Pope, Cardinals Push Dramatic Reform of Roman Curia

Pope Francis and his international council of cardinals are laying out plans to overhaul the Roman Curia completely, underlining its role of “service to the universal church and the local churches,” the Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, S.J., said.

As the pope and the eight cardinals he named to advise him were about to begin the final session of their meeting in early October, Father Lombardi said the role and responsibilities of the Vatican secretary of state, the revamping of the World Synod of Bishops and the Vatican’s attention to the role and responsibility of the laity also were major themes of discussion. The discussions, Father Lombardi said, are going clearly in the direction of an apostolic constitution to replace “Pastor Bonus,” and not simply “cosmetic retouches or marginal modifications” of the 1988 document.

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Father Lombardi said the group’s agenda was partially dictated by the pope’s own timetable. Pope Francis has named Archbishop Pietro Parolin to be his secretary of state and has given him an Oct. 15 start date, so it made sense to discuss how the pope and cardinals planned to reshape his role in a renewed Curia.

Under the terms of Blessed John Paul II’s constitution “Pastor Bonus,” the secretariat of state includes two sections. One deals with foreign relations and the other with internal church matters. According to “Pastor Bonus,” the secretariat is intended to “foster relations” with other Curia offices and “coordinate their work.”

Father Lombardi said the pope and the cardinals emphasized the role of the secretariat of state as “the secretariat of the pope” and said the discussions included “the hypothesis of a new figure—‘moderator of the Curia’” to ensure greater communication and cooperation among the Curia offices.

Possible changes to the organization of the World Synod of Bishops, which has been a periodic gathering of bishops from around the world to discuss a specific theme of church life, were moved to the top of the meeting’s agenda because the synod council will meet at the Vatican on Oct. 7–8, the spokesman said.

Father Lombardi said the pope is expected to decide the theme for the next synod “in the coming days.”

The eight cardinals—six of whom currently serve as diocesan bishops—brought to the meeting with the pope suggestions they had received from church leaders around the world. One of the topics mentioned most often, Father Lombardi said, was concern for the role of the laity in the church and the world. The pope and his cardinal advisers talked about “how to ensure that this dimension of the church’s reality is more adequately and effectively recognized and followed in the governance of the church,” Father Lombardi said.

A second meeting with the pope has been scheduled for Dec. 3–5, and another meeting will be held in February “so that the work of the council, especially in this initial phase, can proceed quickly,” Father Lombardi said.

The eight cardinal members, who represent six continents, are Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, retired archbishop of Santiago, Chile; Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India; Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany; Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Congo; Sean P. O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., of Boston; George Pell of Sydney; Giuseppe Bertello, president of the commission that governs the Vatican City State; and Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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