The Ecumenism Blog

Home » Posts tagged 'Roman Curia'

Tag Archives: Roman Curia

Reforming the Roman Curia: Next Steps

This weekend, word started getting around that the much anticipated reforms of the Roman Curia were finally ready for delivery – at least a number of them.

Pope Francis met with the dicastery heads this morning to give them a preview of changes, though no official word yet on what they all will be.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, new Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship

Cardinal Robert Sarah, new Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship

What has been announced is that there is a new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, which has been vacant since Cardinal Canizares Llovera was appointed as Archbishop of Valencia at the end of August. The new top liturgist of the Roman curia is Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea. Cardinal Sarah has been working in the Curia since 2001, first as Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and since 2010 as President of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”. The new prefect, like most of his predecessors, has no formal education in Liturgy.

The rest is a bit of informed speculation, and nothing is ever official until it is announced:

Among the long awaited and predicted reforms to the curia will likely be the establishment of a Congregation for the Laity – raising the dicastery dealing with 99.9% of the Church’s population to the same level as the two (Bishops and Clergy) that deal with the other 0.1%. The new Congregation would have, it seems, five sections: Marriage and Families; Women; Youth; Associations and Movements; and one other. Too much to hope it would be for Lay Ecclesial Ministry? The current Council has a section on sport, so perhaps that would be maintained, but I suspect not.

No one would be terribly surprised to see the new prefect of such a congregation turn out to be Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, since he suggested the move publicly last year. What would be a true sign of reform would be to appoint a lay person or couple with degrees and work experience in lay spirituality, lay ministry, or something related. Then make the first lay cardinal we have seen in a century and a half.[1]

The new congregation would certainly combine and replace the Councils for Laity and for Family, but could possibly also incorporate New Evangelization or Culture, which are directly related to the apostolate of the laity in the secular world.

If you read Evangelii Gaudium, though, it is clear that Pope Francis sees the “new Evangelization” as an aspect simply of Evangelization proper, and I would be less surprised to see this Council incorporated into the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Culture would be appropriately aggregated to Laity.

The other big combination long anticipated would be a Congregation for Peace and Justice – or something similarly named. It would combine the Councils of Peace and Justice, Cor Unum, Health Care Workers, and the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, and possibly the Academy for Life. It would have sections corresponding to these priorities: Life; Migrants; Health Care; Charity; and Peace and Justice in the World. Presumably, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana would continue from the current homonymous council as the prefect of the new Congregation.

Finally, a revamp of the Vatican Communications apparatus has been underway for a couple of years, and we could expect to see something formal announced much like the Secretariat for the Economy. Perhaps a Congregation for Communications, or at least a stronger Council, with direct responsibility all communications in the Vatican: L’Osservatore Romano, Vatican Radio, CTV, the websites, various social media, the publishing house, etc.

Now, a couple of ideas that would be welcome, but are not expected:


Not exactly how i envision lay cardinals…

The combination of the Congregations for Bishops and Clergy – have a single congregation with three or four sections: Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons, and Other Ministers/Lay Ecclesial Ministy. This would be especially possible if the responsibility for electing bishops – only in the modern era reserved to the pope – could be carefully restored to the local churches in most cases.

The creation of a Congregation for Dialogue, replacing the Councils for Promoting Christian Unity, Interreligious Dialogue, and the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. It would accordingly have several sections: Western Christians; Eastern Christians; Jews; Other Religions. Perhaps the whole Courtyard of the Gentiles effort could be folded into this as well.

Alternatively, leaving Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue in separate dicasteries but with more influence, like requiring every document coming out of the CDF and other congregations to be vetted before publication, to make sure they incorporate ecumenical agreements and principles as a sign of reception.

Formalization of the separation out from the Secretariat of State for responsibilities relating to moderating the curia. The Secretariat should be dealing with diplomatic issues. The rest could be reorganized in a number of different ways.

Streamlining of the judicial dicasteries, including removing the judicial aspects out from CDF and into a stand-alone tribunal. Granted, it is thanks to then-Cardinal Ratzinger and the CDF that any movement on abuser priests happened, but it is still anomalous to have. (Still need to work out what this would look like though).

