Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Curia Review Group: what should they do? ***Updated

As I mentioned a few days ago, the Pope has appointed a group of eight Cardinals (being variously dubbed the G8 or Gang of 8 by some), including Cardinal Pell, to advise him on "the governing of the universal church and to study a revision of the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus on the Roman Curia".

Catholic Voices Melbourne

In Australia of course the initial reactions have largely been around Cardinal Pell's appointment to the group.

One of the key criteria for selection seems to have been ensuring every geographical area of the Church has representation - and Cardinal Pell is the only active Cardinal in Oceania these days (there are three others, but all long retired), so an almost automatic choice on the face of it.

All the same, he does have good credentials for the role - he has done some tough reforms in his own dioceses (remember the Melbourne seminary affair!), has plenty of experience in dealing with the Curia, and has views on the issue which he has not been backward in sharing!

Accordingly, it has been nice to see a fairly positive coverage of his appointment (the views on offer over at aCatholica and Cath News notwithstanding!).

Instead of the normal whingeing from dissenters like ex-priest Paul Collins, there have been a number of front foot reports out there, first from Cardinal Pell's spokesperson, as well as from Tim Fisher (as former Ambassador to the Holy See) and from Catholic Voices Australia (in reality it is purely a Melbourne show, so the name seems a bit of a claim too high, but the aim is noble!).

So what will the Committee actually be doing?

What is the Group's task?

Despite the fact that the Pope has apparently already spoken to the various members of the group by phone, details of what they are actually supposed to do still seem fairly vague, as the initial ABC Report suggests:

"A spokeswoman for Cardinal Pell, Katrina Lee, says he is looking forward to the opportunity to assist the Pope in the important task.

"Cardinal Pell will be in Rome over the next couple of weeks and he will probably be meeting with the Pope during that time to discuss what hopefully will be the intentions of the committee in October, and what they hope to achieve after that," she said.

"Cardinal Pell is looking very much to see how he can contribute to the committee."

Ms Lee says the international composition of the committee shows that the Pope is a fresh thinker.

"When the Pope appointed the group of cardinals he was very keen to hear and listen to what a number of people think, and what they've said in the past about the Curia and how they can make it work in the future, and how they can improve it for the Pontificate in general," she said.

"(He is) making sure that he's speaking to a wide range of people, not just people who might be in Rome, or might be associated with the previous Pontificate, but also trying to reach out to people and getting an idea and a feeling of what's happening in various parts of the world and how various people are thinking."

The Catholic Voices Spokeswoman, while upbeat, was similarly short on detail:

Dr Rodrigues said it is unclear what is on the agenda and what changes are likely to come out of the committee.

"I think that if we are to judge what is already happened and look forward, we can expect great things to happen," she said.

"I think that things will evolve slowly at a pace that ensures that things are done in a constructive way, in a very considered way and certainly one that aims to take the church in a positive direction.

"This ensures that really the decision-making is informed and it is informed by people who are coming from different parts of the world."

This hasn't, of course, prevented assorted interpretations of it, as well as lots of suggestions being offered to it, so here is my own list.

What should the Committee recommend?

1.  Clean out the Italians

The Sydney Archdiocese website's story on the role of the group quotes the Cardinal as pointing to the need for greater discipline within the Curia.  In the face of the leaks, continuing claims of homosexual infiltration, and allegations of corruption, a good housecleaning would seem an obvious starting point!

Of course, the underlying problem is the system of appointments on the basis of cronyism and worse.  As Cardinal Pell has pointed out, one obvious solution would be to ensure greater English-speaking input to the Church's core decision-making.

Certainly breaking the Italian stranglehold on the Curia seems like a no brainer -  currently 115 of the 285 Curial bishops are Italians.  And Europe is represented by some 170 curial bishops in total, while the Americas have but 44, Asia 38, Africa 29 and Oceania a mere 4!

As others have pointed out, part of the problem is that the Curia's working language is Italian, so outsiders have to invest a lot of effort in learning the language before they can be useful.  Some don't like the idea of recognising English as the universal language of the world.  So the solution is simple - revert to Latin, the Vatican's official language...

2.  Set up a Cabinet system

Part of the challenge in any reform of the Curia is not to undermine the hierarchical structure of the Church.  In the end, it is the Pope who has the power of universal governance, and he does actually need to be able to the final decision-maker on some things.

Nonetheless, good processes lead to better outcomes.  And listening to a variety of different perspectives before you make a decision is crucial.  So is making sure there are appropriate internal co-ordination processes.

