Thursday, February 12, 2015

And Now, The Main Event – As Curia Reform Talks Begin, Francis Wields "The Supreme Law"

After months of anticipation, this Thursday morning saw the Pope's intent to reform the Roman Curia kick into its most advanced gear yet as Francis convened the entire College of Cardinals to consult the entire 200-man "senate" on his intended shake-up.

Beyond the critical focus of the discussion itself, the Consistory talks in the Synod Hall are of even keener import as the session marks the Vatican debut of the 20 cardinals-designate (15 of them electors) who will be formally elevated on Saturday, most of them called to the College from the underrepresented "peripheries" of the global church. As a result, even if the speaking turns from the cardinals during the official sessions are based on seniority, over coffee-breaks and other informal chances for conversation, getting familiar with the mind of the new intake is likely to be a prime matter of interest for the veteran red-hats.

The plenary session of the College is but the latest – and, indeed, the climactic – stage of several other meetings which have wended through the last week: last weekend saw sessions of Francis' newly-formed Council for the Economy and Commission for the Protection of Children, while Monday opened the eighth meeting of what's now the "Gang of Nine," the central "kitchen cabinet" of cardinals charged with advising the Pope on the Curia reform and his Petrine ministry all told.

Though the consensus of the talks can't be forecasted in advance, it bears reminding that immediately after last year's Consistory consult – and even as those talks didn't focus on Curial reform – Francis swiftly executed his most significant structural change to date, creating the all-powerful Secretariat for the Economy with complete oversight of the Holy See's financial and personnel matters, and calling the formidable Cardinal George Pell to Rome as its first prefect.

Accordingly, it's been anticipated that Papa Bergoglio has another something of the kind already up his sleeve and ready to be unleashed following the weekend's events. In that vein, then, it bears reminding that in each of the three specialized organs he's established – the Economy Secretariat and its supervisory council, and the abuse commission (all with direct reports to himself) – the leadership of the new entities has fallen to a member of the "C-9."

Though simply speculation at this point, it would be no surprise if the shift revealed this time involved what's apparently become the most "gelled" aspect to date of a Curial re-tinkering: the long-advanced proposal to consolidate several pontifical councils into two new Congregations "for the People of God" and "Life and Justice." At the same time, it's notable that over its latest three-day session, the "C-9" was briefed at length by Msgr Paul Tighe, the #2 of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications who's done the legwork of the "Patten Commission" – the task-force led by the former BBC chairman Lord Patten of Barnes, entrusted with the sweeping work of charting a full restructure of the Holy See's sprawling media apparatus.

As ever, more to come. In the meantime, Francis himself kicked off today's talks with a general overview of the reform effort, again urging the cardinals to speak with parrhesía – the evangelical "boldness" he's repeatedly cited as a key to healthy collegiality in governance.

Below is Vatican Radio's English translation of the Pope's remarks:

Dear brothers,

"How good, how delightful it is to live as brothers all together!" (Ps 133,1).

In the words of the Psalm we give praise to the Lord who has called us together and gives us the grace to welcome the 20 new cardinals in this session. To them and to all, I give my cordial greetings. Welcome to this communion, which is expressed in collegiality.

Thanks to all those who have prepared this event, especially to His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals. I thank the Commission of nine Cardinals and the coordinator, His Eminence Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga. I also thank His Excellency Marcello Semeraro, Secretary of the Commission of Nine Cardinals: Today he will present a summary of the work done in recent months to develop the new Apostolic Constitution for the reform of the Curia. As we know, this summary has been prepared on the basis of many suggestions, even those made by the heads of the Dicasteries, as well as experts in the field.

The goal to be reached is always that of promoting greater harmony in the work of the various Dicasteries and Offices, in order to achieve a more effective collaboration in that absolute transparency which builds authentic sinodality and collegiality.

The reform is not an end in itself, but a means to give a strong Christian witness; to promote a more effective evangelization; to promote a more fruitful ecumenical spirit; to encourage a more constructive dialogue with all.

The reform, strongly advocated by the majority of the Cardinals in the context of the general congregations before the conclave, will further perfect the identity of the same Roman Curia, which is to assist the Successor of Peter in the exercise of his supreme pastoral office for the good of and in the service of the universal Church and the particular Churches. This exercise serves to strengthen the unity of faith and communion of the people of God and promote the mission of the Church in the world.

Certainly, it is not easy to achieve such a goal: it requires time, determination and above all everyone’s cooperation. But to achieve this we must first entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit, the true guide of the Church, imploring the gift of authentic discernment in prayer.

It is in this spirit of collaboration that our meeting begins, which will be fruitful thanks to the contribution which each of us can express with parrhesía, fidelity to the Magisterium and the knowledge that all of this contributes to the supreme law, that being the salus animarum ["the salvation of souls"]. Thank you.