A consistory which creates no new Italian cardinals – lets get the numbers down to a reasonable amount. Like five. If there are any (North) Americans, they would be the likes of Bishop Gerald Kicanas from Tucson, Archbishop Joe Tobin of Indianapolis, or Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle – but nobody else from east of the Mississippi. Maybe a bishop from Wyoming or Alaska, the real “peripheries” of American Catholicism. At least five Brazilians and another Filippino. Maybe an Iranian.

Above all, nobody would be appointed to serve in a dicastery without a doctorate in the relevant field, and experience in that area of ministry.


[1] The last being Teodolfo Martello, who was created cardinal while still a lay man, though he was ordained deacon two months later. At his death in 1899, he was last cardinal not to be either a presbyter or bishop. Since 1917 all cardinals were required to be ordained presbyters; since 1968 all were normally required to be ordained bishops.


The Pope Needs an Archdeacon

When the Council of Cardinals met with Pope Francis at the beginning of the month to discuss reform of the Roman Curia and the governance of the Church, one of the topics that came up was the role of the Secretariat of State.

Since the initial reforms of Paul VI in Regimi Ecclesiae Universae, the Secretariat has enjoyed prominence in the Curia, and a dual role: it not only exercised the ministry appropriate to the office, that of foreign relations with states, but also in fact as the lead congregation in the curia, coordinating (theoretically at least) the work of the other dicasteries, and managing the relationship of the bishop of Rome to his brother bishops around the world.

For example, when a new officer in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is needed, they get vetted not only by that Council, but also by the Secretariat of State. Or consider the elaborate and secretive process for the nomination of bishops, managed by each nation’s apostolic nuncio – a diplomatic post.

As I suggested in my wish list, these responsibilities should probably be separated from the foreign relations dicastery. In canon law there is a title for the ecclesiastical officer responsible for managing the bishop’s staff, which is “moderator of the curia”. This person is is often a priest or auxiliary bishop, and is frequently also the vicar general. There is some concern about creating a kind of “vice-pope”, though this is a term sometimes used of the Secretary of State already, unofficially of course.

What the bishop of Rome needs is an archdeacon. This ancient ecclesiastical office has fallen into disuse in the Latin Church, and fallen into confused use in other churches (such as the Anglican Communion).

The archdeacon is normally the senior cleric of a diocese after a bishop. Originally, the archdeacon was in fact a deacon, not a presbyter, the reason being that deacons are called to serve as assistants to the bishop with responsibility for administration and governance, representation of the bishop to the rural clergy (ie, the pastors) and to other bishops, managing the financial and human resources of the diocese for the sake of the mission, etc. This kind of vicarious authority was not originally granted to the presbyterate, whose primary functions were advisory, sacramental, and pastoral.

The offices of vicar general and moderator of the curia derive from the office of archdeacon. You can still find this usage in the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, where a “Grand” Archdeacon fulfills part of this function.

Archdeacon Maximos Patriarch Bartholomew

Archdeacon Maximos with Patriarchal Bartholomew of Constantinople

In the Anglican Communion, the title archdeacon has been attached to the vicars forane, responsible for a subdivision of the diocesan territory. In the Catholic Church these are generally called deans, in English, and is originally a diaconal role, but not that of the archdeacon. The Anglicans have also kept the late medieval practice of having ordained presbyters fill this role, but this should be avoided (do we have deacons serving as archpriests?)

The offices of vicar forane and episcopal vicar (deans and heads of dicasteries/diocesan offices, respectively) derive from the other early diaconal roles. Perhaps revivifying these ancient offices, restoring the diaconate to its full calling, will help in the reform of the curia.

If Pope Francis were to make use of this ancient and venerable office for contemporary needs, one could see it as something of a Chief of Staff for the Roman Curia, rather than as a kind of vice-pope. (Though, realistically, it would be better having an official ‘vice pope’ than having a personal secretary, master of ceremonies, or Secretary of State assume the role in the vacuum!) The role of the Archdeacon and his office would be to manage the internal organization of the curia, increase coordination and communication among the various dicasteries, and leave the diplomatic foreign relations work to the Secretariat of State.

