In the wake of the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland, the possibly alarming contents of a report of institutional dysfunction in the Roman Curia, as well as “Vatileaks” and other scandals, church leaders around the world say that a reform of the Curia may be in order for the man who will succeed Pope Benedict XVI.
“There is no doubt that today there needs to be renewal in the church, reform in the church and especially of government,” Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, former head of the church in England and Wales, told a news conference in London on Feb. 26. He said that the pope’s “own house has to be put in order.”
But according to Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, many bishops and cardinals believe that the entire church should be reformed by Benedict XVI’s successor, with the pope taking a much less dominant role in the church. “It is not just the pope who rules the church,” he said. “It is the pope with the bishops.”
Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Ind., has several years of firsthand experience of working in and with the Curia. He said Vatican reform “is a reasonable priority to have, not so much to avoid scandals but to provide for a government that will help the Holy Father exercise his Petrine service.
“That’s a struggle for a bureaucracy that has been around for the better part of two millennia,” he added.
“As one who used to severely criticize the Curia before I worked there, I was told by one historian that you have to remember the Curia saw the church through world wars and depressions and kept it going, even when there wasn’t a pope,” he said.
Archbishop Tobin served in the Roman Curia as secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life from 2010 until his appointment to Indianapolis last October. Before that, he often worked closely with the Curia when he was superior general of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, known as the Redemptorists, from 1997 to 2009.
“My experience is that there’s a lot of goodness in the Roman Curia, a lot of people who are very devout Catholics,” he said. But “there are structures and trends that blunt” its effectiveness.
One of those trends, he said, is the tendency to have Italians dominate the staffs of the various Vatican offices. Although the congregation he served has a Brazilian cardinal as its prefect and formerly Archbishop Tobin himself, an American, as the second in charge, he noted that the majority of its approximately 40 staff members were Italian.
“What I was able to do as a non-Italian was to encourage them to think beyond the [Italian] peninsula,” he said. “If you don’t make an effort to have an international Curia, it’s very easy, and with goodwill, to slide into all the issues of the church and the state in Italy.”
Archbishop Tobin speculated that Pope Benedict may have chosen to resign now, as his own strength is diminishing, to avoid problems with the Curia that occurred in the final years of the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II, when his deteriorating health made it difficult for him to take decisive action in curial affairs.