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Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 13, 2015

Cardinals from all continents expressed “appreciation” for the reforms already achieved or underway in the Roman Curia under Pope Francis, particularly in the field of Vatican Finances, but they recognized that there is still a long way to go before the reform can be completed.

They also raised the question of the relation between the Roman Curia and the local churches (diocesan bishops and Bishops Conferences), including "decentralization" and "subsidiarity" and the issue of the competence and spirituality of those who come to work in the Vatican.

That is what Father Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, told reporters after the morning’s session on the second day of the two-day "extraordinary consistory" of the College of Cardinals called by the pope to brief them on the reform effort and to get their feedback. The College has a total of 227 members (including the 20 new ones who will be created on February 14), and 164 of them attended the morning’s session. 

Already 40 of these cardinals (including two new ones) have spoken on the reforms that have either been done, are under way or that were proposed yesterday. The climate at the meeting was a calm, friendly one, Father Lombardi assured reporters. Cardinals to whom this correspondent spoke said there was no negative feelings towards the Roman Curia such as surfaced during the pre-conclave meetings; there is a clear sensation that the first Latin American Pope is getting the work done, as the cardinals had requested before the conclave. He has the support of the overwhelming majority of them. 

Several cardinals spoke on the relation between the Roman Curia and the local churches, and one of the key questions raised here could be expressed this way: “Where can a question be best resolved: is it in the local church or in the Roman Curia?” Many saw the answer to this question as a key factor in determining the reform of the Roman Curia. Some expressed it in terms of the need for decentralization, but even more preferred the word subsidiarity; others spoke about giving more authority to the bishops’ conferences. I was told by one participant that the Brazilian cardinal, Claudio Hummes, made a particularly good intervention on the question of  subsidiarity, and also called for more coordination in the Vatican.   

Some cardinals spoke of the important role of the Holy See in assisting the local churches, especially when these are weak or in very difficult situations. A few insisted that while the Secretariat of State deals with the international organizations, this does not mean that it should always go alone.

A number of cardinals spoke about the need to develop good communication and coordination within the various offices of the Roman Curia, and thereby foster a spirit of communion and collegiality.      

Several cardinals spoke about the question of personnel in the Roman Curia. Some raised the question of the role of the laity and advocated giving women roles of responsibility within the Roman Curia. A number spoke about the importance of ensuring that those who work in the Vatican are competent in their field, and also have a spirituality that is inspired by a pastoral and missionary spirit.

There is a general recognition among the cardinals the total reform of the Curia will take time, but that it can be done in stages and it is not necessary to wait for the definitive plan before implementing changes, Father Lombardi said. This means, for example, that the two new congregations being proposed—“Laity Family Life” and “Charity Justice Peace” with an office on ecology, could be established in the not too distant future. (Note: the names of these congregations may not be those given here).

The morning of the second day was given over to the question of the reform of the Holy See’s finances. The College of Cardinals was given detailed historical and systematic presentation, with slide shows, of the reforms done to date and those still under way. The presentations were given by four persons who have roles of major responsibility for all this: two cardinals—George Pell, the head of the Secretariat for the Economy, and Reinhardt Marx, president of the Council for the Economy (COE), and two laymen—Joseph F.X. Zhara (Malta), deputy coordinator of the COE, who spoke from his earlier role as President of the Commission for Reference on the Organisation of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See ( the body Pope Francis set up to carry out the preliminary investigation that led to the reorganisation of the Vatican’s economic structure) and Jean-Baptiste de Franssu  (France), the president of the Institute for the Works of Religion ( once called ‘the Vatican Bank’).

The cardinals greatly appreciated their presentation and expressed satisfaction that the reform was bringing transparency, integrity and competence to the Vatican’s finances and restoring credibility to the church in this whole area. Some emphasized the need for an Auditor General. It seems the post is under active recruitment. One cardinal told me afterwards, “We were quite impressed by what they have achieved and what they are doing,” but he added, “There’s still a long way to go to resolve the question as to who decides what.”

In the afternoon session, today, Cardinal Sean O’Malley was due to present the important work of the Commission for the Protection of Minors which Pope Francis has established, and the reform that has been done in this whole field. The cardinals are also expected to comment on this too.

The session was scheduled to end at 7.00 p.m.  The College of Cardinals will not vote or give a verdict on the reforms already done, or under-way and proposed, Father Lombardi said. But it is already clear that there is real appreciation among the cardinals for the work already done and being planned.  

Tomorrow, Pope Francis will give the red hat to 19 of the 20 new cardinals in a ceremony in Saint Peter’s Basilica, which Benedict the XVI will also attend at the invitation of his successor. The elderly cardinal from Colombia, Jose de Jesus Pimiento Rodriguez, who will be 96 years old on February 18 could not travel to Rome to receive the red hat, he will be given it at home.

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