr. Luigi Ciotti. As news of his appointment broke, it was taken for granted that his experience with “Libera” had played a role in his selection. Has Pope Francis not shown a deep attention to the issue of the Mafia? Did he not speak out loudly by condemning the members of the Mafia during his trip to Calabria? Did he not take part in the Vigil for the victims of all the different “Mafias,” during which Fr. Ciotti stood by the Pope?

But Fr. Lorefice is not an anti-Mafia priest. He has a different profile. He developed an interest in the “poor Church for the poor” which resulted in a book on Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, Archbishop of Bologna during the Second Vatican Council. He has carried on honest activities as a parish priest. However, no appointments comes out by chance, and he also has his “Godfathers”. According to some sources, these “godfathers” are to be found within the former staff of the Prefecture for the Pontifical Household, the same “godfathers” who sponsored the rise of another parish priest of the Diocese of Noto, Rosario Gisana, recently appointed bishop of the Sicilian diocese of Piazza Armerina.

Looking back to the staff of the old guard of the Pontifical Household also means looking back to the 2012 Vatileaks scandal. The scandal broke out when some of the most influential members of the Pontifical Household retired or were transferred. These individuals – with their entire network, to be found mostly in the Vatican diplomatic environment of the 90s – have now regained some influence under Pope Francis.

Pope Francis, for his part, keeps moving on his reforms. Reform of the Roman Curia was repeatedly demanded during the Cardinals’ pre-conclave meetings prior to the election of Pope Francis, and it is for this reason that it forms part of the Holy Father’s agenda. But the reform of the bishops’ profile is in fact all Pope Francis’.

Before, bishops with a high intellectual profile were chosen to administer important archdioceses like Bologna and Palermo. They had to be bishops able to provide a vision, while auxiliary bishops, parish priests, and the laity were called upon to put into practice the guidelines of the bishop.

Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, recently deceased, had served for years as Archbishop of Bologna. He incarnated the notion of a Church with an open, and at the same time conservative, theological viewpoint. After him, Bologna was governed by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, who followed Cardinal Biffi’s footsteps. Cardinal Caffarra’s speeches during the 2014 Synod won over Pope Francis. Cardinal Caffarra also contributed to the book “Eleven Cardinals Speak,” which attempted to show that there is a pastoral path for family life without diluting doctrine.

The former Archbishop of Palermo was Cardinal Paolo Romeo, who was chosen by Benedict XVI out of the ranks of the old guard of diplomats who resisted Ratzinger’s pontificate. Despite the fact that he was part of that circle, Benedict XVI entrusted him to succeed Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, a profoundly spiritual man. Pope Benedict also had great consideration for Cardinal De Giorgi. So much so that he was appointed a member of the commission of three cardinals that Benedict XVI formed to investigate the Vatileaks scandal.

For these archdioceses, Pope Francis made a different kind of choice, since he believes that the bishop must above all be a shepherd. Before governing, the bishop must stand in the midst of the people. More than a doctor, the bishop is called to be a nurse, as nurses are needed in the Church “field hospital” that Pope Francis has outlined. Francis already shown his preference generally to choose as bishop the candidate at the bottom of the list of the three which he is given. He chose Archbishop Nunzio Galantino as General Secretary of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, though the latter had received only two votes from his fellow bishops in an internal poll. Father Lorefice was the last in the set of three candidates to be eventually appointed auxiliary bishop of Palermo. The Pope even picked a parish priest, Father Claudio Cipolla, to lead the Diocese of Padua.

The Pope also showed he is very well aware that sometimes he has to make political decisions, and this is the reason the appointments of the archbishops of Cologne and Madrid can be considered in continuity with the previous pontificate’s choices. But on the other hand, he also picked Heiner Koch as Archbishop of Berlin. In fact, Pope Francis’ criteria for new bishops have been fluctuating in the course of the years, but one can always identify a common characteristic behind them: all of the appointments are intended to support those with a humble lifestyle who are considered “street priests,” with the aim of providing the Church with real shepherds.

