A Secretariat of State fully comprised of officials of Pope Francis’ choosing. First, the Pope chose his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Then, he appointed Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher as Vatican “foreign minister,” promoting Archbishop Mamberti to the Apostolic Signatura (and creating him cardinal). Now the appointment of a new deputy of the Secretariat of State seems imminent. The Secretariat of State, the Holy See’s central coordinating body of government, should still be important in the new Curia, despite the ongoing reform, since the real reform is going to deal deal with the structure of the Synod of Bishops, rather than with the restructuring of the Curia.

Rumors are on the rise that Archbishop Angelo Becciu, currently deputy of the Secretariat of State, will soon be appointed to a new post. The new appointment will not take place before the Pope Francis’ trip to Cuba and USA, because Becciu was once a papal nuncio to Cuba, and his experience and references are important for the trip. According to rumors, right after the trip Becciu might be appointed the Pope’s Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, replacing Cardinal Agostino Vallini. Cardinal Vallini is very close to Pope Francis, but in April he turned 75, and that is the age limit of retirement. As there is a papal rescript that requires bishops and cardinals to leave their posts at the retirement age, the pope’s closest collaborators are called upon to give an example. This is the reason that Cardinal Vallini would step down.

Rumors also provide some names for Becciu’s eventual successor. There is a set of three names, according the rumors. Archbishop Giordano Caccia, currently nuncio to Lebanon, has been Secretariat of State number 5 (assessor to the General Affairs) while number 4 was Pietro Parolin, now Secretary of State. Both Cardinal Parolin and Archbishop Caccia were appointed nuncios in 2009, and were ordained bishops together. Archbishop Caccia return to Curia would thus recreate the couple who served in the Secretariat of State under Cardinal Sodano and for a while under Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, Apostolic nuncio to Singapore, is another candidate for the post. He was a key figure in the long term talks between the Holy See and Vietnam, and he is now a non resident special envoy to Vietnam, a generic post that would open to the possibility of full diplomatic relations. The Vietnam dossier was on Parolin’s desk, when he was Vatican – undersecretary for the relations with States, and he reportedly got along very well with Archbishop Girelli, whose personality would not overshadow that of the current Secretary of State.

Or – this is the third option – the new deputy for the Secretariat of State might be Tommaso Caputo, currently Archbishop of Pompeii. He already worked once in the Secretariat of State as Chief of Protocol, and then served as papal nuncio to Malta and Libya before being appointed Archbishop and Delegate of the prestigious Pontifical Shrine of Pompeii. Caputo’s appointment to Pompeii was one of the last appointments of Benedict XVI, and was among those some analysts described as “choices of an end of a pontificate.”

Caputo’s return to Italy already gave the impression of a general re-entry of members of the old Secretariat of State led by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, rightly or wrongly considered the main opponent of Benedict XVI’s pontificate.

If Becciu is appointed elsewhere and Caputo or Caccia replace him, the transition might be complete. Cardinal Sodano’s Secretariat of State would have won the game and taken back control of papal diplomacy. Although spoken about as a new development, this move would amount to a return to the past.

Was this the intention of those who are carrying out an agenda behind Pope Francis’s back? It can be malignly thought that yes, it was so. Sodano, as Dean of the College of Cardinals, already outlined the “agenda of mercy” in the homily of the Mass “pro eligendo Romano pontifice” before Pope Francis’ election. The same agenda of mercy was promoted by the cardinals who campaigned for Cardinal Bergoglio’s election and who Austen Ivereigh described as “team Bergoglio.”

Behind this “agenda of mercy” there was the felt need to move the discussion of issues in the Church at least 30 years backward. St. John Paul II with his personality, his charism, his being a decision maker, designed a strongly pastoral Church, but also one with a fervent attachment to the doctrine of the Church. Behind him, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, developed the notions of truth and communion, and brought them to full life during his pontificate. For Pope Benedict, the notion of family was crucial, and he governed the Curia with the aim of making the Curia a family, just as he had done at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

This way of doing things excluded all the theologians and bishops who were looking for a platform in the years following the Second Vatican Council in order to pull the Church into modern times. Rather than shaping reality on the basis of Catholic teachings, these theologians and priests wanted to adapt the teachings to reality. Their theological approach was already out of fashion during Benedict XVI’s pontificate, and was going to fall apart. Under Pope Francis’ pontificate, the “adapters” are trying to retake ground they had lost.

