In his first major move towards structural reform of the Vatican, Pope Francis has announced the formation of a group of cardinals drawn from across the world to advise him on church governance. The Vatican said Saturday the Pope is acting on suggestions made to him during the pre-conclave gatherings of cardinals, when curial reform was a major topic of discussion.
The veteran Vatican-watcher John Thavis described the move as “a giant step toward reforming the Roman Curia and cleaning up the missteps and power struggles that have embarrassed the Vatican in recent years.”
The eight cardinals are mostly presidents of bishops’ conferences from all seven continents, hailing from Chile, India, Germany, Democratic Republic of Congo, the United States, Australia, and Honduras. The appointments show that Pope Francis has taken to heart calls by bishops from around the world to have more say in Vatican decisions that affect their areas.
An Italian archbishop will act as secretary of the group, which will hold its first formal meeting in October in Rome. Pope Francis has already been in contact with each of them, the statement said.
Its purpose was “to advise him in the government of the universal Church” and to “help him revise the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus”, the Vatican said. Pastor Bonus is the 1988 Apostolic Constitution of Pope John Paul II which sets out the structure of the Roman Curia. The Constitution has not been systematically updated in more than 20 years.
Fr Thomas Rosica said it was “a group, not a commission, committee, or council” whose purpose was advisor not legislative.
But while the Group “will not in any way interfere in the normal functions of the Roman Curia, which helps the Pope in the daily governance of the Church”, Vatican analyst John Allen points out that the first part of the Group’s remit makes it more like a cabinet than a commission appointed for a single task.
The members are:
- Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State;
- Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz 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 Andrés Rodríguez 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.
By going outside Rome to find members of the Group – Cardinal Bertello is governor of Vatican City State rather than a member of the Curia – this is a major ‘collegial’ move by Pope Francis.
Collegiality is the doctrine, emphasised at the Second Vatican Council, that the Church is governed by the College of Bishops presided over by the Bishop of Rome.
John Allen notes that the move is collegial on at least three levels.
First and most obviously, by placing a group of leaders from dioceses around the world at the top of the food chain, it’s a way of saying that the Vatican must be accountable to the local churches rather than it always being the other way around. In that sense, this is a way of implementing the call for greater collegiality that goes all the way back to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
Second, this group is clearly designed to be geographically representative, including at least one cardinal from each continent. When Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone called these cardinals early last week on behalf of the pope to ask if they would accept the appointment, some were explicitly told they were being asked to serve as the representative of their geographic region.
Third, this group includes the current president of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich) and the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (Gracias), as well as past presidents of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (Monsengwo) and the Episcopal Council of Latin America (Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa of Chile).
Those picks were unlikely to have been accidents. They suggest a revitalization of the role of bishops’ conferences, both nationally and regionally, under Francis.
A number of the members of the Group have publicly called for changes in the way the Church or who have been at times publicly critical of the Secretariat of State.
Cardinal Pell of Sydney, for example, believes that the Curia is too Italian-dominated and would benefit from greater internationalisation. The Group’s coordinator, Cardinal Rodríguez de Madariaga, had a public dispute with the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, over the direction of Caritas Internationalis. And Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston joined Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna in 2010 in criticizing Cardinal Angelo Sodano for referring to criticism of the church’s record on sex abuse as “petty gossip.”
Others in the Group — Cardinals Pasinya and Gracias – have argued in favour of greater involvement of local churches and regional bishops’ conferences in universal church governance.
Prior to this move, Pope Francis has given a number of indications of his commitment to presiding in a more collegial way. He referred to himself after his election as the “Bishop of Rome presiding in charity” — a phrase used by St Ignatius of Antioch to describe the role of pope – and has stuck to Italian, rather than using many different languages, in his public appearances. He is also considering changing the statutes of the Italian bishops’ conference so that its future president is elected by the Italian bishops – as happens in every other bishops’ conference – rather than by the Pope.
Because papal centralism has been one of the main obstacles to reconciliation with non-Catholic churches, Pope Francis’ commitment to greater collegiality will be particularly important in dialogue with other Christian churches, Cardinal Walter Kasper points out.