There is also another criterion. These appointments are considered by Pope Francis a sort of antidote to careerism. And this leads to a new concept for cardinalatial seats.

Under Pope Francis there are no more cardinalatial sees. Nomination to a big and important archdiocese does not signify the climax of a long career any more. For Pope Francis, there are no “Class A” and “Class B” dioceses, as his picks at the 2014 and 2015 consistories show.

On the other hand, there was a reason why some important dioceses became cardinalatial seats. The ones that did so were at the top of the “cursus honorum” of bishops, who were first called to learn how to manage a diocese in an ‘easier’ and smaller environment, and then step by step entrusted with a more challenging diocese. The rationale behind this procedure was the continual growth for those identified as able to succeed at a long career as bishops and eventually as cardinals.

Enter Pope Francis’ new criteria – somewhat random – that permit everyone to be under the spotlight. The “new priest” is not the priest who is faithful to the Church that he serves in a hidden manner with fidelity and obedience. It is rather the priest who shows some discontinuity with the institution, who is able to show off his qualities and to promote himself. The new priest is not the priest who seeks for answers to important questions, but who has found a way around the small daily difficulties encountered in the ministry, even if in doing it he shows some disaffection for the institution. Rather than choosing to serve the institution within the institution, the new priest is often perceived as standing outside of the institution, and as being highly critical toward it.

This new image of the priest accords well with Pope Francis’ notion of a Church called to “hacer lìo”, a Buenos Aires phrase that means “make noise,” or better “create confusion.”

In the spirit of “hacer lìo,” rumors concerning a sort of reform of the Vicariate of Rome have been spreading. The current vicar, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, very close to Pope Francis, will soon leave his post, as he is beyond the retirement age, set to 75. Who will be his successor? There are many possibilities.

One possibility is a choice of continuity: Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, Secretary of the Council of Cardinals, to replace Cardinal Vallini.

The second possibility is that the new Vicar will be Father Angelo De Donatis. Pope Francis called him to preach the Curia Lenten retreat in 2014. Last September 14, Father De Donatis was appointed Rome’s auxiliary bishop for the spiritual care of priests. He will be ordained bishop in St. John Lateran Basilica by the Pope himself on November 9, the very day of the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. Is there any better moment to announce a new appointment?

If De Donatis makes the cut, he might not be named the “Vicar for Rome,” but only the “Gerente” (“manager”) of the diocese, as a “vicegerente” is already into place, and serves as the Vicar’s number 2. He would then be a bishop, and not a cardinal. So, the reform of the office of the Vicar would work this way: the Pope emphasizes his role as Bishop of Rome and personally takes over the government of the diocese. There is one clue that backs this hypothesis – that, in fact, no one has confirmed: the Pope has appointed seven auxiliary bishops for Rome. That is many, even for Rome.

The latest option is that the new Vicar General for the Rome will be Archbishop Angelo Becciu, currently deputy for the Vatican Secretariat of State, and then De Donatis might be appointed Vicegerent. This way, the Secretariat of State will be comprised only of officials appointed by Pope Francis. The new deputy for the Secretariat of State is rumored to be Archbishop Tommaso Caputo, who already served as Chief of Protocol in the Secretariat of State before being appointed Nuncio to Malta and then Archbishop of Pompeii.

However, the possible transfers within and outside the Secretariat of State are mostly the field of interest of Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State.  He is aware that a legal and documental framework are needed to carry forward the Curia machine. He issued the instructions for the hiring freeze within the Vatican walls. This freeze on hiring has some exceptions. The new economic dicasteries, for example, need qualified staff, and they can hire them.

Cardinal Parolin also probably backed the papal letter to him that re-affirms the “status quo” in the Roman Curia. As the Curia is undergoing a reforming process, the Pope wanted to clarify that there is no “vacatio legis,” (absence of law) and that work in the Curia must be carried on as usual. The document was published last Wednesday, in an improvised manner. Some people gossiped that the document was subtly addressed to the Secretariat for the Economy led by Cardinal Pell, the only Vatican dicastery that had recently hired anyone. However, the Secretariat enjoys a budget autonomy, and it also has the authorization to pay out ad hoc salaries. This economic autonomy was approved by Pope Francis.

