THE REFORM OF THE VATICAN CURIA MOVES FORWARD, SLOWLY

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Vatican Diary / The secretariat of state has lost its control over the economy

It has been taken over by the new ministry of finance directed by Cardinal Pell. The Italian predominance in the administrative offices has also been scaled down. An objection from Cardinal Kasper and papal plaudits for Cardinal Siri

by Sandro Magister

La Chiesa

VATICAN CITY, March 5, 2014 – The comprehensive reform of the Roman curia is not yet around the corner. This was reiterated at the end of February by the coordinator of the council of cardinals instituted by Pope Francis with this aim in mind as well.

Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga in fact said in an interview published in “Avvenire” on February 25:

“Reforms of the curia have always taken a great deal of time. We are living in the age of the immediate, and many would like answers. The positions in the dicasteries are being examined, and those on the councils will follow. They should have patience.”

But Pope Francis is not sitting back to wait for this comprehensive reform. He is proceeding with his own acts of reform, by motu proprio.

On the very same day that the cardinal of Honduras was asking for patience, February 24, Jorge Mario Bergoglio in fact gave a further boost to the change of the curia’s economic-financial structure.

He did so with the motu proprio “Fidelis dispensator et prudens,” named after verse 42 of chapter 12 of the Gospel of Luke, which speaks precisely of a “faithful and prudent administrator.”

With this motu proprio the pope instituted three new organisms. The most important is a new dicastery, the awaited “superministry” of Vatican finances, directed by a cardinal prefect. A position that Francis entrusted on that same day to Australian cardinal George Pell.

Being headed by a cardinal, the new Vatican ministry will therefore be of the first rank, but will not be called a congregation. Its name, in fact, is “secretariat for the economy,” and its leadership will include – also by pontifical appointment – a “prelate,” meaning a churchman but not necessarily a bishop, with the functions of a secretary general.

The newly created secretariat – as the motu proprio states – “reports directly to the Holy Father and carries out economic control and supervision” over the dicasteries of the Roman curia, the institutions connected to the Holy See, and Vatican City-State.

Its responsibilities will also include “the policies and procedures relative to the acquisition and adequate allocation of human resources, in respect for the competencies proper to each office.”

The new cardinal secretary for the economy – the motu proprio further specifies – “collaborates with the secretary of state.”

The motu proprio also institutes the figure, likewise of pontifical appointment, of a “general accountant” with the task of auditing the aforementioned Vatican offices or institutions connected to the Holy See. In this case, since it is not specified that this is a position reserved for churchmen, it is obvious that it could be held by a layman or laywoman.

Finally, the document creates a new council for the economy that has the task of “offering guidelines on economic management and supervising the administrative and financial structures and activities of the aforementioned offices.” Guidelines that the newly created “secretariat for the economy” will have to take into account.

This new council takes over from the council of cardinals for the study of organizational and economic problems of the Holy See instituted by John Paul II in 1981. This latter was made up of fifteen cardinals residing in various countries and was convened and headed twice a year by the cardinal secretary of state, in collaboration with the cardinal president of the prefecture of economic affairs of the Holy See.

The new council preserves its international profile, but alongside eight churchmen – who could also be bishops without the scarlet – it will include seven “lay experts of various nationalities with financial competencies and recognized professionalism.”

In a statement from the Vatican press office released before the publication of the motu proprio, it was specified that as head of the secretariat the pope has appointed Cardinal Pell, “currently” the archbishop of Sydney, a see he will leave at the end of March to establish himself in Rome full-time.

The same statement also confirms, making this explicit for the first time, that the APSA, the administration of the patrimony of the apostolic see, continues to be the “central bank of the Vatican, with all of the obligations and responsibilities of the analogous institutions all over the world.” And it reiterates that the AIF, the financial information authority, maintains the “current and fundamental role of prudential oversight and discipline of the activities within the Holy See and Vatican City-State.”

In the motu proprio Pope Francis explains that the decisions made with it come after having “considered attentively” the results of the commission reporting on the economic-administrative structures of the Holy See and after having consulted with the council of eight cardinals and the council for the study of the organizational and economic problems of the Holy See, this latter having been stripped of practical authority.

The motu proprio also entrusts to the cardinal prefect of the new secretariat the task of writing the statutes of the same secretariat – which in reality appears a bit anomalous – and also those of the other two new institutional bodies, the council for the economy and the general accountancy.

Naturally, it will be possible to evaluate the effective scope of the motu proprio of February 24 only after the publication of the statutes and after the new organisms find their place in the comprehensive reform of the curia still to come.

In the meantime, however, it can be conjectured – and some have already done so – that the creation of this new secretariat and the decision to entrust it to an Australian are a blow to the centrality of the secretariat of state and to the historical Italian predominance in the Roman curia.

In the Francophone sphere, for example, the vaticanista Sebastien Maillard has written in “La Croix” that the creation of the secretariat for the economy marks “the end” of the figure of the “second-in-command” of the Vatican, meaning the secretary of state. While the writer Nicolas Diat – author of a controversial book, “L’homme qui ne voulait pas etre pape,” which earned a review along with a refutation, but only in French, by Fr. Federico Lombardi – has said that “the appointment of a cardinal from Oceania is the most glaring symbol of the de-Italianization of the Roman curia.”

In effect, Pell’s appointment as head of the “secretariat for the economy” downgrades the figure of the chief of the other and until recently the only Vatican “secretariat,” that “of state,” usually entrusted to an Italian churchman.

It must be kept in mind that in the practice of recent decades the true control center of the economic-financial policy of the Holy See had become the administrative office of the secretariat of state, the head of which continues to be received in daily audience by the substitute.

And historically this office has almost always been directed by Italian churchmen. The last two were the Piedmontese prelate Gianfranco Piovano (during his long tenure the office took on such importance as to be perceived in the Vatican almost as a “third section” of the secretariat of state) and since 2009 by the Lombard Alberto Perlasca.

Now, however, this control center seems to be moving to a new dicastery that will report directly to the pope, and will apparently be on equal footing with the secretariat of state, with which it is called to “collaborate” without however being subordinated to it.

And this control center has not been entrusted to an Italian, but rather to an Australian, while as second-in-command of the newly created organism there seems likely to be the appointment – not yet published formally, but already brashly announced to the media by the person in question – of the Spanish monsignor Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda, of the priestly society of the Holy Cross, connected to Opus Dei, who is also the secretary of the commission reporting on the economic-administrative structures of the Holy See and the talent scout of a controversial member of this commission, Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui.

As for the prefecture of economic affairs of the Holy See, the features of which have been absorbed by the newly created secretariat, it seems truly destined to disappear, even if nothing was written in this regard in the motu proprio and in the note that accompanied it.

The prefecture as well, since its foundation in 1967, has usually been headed by an Italian churchman, the last of whom was Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi. The only exception has been Edmund C. Szoka of the United States, from 1990 to 1997.

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A CRITICAL REMARK ON FRANCIS FROM KASPER

Pope Francis chose him as the only speaker at the last consistory and praised him publicly for his statements on communion for the divorced and remarried. But now Cardinal Walter Kasper has taken the field to have his say on the reform of the curia.

He has done so in a long interview published in “Avvenire” of March 2, which has been rewarded with extensive media coverage on account of the proposal to give positions of responsibility to women in the leadership of the pontifical councils, tribunals, and administrative offices of the curia.

But there is also an interesting theological point in the interview that highlights a problem that arose in the curia after Vatican Council II.

Kasper maintains:

“The bishop is a pastor. Episcopal consecration is not a mark of honor, it is a sacrament, it concerns the sacramental structure of the Church. So why is a bishop required to carry out bureaucratic functions? In my view this risks an abuse of the sacraments. Not even Cardinal Ottaviani, the historic secretary of the Congregation of the Holy Office, was a bishop; he became one later, with John XXIII.”

In effect it was with pope Angelo Roncalli that the practice began of elevating to the episcopate curial dignitaries who until the time of Pius XII had not been granted this. It should be enough to think, for Pope Francis, of the case of the new secretary general of the governorate, Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, and of that, analogous if not connected to the Roman curia, of the rector of the Catholic university of Buenos Aires, Victor Manuel Fernández.

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HONORS FOR SIRI, BUT NOT FOR HIS DISCIPLES

On February 27, Pope Francis presided over the meeting of the members of the congregation for bishops. This was a matter, as cardinal prefect Marc Ouellet said, of an “unprecedented attendance.” And in effect no similar precedent comes to mind.

On the occasion the pope delivered a long talk on the criteria to be followed for choosing a good bishop.

Bergoglio said among other things:

“The Church does not need apologists for its causes, nor crusaders for its battles, but humble and trusting sowers of the truth, who know that this is always handed over to them anew and trust in its power. Bishops aware that even when it is night and the fatigue of the day finds them weary, in the field the seeds are germinating. Men who are patient because they know that the weeds will never be so thick as to take over the field. The human heart is made for the wheat, it was the enemy who secretly cast the bad seed. The season of the weeds, however, has already been irrevocably fixed.”

And he added immediately afterward:

“I would like to emphasize this well: patient men! They say that Cardinal Siri loved to repeat: ‘There are five virtues of a bishop: first is patience, second is patience, third is patience, fourth is patience, and last is patience with those who call upon us to have patience.'”

The reference to Cardinal Giuseppe Siri (1906-1989), the only churchman cited by the pope on that occasion, has a paradoxical flavor.

This citation “ad honorem” has in fact arrived after Pope Francis removed from the congregation for bishops two cardinals who were consecrated by Siri – Angelo Bagnasco and Mauro Piacenza – and after another churchman on whom Siri laid hands – Francesco Moraglia – was crossed off the list of new cardinals, in spite of the fact that he is the head of the patriarchate of Venice, which in the last century gave three popes to the Church.

For the record, there remains in his office as master of pontifical liturgical ceremonies Siri’s last “deacon caudatarius,” Monsignor Guido Marini, who however was ordained a priest by his successor, Giovanni Canestri.

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The February 24, 2014 motu proprio of Pope Francis:

> “Fidelis dispensator et prudens…”

And the statement that preceded it:

> “The Holy Father today announced…”

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The address of Pope Francis at the plenary meeting of the congregation of bishops on February 27, 2014:

> L’essenziale nella missione della congregazione…

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Walter Kasper’s interview in “Avvenire” of March 1:

> Kasper. “Alla Chiesa serve il genio femminile”

And his presentation to the consistory on the family:

> Kasper Changes the Paradigm, Bergoglio Applauds

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English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.

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About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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