When I covered the papal conclave last month from Rome and Vatican City, one of the most discussed topics was reform of the Vatican’s bureaucracy, called the Curia. The selection of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentine as Pope Francis was seen as a signal from the College of Cardinals that reform was high on their agenda for the near future. Today the Vatican announced that Francis has created a new commission to revise Vatican law on the Curia and institute reforms, and it’s notable for who is and is not on the panel:
Vatican City, 13 April 2013 (VIS) – Following is the full text of a communique issued today by the Secretariat of State.
“The Holy Father Francis, taking up a suggestion that emerged during the General Congregations preceding the Conclave, has established a group of cardinals to advise him in the government of the universal Church and to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, ‘Pastor Bonus’.
The group consists of:
Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State;
Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile, Chile;
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, India;
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany;
Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo;
Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley O.F.M., archbishop of Boston, USA;
Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, Australia;
Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, S.D.B., archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in the role of coordinator; and
Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, Italy, in the role of secretary.
The group’s first meeting has been scheduled for 1-3 October 2013. His Holiness is, however, currently in contact with the aforementioned cardinals.”
Only one Cardinal from the Vatican itself will be in the “group,” and indeed only one other from Italy. Cardinal Pell has been outspoken on the need for reform and had stressed the need for “managerial” skills in the next papacy just before the conclave. Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya was cited by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago just prior to the conclave as one of the leading voices for reform and evangelization. Most familiarly to Americans, Cardinal O’Malley of Boston is known for his strenuous efforts to reform his diocese after the abuse scandals, so much so that O’Malley was considered (by the media, at least) a potential contender to be the first American Pope.
Analysts have been waiting for Pope Francis to name his new Secretary of State for a signal about how aggressive he will move on Curia reform. This may be a better signal. The collection of outsiders as his advisory group for restructuring the Vatican bureaucracy certainly gives the impression that it won’t be business as usual for the Curia much longer.
At first blush, all these cardinals seem like strong personalities. Several have voiced criticisms over the years about various aspects of Vatican operations, while two, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, Germany, have played key roles in the church’s response to the child sexual abuse crisis.
The group’s first meeting is set for Oct. 1-3, and meanwhile, according to the Vatican statement, the pope will be in regular contact with the cardinals individually.
The brief item in the Vatican’s daily press bulletin did not explain how these cardinals were chosen, or how long they will serve in these roles.
Strikingly, there was only one member of the Roman Curia among the eight cardinals tapped to assist the pope. The rest come from various parts of the world, with at least one representing each continent.
In other words, it’s anything but a collection of insiders trying to protect the status quo. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis’ succession has already begun paying dividends in evangelization, NBC News reported earlier this week:
Twenty million Americans consider themselves lapsed Catholics, but Pope Francis is convincing many to test the holy waters again with his bold gestures and common touch.
After years of disenchantment with the church’s hierarchy and teachings, former members of the flock say they are willing to give the Vatican a second chance under new leadership. …
Tom Peterson, president of Catholics Come Home, which airs ads aimed at the lapsed, said his website traffic tripled the day of the election, adding several thousand visitors. It’s been double ever since.
Some interest could stem from the hubbub surrounding the selection of any pontiff, but Peterson thinks Francis’ “love for the poor and his humility is exciting people to a great extent.”
Father Peter Mussett, pastor of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center, which serves the University of Colorado at Boulder, agrees.
“I had five people in a week who were saying, ‘Pope Francis has inspired me to return to my faith,'” he said. “It’s pretty remarkable.”
Brian O’Neill, 48, an Irish-American cop from Washington State, went to Catholic elementary school and a Jesuit high school but hasn’t practiced since graduating from a secular college. He says that could change soon.
Cardinal George promised in an NBC interview over a week ago that Pope Francis would bring change: