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Pope opens cardinals’ discussion of Curia reform; new offices explained

Pope Francis and cardinals

Papal advice: Pope Francis speaks during a meeting with cardinals and cardinals-designate in the synod hall at the Vatican yesterday (February 12). At left is the dean of the College of Cardinals Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

THE reform of the Roman Curia should promote “greater harmony” among the Vatican offices, not primarily to save money or promote efficiency, but to solidify the unity of the Church and strengthen its ability to evangelise, Pope Francis said.

The Pope arrived in the Vatican’s synod hall a half-hour before the consistory, or meeting of the world’s cardinals, was set to begin yesterday (February 12). Fewer than two dozen cardinals were there before him and the Pope greeted them before standing at the front of the hall to welcome each of the others as they arrived.

Nineteen of the 20 churchmen Pope Francis was to induct into the College of Cardinals tomorrow (February 14) were present – sitting in two rows behind the other cardinals; the Vatican said a total of 165 new and old cardinals were present. Including those who were about to receive their red hats, the College of Cardinals has 227 members. Most of those who were not in attendance are quite elderly or infirm and were unable to attend.

Pope Francis scheduled the meeting primarily to discuss with the cardinals the proposals his nine-member international Council of Cardinals had developed for the reform of the Curia.

Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said the proposals included the creation of two new large, high-profile Vatican offices: the Congregation for Laity, Family and Life, and the Congregation for Charity, Justice and Peace. The charity and justice congregation would include the existing pontifical councils for health care and for migrants, but also would have a new section dedicated to “safeguarding creation”.

Fr Lombardi said that would involve combining the existing pontifical councils for laity and for the family, along with the Academy for Life into one office; and the pontifical councils for justice and peace, Cor Unum (charity), and migrants and travellers into another.

The proposed grouping, he said, flowed from an understanding of “charity as fundamental to the essence, existence and mission of the Church” and of working for justice “as a consequence” of charity. The special section for ecology reflected an increased concern and commitment on the part of the Church to the need to protect creation.

The section also would work in the area of “human ecology”, or the idea that social and political environments can be deadly for the human person and for human dignity, Fr Lombardi said.

“There is an ecclesial and theological vision” behind the planned combination of the pontifical councils involved and raising their profile to the level of a congregation, he said. “It is not just about taking certain offices and putting them together in order to reduce their number.”

The Second Vatican Council insisted on the important vocation and role of the laity in the life of the Church, particularly in witnessing to Christ in the world. Just as there were congregations for bishops, for clergy and for religious, Fr Lombardi said, it seemed “natural” to the Council of Cardinals that there would be a congregation for laity. Given the centrality of family life for many lay people, it made sense to combine the two councils and to have the Pontifical Academy for Life conduct its work under the new congregation’s auspices, he said.

While the congregation would promote lay involvement in the Church, Fr Lombardi said, it was unlikely and almost “unthinkable” that a lay person would be appointed its prefect because the pastoral responsibilities of a Vatican congregation required that it be led by an ordained minister, usually a cardinal.

Fr Lombardi briefed reporters on February 11, the third day of meetings of Pope Francis’ international Council of Cardinals in the lead-up to the larger meeting of the College of Cardinals.

Part of the Council of Cardinals’ meeting from February 9-11 was dedicated to preparing summaries of the nine-member council’s work to present to the entire College of Cardinals, whom Pope Francis called to the Vatican for February 12-13 to discuss the reform, he said.

Secretary for the economy Australian Cardinal George Pell was scheduled to brief all the cardinals on the work of his office and on the ongoing process of preparing the formal statutes of the related Council for the Economy. In addition, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley was to explain the commission’s work to the College of Cardinals.

At the beginning of the larger meeting of the world’s cardinals, Pope Francis reminded his them that the reform was requested by the College of Cardinals during the meetings that preceded his election in 2013.

“The aim to reach is that of promoting greater harmony in the work of the various dicasteries and offices” of the Vatican, he said, in order to have “more effective collaboration with the absolute transparency that builds up authentic synodality and collegiality”, or shared responsibility under the pope’s leadership for the good of the whole Church.

“The reform is not an end in itself,” he said, “but a way to give a strong Christian witness, to promote more effective evangelisation, a more fruitful ecumenical spirit and encourage a more constructive dialogue with all.”

Pope Francis thanked the members of the Council of Cardinals and its secretary Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, who, the Pope said, “is the one who does the work”.

In drawing up its proposals, he said, the council took into account “many suggestions, including those made by the heads” of the various Vatican congregations and councils.

Council co-ordinator Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa and Bishop Semeraro both made presentations to the cardinals about the council’s proposals.

The proposals, Pope Francis said, should “perfect” the work of the Curia and its main purpose, which was to assist the pope “in the exercise of his supreme pastoral office for the good and the service of the universal Church and the particular churches”.

As he did at the beginning of the 2014 Synod of Bishops on the family, Pope Francis asked the cardinals to share their opinions with frankness, fidelity to Church teaching and concern for the salvation of souls.


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