Both non-Catholics and Catholics alike are thrilled that Pope Francis reforming the Curia Romana (the Roman Curia). For those of you who do not know, the Curia is the group of cardinals and bishops who assist the Pope in governing the Church and the Vatican City State. The bishops and cardinals who are a part of the Roman Curia oversee various dicasteries (congregations). It is the job of these congregations to deal with specific duties. For example, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) oversees the dissemination of the Catholic Faith throughout the world. If any professor at a Catholic college teaches contrary to the Faith, or any priest or bishop does the same, the CDF may step in.
There are many dicasteries in the Roman Curia, and each, in theory, has different areas of jurisdiction. In practicality, however, many of the dicasteries’ jobs overlap. Catholics and non-Catholics have long wanted reform of the Curia. But there has been disagreement over what those reforms should look like. In fact, not even Catholics have agreed with one another over what the curial reforms should actually look like. Should there be fewer dicasteries? Should the current heads of the dicasteries be replaced? Should layman be allowed to head the dicasteries? What about women? What role, if any, should women play in the Curia Romana?
It seems Pope Francis is answering these questions. There was no doubt Pope Francis would make major reforms to the Curia when he was elected pope. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had begun some curial reforms when he became pope, but his health and age prevented him from doing too much. Most of the reforms would have to be made by Benedict’s successor. Enter Pope Francis.
Francis’ reforms have been quite dramatic, and it would seem more are to come. Francis’ criticisms of many within the Curia-and most of these criticisms have been made in a general way-have made the Pontiff’s displeasure with their conduct abundantly clear. It was certain many of those leading the dicasteries would be replaced. Indeed, there have been replacements. Yet, Pope Francis has found another way to solve his problems.
Not only are there many corrupt men heading and working within some of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia; but there are too many dicasteries. The Roman Curia has become a lumbering, inefficient bureaucracy that is far too large. You never want that! Not to mention that, oftentimes, the bishops and cardinals heading the various dicasteries become entrenched. They can become very influential and very powerful. This can make them hard to remove.
One great example is Cardinal Sodano. His Eminence served as the Secretary of State for much of Pope St. John Paul II’s pontificate. The Holy Father does not place someone at the head of a dicastery if he doesn’t trust him. St. John Paul II trusted Cardinal Sodano. Why shouldn’t he have trusted Cardinal Sodano? His Eminence seemed to be a genuine kind of guy. Yet, time would show that all was not as it seemed.
It began to leak out that the founder of a religious order (Regnum Christi), Fr. Marcial Maciel, had had sexual relationships with several men in his order. Not only that, but Fr. Maciel had used funds for Regnum Christi to pay for a town home for his mistress. In addition, Fr. Maciel had fathered multiple children with multiple women, and he had sexually abused some of these children!
These were horrendous actions, if true. They were true, but Fr. Maciel had one very powerful, influential friend. That friend was Cardinal Sodano. Although an investigation by the CDF (headed at the time by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who would become Pope Benedict XVI) found that the allegations were true, Cardinal Sodano insisted they were false. His Eminence was able to keep Fr. Maciel out of trouble. At least, that is, until Cardinal Ratzinger became pope. Fr. Maciel was promptly removed from Regnum Christi, and promptly disciplined.
The point is, one can see the power and influence some of these men in the Curia can wield. So it can be difficult even for the Pope to remove them. Francis, however, has found a way around that. The Holy Father has announced that some of the dicasteries will be merged into one. Not only will this shrink the bureaucracy of the Church (making Her more efficient), this will also allow the Holy Father to more easily remove those in the Curia he wishes to be gone.
In addition, there has been some question as to the role of women and laymen in the Curia. Pope Francis has indicated that he may allow women to play some role in the Curia, as women bring different talents and skill sets from men. This could only help the Church. Pope Francis will not, however, be allowing women to serve as heads of the dicasteries. One can understand the dangerous precedent this would set. Jesus never indicated anywhere that women should lead His Church. In fact, Jesus’ actions seem to say otherwise.
As far as laymen go, they have already played a role in the dicasteries, but they have never been allowed to head them. Again, Pope Francis has indicated, this will not change. Indeed, it can not change. Christ established a hierarchy to lead His Church. The nature of the work of the Roman Curia necessitates that the dicasteries be headed by no one holding a rank less than a bishop. So, while significant reforms will be made, there will be limits to these reforms.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
Worldwide Catholic Solidarity
American Catholic Solidarity