They are doing so through a robust use of the media, but also by working behind the scenes. Last year “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” the book that contained the essays of five cardinals defending the indissolubility of marriage, was sent to all the bishops who took part in the Synod of Bishops. It was removed from the Synod Fathers’ mail boxes by order of Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod, as reported by journalist Edward Pentin in his latest book “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?”

But there’s more. The internal discussions of the Synod were hidden from the view of the media, which could only base reports on the Holy See Press Office’s briefings, on confidential leaks and on the article on the Synod written by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, Editor of “La Civiltà Cattolica”, the Jesuit-run magazine whose drafts are corrected in the Secretariat of State.

In his article, Fr. Spadaro insisted that some Synod Fathers had wanted even stronger statements in favor of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and pastoral care for same-sex couples than those found in the paragraphs within the Synod’s Final Report that failed to obtain a consensus in the Synod. As it was, those paragraphs were nevertheless inserted into the Synod’s Final Report, and therefore also into the 2015 Synod’s “working document.” Fr. Spadaro’s story might be true, but it is also true that the majority of Synod members did not wish for stronger statements concerning these disputed issues.

Bishops from Africa and East Europe had instead asked for an approach based on the Scriptures that would retain the same doctrine, without denying pastoral needs. This challenge has recently been met by 11 cardinals, who present their proposals for a “third way” consisting of pastoral care faithful to doctrine in a book to be published September 25, that is, on the eve of the Synod of Bishops.

In the meantime, maneuvers behind the scenes have already begun. Bishops’ conferences from all over the world are electing representatives to the 2015 Synod, and a first glance at the list of participants shows that the majority of the bishops chosen by the conferences are followers of Church doctrine, rather than adapters. Dark times loomed for the adapters, so their synod media machine leaked the news that the Pope will appoint as delegates Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago and the Belgian Cardinal Godfried Daneels, both of them “adapters,” while Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, a constant target of the secular press, will not be included within the Synod’s ranks.

The General Secretariat of the Synod also worked to change the Synod’s rules. Ironically, one of the meetings that the General Secretariat of the Synod set to discuss the new regulations took place in May on the same day as the so-called “Shadow Synod”. The “Shadow Synod” was a gathering of 50 experts convoked by the German, French and Swiss bishops’ conferences. Their aim was to find a new approach to family issues in view of the 2015 Synod. The “Shadow Synod” talks were recently published, and they reveal the desire to change the doctrine of the Church according to pastoral needs  for the same sex couples and access to Communion for the divorced and remarried. Another gathering friendly to their position is scheduled to meet in Rome on September 10-14.

As the “Shadow Synod” grabbed headlines, their members also took part in a closed-door seminar organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family. The seminar discussed an eventual “penitential path” for divorced and civilly remarried people in order to permit them access to Communion after a period of repentance, perhaps on the feast day of Divine Mercy, on the Sunday after Easter.

The seminar talks were published in the book “Family and the Church. An Indissoluble Bond.” The publication of the book passed almost unnoticed, but the book is worth a read, as it shows that the adapters have gained some traction in this Vatican dicastery. This line has also been strongly promoted by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

However, the adapters have failed to win over the Synod of Bishops to their positions, and this is the reason the General Secretary of the Synod considered changing the rules. Some well-informed people say that the 2015 Synod will be completely different from any other. First of all, a midterm report will not be released. Last year, the midterm report was completely revised by some of the Pope’s closest collaborators prior to its release, and the report resulted in many controversies. Even Cardinal Petr Erdo, the Synod’s General Relator, distanced himself from the report. But its release united the followers of the Church’s doctrine, who stood up against the Synod’s drift. They ultimately achieved an acceptable compromise for the Synod’s Final Report, which was filled with biblical references that had been lacking in the midterm report.

Avoiding the release of a midterm report would mean eliminating any possibility of discussion. The plan is for the Synod to carry out discussions mostly in “small groups” (circuli minores) without a general discussion. In the end, the reports of the small groups would be put in the Pope’s hands, and the Pope would then give a final address. No final report or post-synodal apostolic exhortation is foreseen at the moment, at least according to recent rumors. In this way the adapters hope to convince the Pope to employ vague language so they can eventually exploit his words.