Maybe the Archdeacon’s office could work to coordinate areas of joint concern, so we never have another Anglicanorum Coetibus or Dominus Iesus faux pas, wherein we find ecumenical or interreligious issues  being announced without involvement of the offices responsible for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.

They could also have a central office for ecclesiastical human resources in the curia, working to ensure that the most qualified candidates in the world – lay, religious, or clerical – get into the offices here, rather than some cardinal’s nephew (figuratively speaking, of course). He could work on keeping the curia on mission, and at service to the universal church – especially as the relationship to the Synod of Bishops and the episcopal conferences is expected to change.

But most of all it would seem as something new – not getting confused with the ideas that have arisen around the moderator of the curia title – which in itself should be fine, but because it is often attached to the vicar general or vicar for clergy, could be confused with other offices already in place (such as the two vicars general, one each for the Vatican and the Diocese of Rome; or the prefect of the congregation for clergy which is the Roman curial equivalent of a diocesan vicar for clergy).

Plus, it would be encouragement to dioceses around the world to start looking further back into our tradition for ideas of how to meet the ministry and governance needs of the Church today. If the successor of Peter the Rock can restore the office of Archdeacon, so can the diocese of Little Rock, or anywhere else. This would not only free up a presbyter to get out into the parishes where they are most in need, but restore to the diaconate a stronger sense of its original mission – to extend the ministry of the bishop in matters of governance, administration, and service-leadership.

Church Reform Wishlist: The Roman Curia

The Roman Curia:

  • Get the most qualified people. This means, at least:
    • Some kind of open hiring process that allows anyone qualified to be considered. The Anglicans even advertise their top openings on their website. We could have something similar. Why not?
    • A doctorate and experience in the particular field is a must. No more non-liturgists running liturgy, diplomats running theology, etc.
  • If anything, the ordinary minister of any curia should be a deacon.
    • If a presbyter is not theologically or canonically required for a position, it should not normally be given to a presbyter.
    • Lay ecclesial ministers, theologians, other lay persons, religious, and some priests or bishops may also be called upon, but they should ordinarily then be ordained to the diaconate (if appropriate).
    • This could be a good example of a place where the return of the deaconess, or of women in the diaconate, would be appropriate.
  • The diplomatic corps should be reformed
    • The same considerations as for the curia, though perhaps a doctorate is not necessary.
    • The ordinary ministers of the diplomatic corps should be deacons
    • The ecclesiastical academy should be open to all qualified, fully initiated Catholics
    • Candidates should not be drawn from seminary, but should either be a separate track or have proven field experience first
    • The nuncio should not be a bishop, but a deacon (perhaps an archdeacon, or protodeacon), unless they have already been ordained a bishop before being called to diplomatic service.
  • Communication – one apparatus to rule them all. There are what, seven different offices for communication in the Vatican? Things have improved a little, but this really needs to be coordinated. Also, people, even cardinals, whose competence is in a specific area should not be publicly speaking on the record about other areas (e.g., the President of the PCPCU should not be talking about liturgical changes, and the Prefect of the CDW should not be making ecumenical judgments.)
  • The councils and congregations should be made up of committees of the synod – or from the episcopal conferences. The staff should really be staff to these committees, not the driving force.
  • All dicasteries are equal, according to Pastor Bonus, but some dicasteries appear more equal than others. Change that. The Council for Christian Unity should be able to promulgate policy with the same authority as the Congregation for the Doctrine fo the Faith
  • Ecumenical review of doctrinal, liturgical, and canonical decisions – the PCPCU should be involved in the vetting process of decisions made by the CDF, CDW, etc. to help formulate the best policy that is both orthodox and ecumenically helpful. The reverse is already true and should continue.
  • The Secretariat of State should focus on diplomacy, not act as moderator of the curia or, generally, mediator on local ecclesiastical issues. Let there be a separate office to organize the work of the curia.
  • Most theologians are laity, true? Certainly in the western world, but I think now also universally. This should be reflected in the staff of the dicasteries, the pontifical academies, and in the pontifical universities. Though, in the case of the curia, they could be ordained to the diaconate once selected for office.
  • The support staff in many offices is quasi-hereditary, and almost exclusively Italian. If only there were a bunch of universities nearby with graduate students from all over the world looking for internships, assistantships, and part time work, we could tap into some of the greatest young talent the church has to offer… oh well…

