The next meeting of the Vatican chiefs of dicasteries, scheduled for around the end of this month, will provide an overview of the streamlining of the Curia project. The Council of Cardinals, which next meeting is scheduled for December 9 to 11, wants to put into effect the first concrete change, in order to show that they do not meet just to talk, but also to act. This effort is blessed by Pope Francis: the time of observation has ended, the time for action has began.
Within the Sacred Walls, the atmosphere is that of an internal split. Someone has described this split as a ‘civil war’ between conservatives and progressives, others speak about ‘continental lobbies’ (i.e. the American lobby; the Maltese lobby). It’s nothing of the kind. The scenario is more nuanced, as evident in the recent discussions at the Synod of bishops. The group of cardinals who acted to defend the doctrine, though with different grades of nuances and actions, was comprised of bishops deemed conservative and bishops deemed progressive. On the other hand, there was a group who privately called for «a Pope more courageous in opening up (the Church)», which worked as a real lobby in parallel (the lobbying for the next synod would have already began), without taking into consideration the doctrine, and how this very same doctrine is part of evangelization.
The split should be rather described as one between those who still firmly believe that the Church must shape the world and those who want the Church to welcome the world the way it is and just accompany it and comfort it, putting into practice Pope Francis’ vision of a Church as a ‘field hospital’. Cardinal Gehrard Ludwig Mueller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has described the members of this latter group as «bishops who had been fascinated by the secular world.»
Pope Francis’ position is yet to be assessed and understood. Pope Francis has always warned to watch out for a ‘worldy Church’, and he had set as his pontificate’s goal that of fostering a missionary Church, outwardly oriented, but maintaining some fix points in the Gospel, yet preferring points dense in popular piety. At the same time Pope Francis has also been the engine of an internal reform seeking efficiency more than evangelization. And efficiency is a very worldy aspiration.
The Curia reform is being carried forward in the name of this efficiency, and of the rationalization of expenses. At the beginning, the Curia reform was intended to make some adjustments to the Pastor Bonus, the Constitution which regulates the functions of the offices of the Roman Curia. Then, it was a substantial rewriting of the Constitution that was contemplated – even if only a draft of its introduction has been completed and it must still be discussed. In the meantime, it seems that cardinals are willing to implement some adjustments to Pastor Bonus and to establish new dicasteries, almost a parallel Curia that will replace the existing one step by step.
This way of proceeding would explain how, while the Prefecture for Economic Affairs is still operating, the Secretariat for the Economy has been established. The Secretariat for the Economy, together with the Council for the Economy, functions as a sort of ‘ministry of finance’, and has been the most active Vatican body in pursuing reforms, taking the reins in the management of these issues. Last week, the Secretariat published a handbook about financial management, and delivered it to all the Vatican bodies with financial responsibilities: the new procedures contained in the handbook will take effect January 1, 2015. In the meantime the Vatican accountants will be trained on the new accounting principles.
The reform is needed to generate profit, as Cardinal George Pell, Prefect for the Secretariat of the Economy, has candidly explained. For this purpose, part of the reform process has been to establish a Vatican asset management function, which would rely on the expert advice on investments of an external agency (it is rumored it will be Black Rock, linked to Goldman Sachs) to get the best possible returns on the Vatican assets.
Always in the name of profits, it was decided not to renew the collective-bargaining agreement with 500 artisans who produced the parchments with Papal blessings for the Papal Almoner. The agreement foresaw a fixed rate of payment. When the Almoner announced the agreement would not to be renewed, it was clear it wanted to have the production done in-house or to contract whoever it wanted, in order to increase profits and to make them availaible to help the poor.
In the name the of supporting the poor, the main features of the small Vatican world are perhaps going to be destroyed. It was a familiar and familiaristic world, with a closed economy that consented all those around that world to live in a dignified way, and also to help people. There was no social exclusion, since everyone was helped. Vatican salaries could be lower than might be expected (although they were tax-exempt), but they were fair in purchasing power thanks to the internal supermarket, the Annona. The Institute for Religious Works (the so-called ‘Vatican bank’) invested on solid assets that were not only safe but also ethical. They generated modest rates of return, but this was how the Vatican bank sustained Religious Congregations – also providing them banking services for free – and generated profits to sustain the Catholic World. Even the contracts for work inside the Vatican, adjudicated to trusted companies, consented a certain sense of safety in the investments based on mutual trust, a trust that is missing when contracts are assigned through competition.
Certainly, every system has its problems, and the gangrene in this one appeared with the Viganò’s case and the Vatileaks scandal. But it was the way the system had been managed, and not the system itself, that should have been questioned. Yet, the attacks were directed to a system that had been proven to be good in the past, and which experienced its dark moments when the traditional ‘old school boys system’ did not work properly. It is a whole world collapsing, step by step, under Pope Francis’ revolution. The secular media welcomes each and every novelty, as if the Church before was a corrupted realm which the Pope is finally cleaning up.
