Saturday, March 25, 2006

Next Up: The Dicasteries

On 7 April, Pope Benedict will hold a second meeting with his dicastery heads -- the Prefects and Presidents of the bodies which comprise the Roman Curia.

At that time, so it's said, we might know a bit more about his plans for the "renovation" of the church's central administrative apparatus, which the Pope has been tinkering with for the bulk of his first year in office. About that date as well, we'll also know who's filling the memberships of these offices among the new class of cardinals.

Along with the red hat and a titular church, each Porporato is given three or four curial assignments. While the staffs of the Congregations and Councils perform each office's daily work, the body proper is technically comprised of somewhere between 20 and 30 prelates who meet regularly to think through policy changes and innovations. In other words, the membership is where the dicastery's decisions come from.

This is most-especially the case at the Congregation of Bishops, which meets bi-monthly to vote on the world's episcopal appointments, sending one name from the shortlist of three -- the famous terna -- to the Pope. (When he couldn't make meetings, the late John Cardinal O'Connor of New York was known for phoning in his votes.)

The Pope will also use the occasion of giving the new cardinals their assignments to plug some of the elder members of the College into dicasteries which, in his mind, could benefit well from their expertise. The day after he was elected, Benedict XVI confirmed the cardinal-members of the dicasteries for the remainders of their respective quinquennia -- that is, the five-year terms for which they are appointed. All memberships cease, however, when a cardinal reaches his 80th birthday, so the ranks have been depleted since the 2003 consistory due to superannuations.

As the shape of the the curial "tsunami," as it has been dubbed by the Italian press, becomes clearer, it could well result in some deck-changes beyond just the staffing of the respective offices.

As always, stay tuned.

AP/Plinio Lepri