APTOPIX Vatican Pope Church Abuse

Jump to:

“Simple is the new chic”

So says an octogenarian cardinal usually known in Rome for his sartorial splendor, when asked upon his recent appearance in a Trastevere trattoria in simple black clerical suit.

The tale is relayed by John Allen, the well-known vaticanist at dinner, from his own experience earlier this year, at the end of one of those typical Roman days where you get nothing done that you planned, but which turns out so much more interesting for it.

During the course of the day, which started with the Divine Liturgy at the Russicum (the Russian Catholic collegio), I have broken bread with a Byzantine-rite Jesuit, the organizer of an international Vatican conference, two archbishops, the aforementioned vaticanist, a papal dame, a worker-priest, journalists and students from  five continents. Before yesterday I had not expected any of it.

LayCentre Dinner Sept2013

Discussion ranged to include, (somewhat predictably):

  • Pope Francis’ big interview;
  • Cardinal Piacenza’s perceived demotion (officially a lateral move) from Congregation for Clergy to Major Penitentiary;
  • Archbishop Gus DiNoia’s unclear mandate as adjunct secretary at CDF (he had been the last ditch effort to save the talks with SSPX, after even our most traditionalist-friendly prelates assigned to the dialogue team found the task untenable);
  • the situation in Egypt, including an assessment that the military coup has popular support and will let democracy happen, if a party can be found that wont prove nepotistic or despotic;
  • expectation that the canonization of popes John XXIII and John Paul II will indeed be on Divine Mercy Sunday (27 April);
  • another impending financial scandal that will make the Vatican bank issues look like small potatoes;
  • the fears that Francis, who reminds many of John Paul I, will be the target of an assassination plot;
  • one world-traveled cleric claiming that his experience of worship at Caravita last week was one of the best he’s experienced, ever, anywhere (and that Fr. Gerry’s preaching was phenomenal);
  • the removal of two bishops this week for sex abuse of children (in Dominican Republic and Peru);
  • the positive effects of diocesan-wide petitions against their bishops (in both Germany and Brazil);
  • rumors that Pope Francis is considering strict , non-renewable, 5-year term limits for all curial posts;
  • German elections, Angela Merkel, and the evening’s Roma-Lazio game;
  • and whether men appreciate women who are willing to ask men out, or if they find it unappealing (2:1 in favor of women taking the initiative, for the record).

OK, the last one may not have come up with the clerical company, but it did come up during the day!

One overarching theme was that everyone I talked to, in every different setting, was positive about Pope Francis, but unsure, still, about how much hope to have.

Part of that relates to the concern exemplified by the “simple is chic” cardinal. If that’s all it is – knowing which way the wind is blowing – I think I would rather trust a priest who sticks to his French cuffs or a prelate preening in his watered silk, if that is what they really think is appropriate, rather than those who are simply dressing up or down according to the boss’ style. Because then none of the change is permanent, and it will shift with the sands. I might disagree with the capa magnas and the little fiefdoms, but I have much greater respect for the prelate princeling or the lord of the rectory manor who admits what he is than the one who plays the game just to look the part, whichever way it goes.

Now, if the bishop of Rome really wants to curtail clericalism, he might just announce that anyone working at any level in the curia or the diplomatic corps will be ordained only to the diaconate, in accordance with their original vocation, and neither to the presbyterate nor to titular dioceses long-since buried under the Sahara. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Recall "the smiling pope"

Recall “the smiling pope”

Hope and Change in the Church


Batman the fundamentalist giving Robin the chance to turn the other cheek

A recent conversation highlights the challenge of talking about “hope” and “change” in the Church.

