Another rescript from Pope Francis. On May 24, the Pope reformed the Auditor General’s office, establishing that his functions continue even during the sede vacante. In practice, therefore, all the heads of dicasteries cease, except for the Pope’s Vicar for the diocese of Rome, the Camerlengo, and the Auditor General.
It was foreseeable that some modifications to the sede vacante would be necessary because the reform of the Curia had eliminated the Apostolic Camera, which administered the patrimony of the Holy See in times of sede vacante. Therefore, there were a series of functions to be rearranged or redefined.
But that this happens, once again, with a rescript is indicative of the modus operandi of Pope Francis. There are two features to highlight: the first is the sudden haste with which reforms are carried out, an urgency which then brings with it the need to make further changes; the second is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a clear plan for how these reforms are promulgated and carried out, unless the plan is simpler than you think, and it is the plan to deconstruct the Roman Curia.
These two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive. They complement each other and leave many questions about how Pope Francis has decided to reform the Church.
What does the new rescript say? First, given that the ordinary administration is not interrupted during the sede vacante, and given that the office of the Auditor General does not provide for the figure of a secretary, then it is the same office that continues to exercise the function of control over the ordinary administration, under the supervision of the Cardinal Camerlengo.
Not only. The Statute of the auditor general provides that the Auditor “analyzes the information and presents it with a report to a special commission composed of the Councilor for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, the Prelate Secretary of the Council for the Economy and the Secretary of the Secretariat for the Economy.”
The commission is the Financial Security Committee established with the reform of the Vatican anti-money laundering law of August 2013. A Financial Security Committee was required precisely by international organizations, which asked the Pope for the kind of transparency that could only be obtained by having a committee that could ensure, even at a global level, government control over anti-money laundering issues.
Now, however, everything has changed. The Auditor General examines the reports and “presents them with a report to the prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, and, if he deems it necessary, also to the Cardinal coordinator of the Council for the Economy.”
Once again, as already happened with the new fundamental law of the Vatican City State, the Secretariat of State is completely cut off. Only the bodies founded by the Pope count, which take on a new centrality and which, in the end, remain the only bodies to maintain control.
In short, there is not only a centralization in the hands of the Pope. There is a centralization of the new organs of the reform of the Curia. This choice seems to signify how Pope Francis wants to give a clear sign of discontinuity.
This reasoning looks pretty technical. But ultimately it is not, because it tells various things about the Pope and the Pontificate.
The first thing is that Pope Francis does not make global reforms. Several times he spoke of reforms on the go. When he published the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium, somewhat out of the blue, he did so, aware that the new constitution was not ready to be published. It was a coup d’état, which, however, needed further adjustments. The Pope’s rescripts and motu proprio demonstrate that the law was not global but only served to make a point. After all, the Vatican dicasteries would have reorganized themselves.
The second thing is that the Pope’s decisions seem dictated by the logic of demonstrating an ongoing commitment rather than guaranteeing continuity. The reform of the Curia already marked a strong discontinuity with the previous management. Yet, the offices of the Curia have not always received clear rules of engagement. Many officers left because they no longer felt comfortable. Those who have remained often do not know how far they can push their limits.
It is a situation that is the opposite of what Pope Francis would like because it is very clerical. No one wants to take responsibility or take risks. However, clericalism spreads the more the Pope is absent because he does not play the role of guarantor of the unity of the Church. Faced with this increasing absence, the Vatican officials try to fill the void as best they can. They do so carefully avoiding to take risks, perhaps thinking of a new destination or, more simply, not to displease the Pope.
The third thing is a certain rush to reforms. Pope Francis does not have time to create commissions as he did at the beginning of his pontificate. So when certain situations are involved, he proceeds directly to update them without consulting anyone. Not that the Pope necessarily has to forewarn anyone. But it is also true that if he does not forewarn, then there will be some issues in terms of managing power and tasks.
Finally, it is now clear that Pope Francis’ reforms are piecemeal. There is no global and comprehensive reform, but many minor reforms that will lead, he hopes, to a new ecclesial mentality. The truth, however, is that piecemeal reforms are difficult to carry into the future; they have a life of their own, and what happened yesterday may not necessarily be remembered today.
Pope Francis’s recent and massive reform work seems to be summarized in these four guidelines. The real question is whether these reforms will remain or are dramatically linked solely to the person of Pope Francis.