Having a Cabinet like body - a meeting of the heads of the various Congregations and the Pope once a week or so to discuss the major decisions that need to be, or have been made - would be a simple way of getting everyone talk to each other and ensuring all the possible angles are properly tested.

Some, like Austen Ivereigh and John Allen, are suggesting that the G8 is the de facto Cabinet.  I don't see how it can be.  These men are diocesan bishops, they do not have actual 'Ministerial' responsibilities for particular parts of the bureaucracy.  And only one of them is resident in Rome - multilingual tele or videoconferences are just not that easy to run!   It could be a useful sounding board and means of consulting the world's bishops, but that's not the same thing as a Cabinet.

3.  Geographical structures?

Some have suggested that the shape of this Committee, which has a member from every Continent (except Antarctica!) is the shape of things to come.  There certainly does seem to be a need to better ensure that Rome hears the diversity of voices in the Church.  Some have suggested an expanded role for bishops' conferences.  Based on their performance to date in most countries, this seems like a recipe for more useless talkfests rather than actual action.

But perhaps Joshua's proposal for a series of Latin Rite Patriarchates is worth exploring further?  Instead of focusing on endless consultation, it could help to speed up decision-making, one of the main complaints about the Curia at the moment; and it could allow a greater degree of responsiveness to the problems particular to the different regions of the world.

4. Revive the use of clerks?

Some have suggested that one way of preventing careerism would be to have time limited appointments to the Curia - say five years.

I don't actually think that is a good idea.  It takes time to learn how to be a good bureaucrat, and maintaining institutional memory and culture (assuming you have a healthy one!)  is crucial to good decision-making and implementation.

But a system of exchanges, whereby Vatican bureaucrats went to work in diocesan systems for a period and vice versa could be helpful.

It might also be worth considering reviving 'minor orders', so that rather than increasing the number of laypeople in the Vatican, the Church reverted to the traditional use of clerks (and religious) to run the system, rather than unnecessarily diverting the increasingly scarce supply of priests to this purpose.

5. Enforcement

I do think the elephant in the room on Curia reform is surely the Church's approach, over the last few decades, of not actually enforcing its decisions.

In the Counter-Reformations clean out of corruption and immorality, public deposition of a few Cardinals and bishops played a key role.  Cardinal Mahony currently tops my list of candidates for this, though a number of others do spring to mind as well!

More generally, Curial inertia surely reflects in part the fact that so much of their work has little immediate impact, and relies on persuasion rather than just making a decision and enforcing it (how after all, can it be healthy for a Bishop Morris-like situation to have taken more than ten years to resolve).  The reality is that the current balance between the local church and the necessity of maintaining union with Rome is not ideal, and results in passive-aggressive responses on both sides.

What is the point after all, of getting those respones to dubia out quickly if diocesan bishops then ignore the Congregation for Divine Worship, and allow liturgical abuses to continue to flourish?  What is the point of issuing instructions such as Summorum Pontificum if some bishops are able to white ant its implementation in practice?  What is the point of issuing those doctrinal guidelines on the Churches response to homosexuality, for example, if numerous bishops and even Cardinals then publicly take a different view on issues such as civil unions?

I'm not advocating a wholesale return of the Holy Office, but I am advocating more support from Rome for bishops to take fast and decisive action when needed in relation to priestly immorality, liturgical abuses and heresy.  And it should be backed up by a preparedness for Rome to act as well, and be a fast court of appeal, to ensure the power is not abused.

What do you think?  And what else should be on the list Cardinal Pell takes to the Committee!

**Postscript: Cardinal Pell has described the group as not a Cabinet in the Western parliamentary sense, but a kitchen cabinet which the Pope will use as a sounding board.


ka said...

Curia clean out
Geographical representation (no more Italians)
Clean up the finances
Sort out seminaries (not run by feminists, restoration of rosary, Latin teaching, all must learn EF, celibacy)
Religious back into habits, praying and living in community.
Liturgical abuses, ad libbing and novelties to be ceased.
Praying of the Divine Office throughout the Church.
Dealing with pseudoecumenism.

A Country Priest said...

Great post. On many levels.

Pray for Catholic Voices Australia. It's a Melbourne show right now, but only because it's embryonic. Moves are already afoot to establish CVA in other state capitals.

Kate Edwards said...

Thanks Father, good to hear that CVA plans on expanding out...