However, this strategy would amount to forcing the papal will. In certain respects, Pope Francis shows continuity with Benedict XVI. He visited the St. Pius X chapel for the feast of the saint who combated modernism, thus showing that he is in the end attached to traditional values. He extended his arms to the Lefebvrists, declaring the absolution offered in the sacrament of penance by members of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X to be valid for the Holy Year, thus showing his wish to heal the wound with the traditionalist world. In doing so, he followed Benedict XVI’s approach of conceding what is admissible without putting doctrine aside. The Lefebvrists are still required to accept the Second Vatican Council.

Speaking on September 4 in a video message about the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis underscored that “Not infrequently an opposition between theology and pastoral ministry emerges, as if they were two opposite, separate realities that had nothing to do with each other. We not infrequently identify doctrine with conservatism and antiquity; and on the contrary, we tend to think of pastoral ministry in terms of adaptation, reduction, accommodation. As if they had nothing to do with each other.”

True, Pope Francis links this theme with the “theology of people,” and asks priests and theologians to listen to the people because the people’s questions are able to create new theological pathways: popular piety is important to Pope Francis.

However, in addressing the issue this way, the Pope risks the possibility that his words will be manipulated. So his final address at next month’s Synod will be important, as any vagueness in his language might be exploited. There are not just disciplinary issues at stake. The question of access to sacramental Communion for the divorced and remarried is probably a Trojan horse intended to get the Synod to introduce radical theological changes. Not by chance Cardinal Gehrard Ludwig Mueller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, warned from the risk of schism, speaking at the presentation of the German edition of the book “God or nothing,” by Cardinal Robert Sarah. He said that with regard to the separation of religious doctrine and religious practice, one should “be very vigilant and not forget the lesson of Church history,” that is the schism of the Reform, which started on a dispute on pastoral practice.

Perhaps some wish to make the Church more Protestant, even seeking unity with the Lutherans in anticipation of the 2017 celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In the end, Cardinal Walter Kasper himself – one of the main characters on the “adapters” side – referred to the example of the Lutherans in one of his latest articles concerning the Synod debates.

Will Pope Francis be able to resist this attempt at revolution? Will he be able to keep Benedict XVI’s legacy alive? Dialogue for Benedict was not comprised of reciprocal concessions; it was not similar to a political dialogue. It was based on the truth of Faith. Will Pope Francis be able to carry Benedict’s ideal forward?

This is yet to be seen. In the meantime, Pope Francis works to reshape his governing team, and the Vatican Secretariat of State is seemingly looking again as it did in the past.

The upcoming meeting of the Council of Cardinals, scheduled for September 14-16, should finally give shape to two super congregations: Laity, Family and Life, and Charity, Justice and Peace. The establishment of these new dicasteries leaves some issues unresolved. First, the super congregation for Laity, Family and Life may absorb the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Pontifical Institute John Paul II for Marriage and Family. Second, concerning the issue of migrants, the Pontifical Council for Migrants is to be absorbed by the new Congregation for Charity, Justice and Life, resulting in the disappearance of the name of “migrants” from the title of the dicastery. But would this move not be seen as incoherent in a pontificate that has made commitment to migrants and immigration one of its core issues?

To solve the impasse, the Council is thinking to look to the past and establish a Pontifical Commission for Migrants within the Congregation for Bishops, as there once was.

But the restructuring of the Roman Curia is merely a functional issue. Perhaps the point of the discussion, on the part of those working on an agenda behind Pope Francis’ back, is to pull the wool over his eyes in order to advance their own agenda. In fact, Pope Francis claimed that curial reform was the mandate that the pre-conclave meetings in 2013 decided to give to the new Pope. In the end, Francis is not interested that much in structures. Since the beginning of his pontificate he has stressed that the Church is not an NGO.


One Response to Pope Francis: What is his Pontificate’s Upcoming Agenda?

  1. [...] que verdaderamente se habla en el Sínodo? El vaticanista italiano Andrea Gagliarducci escribió hace una semana que, no habiendo conseguido ganarse a una mayoría razonable de obispos en el Sínodo, los [...]

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