The appointment of Archbishop Becciu as Vicar of Rome would be supported for the most part by the Curia around the Pope, more than by the Pope himself. It seems now evident that curial reform, from the organizational point of view, is mostly an interest of the old guard of the Curia. They pushed for reform in the pre-conclave meeting. And they also drafted a reform proposal in 2005, while John Paul was living his last months.

The reform proposal was drafted by Cardinal Nicora. The reform included the establishment of a council of 10 cardinals around the Secretariat of State, while the Secretariat of State was intended to maintain only the diplomatic office. According to the reform draft all the pontifical councils were to be absorbed by the curial congregations, and the heads of the congregations, together with other cardinals, were intended to be part of a sort of larger commission for Church management. It was further planned that this commission would take over the functions of the first section of the Secretariat of State. The Nicora Draft also foresaw a wider reform of the pontifical universities, to be regrouped under a single umbrella (presumably the Pontifical Lateran University).

The proposals of this draft incredibly resonate in many of Pope Francis’ decisions, and in the proposals of the Council of Cardinals. In fact, the main characters of that period in the Church– the transition from John Paul II to Benedict XVI, and the resistance to Benedict XVI’s pontificate by a gang of diplomats – are back. Now there is the risk of a return of Vatileaks. The upcoming publication of a new book of leaks and recordings (stolen by whom?) may be the anticipation of a new Vatileaks season. The strategy will always be the same: allegedly supporting the Pope’s project of reform in order to discredit the Church. The first Vatileaks scandal tried to do this with Benedict, and the new Vatileaks scandal will do the same with Francis.

Pope Francis does not seem to care. He said he wants a reform of hearts, meaning that he wants to change the Church’s pastoral profile. For this reason, the document that will conclude the Synod should be published soon, as Cardinal Parolin said. Perhaps it will not be a post-synodal exhortation. A rumors is circulating that the Pope is thinking about writing a brand new encyclical on the family, a sort of “pastoral update” of Paul VI’s “Humanae Vitae”. 


7 Responses to Pope Francis’ Real Reform is not that of the Curia

  1. Kevin scrive:

    The problem with appointing Bishops who smell like sheep and don’t have a foundation in morals and faith is we can get Bishops like Cupich in Chicago……Cupich when he was Bishop of Spokane banned Priest from helping mothers in need at abortion mill because Cupich thought it was mean to oppose abortion……..a Bishop like that destroys lives and souls.

  2. James scrive:

    “Pope Francis’ real reform is the profile of new bishops.”
    Yeah…a real reform… The latest outrage of this pontificate, the appointment of De Kesel to Brussels – a protégé of Danneels – is actually stomach turning. Truly, we groundlings are perceived as “dumb,” as he recently referenced those of Osorno. Chile.
    Cheshire cat, indeed, Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

  3. Dom Bernard scrive:

    If Francis is so concerned about mafias and misdeeds, he should do something about the “lavender mafia” that appears to have completely taken the reigns of the Vatican under his oversight.

  4. RW Cross scrive:

    The nurse and not the doctor in the field hospital is a very apt metaphor. To continue this line of thinking, consider what the nurses will be doing without doctor’s orders. Having spent thirty years in the health business, I would expect that there will be a lot of dead people at the end of the line.

  5. mrpkguy scrive:

    The first comment, made by Kevin, was right on the mark.
    How in the h— did we get Cupich to head the Chicago diocese?

  6. Fr Sean scrive:

    I agree with Kevin’s point. It reminds me that papal infallibility does not extend to episcopal appointments.

  7. [...] curial reform. But this reform represents only a minimum part of Pope Francis’ idea of Church. He is more interested in reforming the profile of bishops, than the Curia. He mostly aims at picking bishops with the smell of the sheep rather than bishops intellectually [...]

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