A few weeks ago I had a quick lunch with an old friend and a new colleague. Eventually my friend (a Notre Dame alumna, “new evangelist” and educator) and I got into a lively discussion about “change” in the Church, given all the hope that has been expressed lately about what changes Pope Francis might bring.

My position is basically this: it is naïve to think that the Church does not change, and it is unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst to suggest that the Church cannot change. The Batman meme above vividly demonstrates a misguided and wrong-headed understanding of the Church.

“The Church should change” does not mean “the truth must/can change”. It is Church discipline – and often really just Church culture – not dogma, which should change in the minds of most. Though there are always exceptions, I suspect most Catholics are not agitating for moral relativism, an end to Trinitarian theology, a return to Arianism, denial of the Resurrection or the Real Presence, promoting abortion or war, that we do away with ordained ministry or that we change the Sunday Eucharist into an hour long drum circle featuring Kumbaya in a dozen different languages.

What most Catholics mean when they say that they hope for change in the Church is ecclesiological, ecumenical, pastoral, and practical. They want a positive gospel message (“God is love” or “Love God and thy neighbor”, and all that radical wishy-washy stuff, you know); they want better preaching, better music, better liturgy; they want transparency and accountability in church decisions, participation in governance, and maybe even more married clergy and less clericalism. They want bishops (and pastors, deacons, DRE’s et al.) to be servant-leaders, not lords of their own fiefdoms. They want ecumenism and interreligious dialogue to work, and to have real effect. They want more effort spent on social justice than on ecclesiastical protocol, more money spent on education and pastoral care than on neo-Baroque bling.

But my experience of most Catholics, admittedly, is based on my experience in parish pastoral ministry and Catholic higher education. My friend has spent several years on the front lines of pre-evangelization, new evangelization, and even good old-fashioned evangelization and catechesis, often in the context of guiding groups of pilgrims and students around Rome’s most sacred sites.


Her position was that “the church should change” is basically code for “the church’s teaching about morals should change to match the social norms of the western world.” When people say change, they mean that the church should get out of its old-fashioned rut, and embrace a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage, equal rights (and rites) for women in the ecclesiastical workforce, and so forth.

That it may be, in some cases, just as in others, “the church should change” means “the church should eliminate the novus ordo, go back to the Tridentine rite, and embrace traditional Catholic culture (circa 1940).”

The problem, though, in assuming that “the church can/must change” is code for a particular agenda is that it stymies the possibility of real conversation and dialogue. The Church is in fact always changing. All we have to do is look at the papacy of Benedict XVI to see a number of examples of change in the church. And no one can accuse Ratzinger of being radical, wishy-washy, or unorthodox.

He changed the liturgy, both in terms of the translations and in terms of the mark his own personal preferences have had. Even just during my four years in Rome, you could see lots of changes to the liturgy at St. Peter’s – longer, less participatory music; rosaries before mass begins; communion no longer offered in the hand; a crucifix and candles dominating the altar; cardinal-deacons vesting in mitre and dalmatic; etc., etc. He changed canon law to exclude deacons from acting “in persona Christi capitis,” making this phrase more about Eucharistic presidency and less about holy orders or leadership in the Church. He innovated in creating ordinariates for disenchanted Anglicans. He pushed forward reforms relating to the sex abuse crisis (at least for priests, if not bishops). He created a personnel office for the Vatican. He called in an outside audit of Vatican finances.

In short, the Church changed a lot under Pope Benedict; why would we not expect it to change with Pope Francis? The Church changes, and survives. Change simply means that things are different than they were before. It is a sign of life, and of fidelity to the principle ecclesia semper purificanda (the church must always be purified). Rather than dismissing the idea of the church changing, embrace it – critically, intelligently, and faithfully.

Remember Dante’s Divine Comedy – God is pure dynamism. The only creature which cannot change is Satan, eternally frozen in the deepest pit of hell.

%d bloggers like this: