Much criticism has been directed at the Roman Curia in the past few months and that has only intensified in the immediate run-up to the 2013 conclave. The media, fuelled by documents emerging from the so-called VatiLeaks scandal, have portrayed it as a dysfunctional bureaucracy mired in sexual and financial impropriety. Some even depict it as the root cause of all the Church’s problems, writes Robert Mickens in The Tablet.
Others maintain that the alleged corruption and vice inside its various departments prompted Benedict XVI’s sudden resignation from the Chair of St Peter, in a similar way to the moment when the 1968 student riots led him to leave his professorial chair at the University of Tübingen.
Defenders of the Roman Curia and those who want to reform it were reportedly the main two opposing blocs squaring off in the conclave. At least that’s the storyline many reporters and commentators were following, especially the pundits from Italy.
However compelling, the “Curia vs reformers” billing has been simplistic. Think of this: at least 51 of the 115 cardinal electors have worked in the Vatican’s central bureaucracy, either currently or in the past. And like the so-called reformers, almost all of them agree that “the Pope’s own house has to be put in order”, as Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, a non-Curialist, so vividly put it.
Certainly there are divisions in the curial camp; some quite sharp. But these factions still agree on at least one thing – that Curia reforms should be led by insiders like themselves who already know where all the light switches are in the Apostolic Palace, rather than by outsiders who are coming in from the dark. Indeed, there is a long-standing view that only a pope who is an insider can be trusted with reforming the Curia. That’s what happened with the election (exactly 50 years ago next June) of Paul VI. And it was supposed to happen with the election in 2005 of Benedict XVI. Unfortunately, it did not.
But Francis is the first Pope from the Americas, and the first from outside Europe in over 1,000 years, and there is a firm belief among the cardinals and many bishops around the world that he must show a greater interest in administration than his predecessor did. That includes carrying out an internal bureaucratic reform at the Vatican.
The Roman Curia is, after all, “the complex of dicasteries and institutes which help the Roman pontiff in the exercise of his supreme pastoral office for the good and service of the whole Church and of the particular Churches”. That description comes directly from the apostolic constitution, Pastor Bonus, the document that Pope John Paul II issued in 1988 to – yes – reform and reorganise this centuries-old institution once known as the papal court.
It is generally acknowledged that this was only a mild reform compared to the radical reorganisation that Paul VI carried out in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. On the day before the council came to an end in December 1965, Paul issued a motu proprio to reform the Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith).
It was a highly symbolic first step in a rapid succession of decrees that would culminate in the complete overhaul of the Curia in 1967 with the apostolic constitution, Regimini Ecclesiae Universae.
FULL STORY A house that needs putting in order (Tablet)