The Vatican itself seems to be willing to project this image. Vatican communiqués always stress that everything has been done following a clear wish of the Pope, from the trial for alleged pedophilia within the Vatican Walls to the former nuncio Wesolowski’s to the decision to change the rules on bishops’ resignations. This last point deserves further examination.
Paul VI had asked bishops to resign once they turned 75, and did the same with cardinals heading Vatican dicasteries. The members of Vatican congregations’ mandatory retirement age was instead set at 80. Pope Francis confirmed this rule, but with a couple of slight changes. First: bishops in controversial situations are encouraged to leave their post for the good of the community, even though many bishops are unfairly attacked (so, will public opinion have a say on the selection of bishops?). The Pope, however, was very clear: the ‘rescriptu ex audientia’ through which the decision was made public also added that the Pope himself may decide to ‘resign’ bishops in controversial situations.
Second slight change, the mention of cardinals who hold posts of pontifical appointments, who must now also resign once they turn 75. This includes the archpriests of pontifical basilicas and cardinals patrons of the knights’ orders (like Cardinal Paolo Sardi, currently Patron of the Order of Malta, who had just turned 80 and will have to leave his post to Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke). The list also includes the current Camerlengo, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State Emeritus and often the target of vicious criticism.
Cardinal Bertone will turn 80 next December 3, and it is easy to see why is it that he has nevertheless been mentioned in connection with the vortex of resignations and demotions (those who vacate a position in a dicastery also automatically lose other positions linked to it, like membership in Congregations). The fact that Cardinal Bertone had been mentioned in this group – Cardinal Parolin did so in an informal conversation, after a solicitation by journalists – must be read as one last slight to the most criticized figure in Benedict XVI’s papacy.
In fact, there is the feeling that the first goal of the ‘demotion part’ of Pope Francis pontificate should be that of dismantling the Cardinal Bertone Secretariat of State. The Pope Nov. 8 appointed the Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, until then Secretary for the Relations with State and in charge since 2006, to the Apostolic Signatura. A Canon and Civil Law Expert, Archbishop Mamberti had a ‘soft’ exit to a cardinal post. Archbishop Paul Gallagher, former nuncio to Australia, who seems to be appreciated by Cardinal Parolin, while he had reportedly some grief with Cardinal Pell (the two Secretariats that are always more polarizing the Vatican power).
This apparent dismantle of the Cardinal Bertone’s work should let us look back and try to understand why Benedict XVI’s papacy has been so heavily criticized by the secular world. Benedict XVI was very clear in his magisterium, and he succeeded in repositioning the Church at the center of the cultural debate from where she had been displaced in the emotional waves of the last years of John Paul II’s pontificate. The Pope of Reason quietly and clearly showed the world where it was that the challenges to the Church laid – from the defense of the family and human life and dignity, to the application of the Social Teachings of the Church, all imbued with the notion of Truth and a clear stance against relativism – and faced these challenges step by step.
Benedict XVI’s reforming effort deserves to be highlighted. He restored discipline in the observance of admission criteria for seminaries, and reshaped the modus operandi of the Roman Curia, basing it on the collegiality he had already put into practice when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His reforming effort also elevated the Holy See’s profile in the international scenario: under Benedict, the Holy See moved away from the privileged relationship with Italy and gained more impetus in international relations and higher recognition as an authoritative voice in international conferences – proof of this is the approach followed with respect to the reform of the Vatican finances, done with an international outlook rather than a side glance to the Italian neighbour.
It is difficult to make Benedict XVI the target of strong criticism, because he was so clear and linear in his decisions. An easier target is his former right hand, Cardinal Bertone, who may have made mistakes as everyone does, but who was always loyal to the now pope emeritus.
A return to attacking a Secretariat of State who is out of the radar screen, and the notion, continually raised, that Pope Francis is reshuffling the Curia by chasing ‘ratzingerians’, is a clear sign of how the secular media wishes to definitely close the door on Benedict XVI’s papacy and push for a more ‘media friendly’ papacy, easy to explain in secular terms.
Yet, Pope Francis highly praised Benedict at the unveiling of the pope emeritus’ bronze bust at the Pontifical Academy for the Sciences. Benedict XVI may be considered a sort of “hidden advisor” to Pope Francis, since Benedicts’ writings and ideas are still a great inspiration for the Church.
To what extent will Pope Francis be inspired by those ideas is yet to be seen. Until now, the Vatican reform had dealt with many internal moves and the sole economic structural reform which is yet to take shape. There are many internal struggles, and they don’t just deal with a mere ideological clash, as the media would have us believe. It is a clash of mentalities. Pope Francis has always maintained that the first reform is that of the heart. Where will he stand in the clash?