Friday, August 16, 2013

Is the Roman Curia reformable?

By Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Leonardo Boff Blog (em português)

The Roman Curia is made up of all the bodies that help the Pope rule the Church within the 44 hectares that surround the basilica of St. Peter. There are a little over three thousand employees. It was born small in the 12th century but changed into a body of experts in 1588 with Pope Sixtus V, forged especially to cope with the Reformers -- Luther, Calvin and others. Paul VI in 1967, and Pope John Paul II in 1998, tried unsuccessfully to reform it.

It is considered one of the most conservative governing administrations in the world and so powerful that it practically delayed, shelved and voided the changes introduced by the two previous Popes and blocked the progressive line of Vatican II (1962-1965). Unaffected, it continues as if it were working not for a time but for eternity.

However, the moral and financial scandals that have occurred within its scope were of such magnitude that a cry arose from the whole Church for a reform to be carried out by the new Pope Francis as one of his missions. As Giancarlo Zizola, a principle Vaticanist who is unfortunately now deceased, wrote (Quale Papa?, 1977), "four centuries of Counter-Reformation had almost made the revolutionary chromosome of early Christianity extinct; the Church had established itself as a counter-revolutionary body" (p. 278) and as a denier of all that might appear new. In a speech to members of the Curia on February 22, 1975, Pope Paul VI accused the Roman Curia of assuming "an attitude of superiority and pride before the episcopal college and the People of God."

By combining Franciscan tenderness with Jesuit sternness, will Pope Francis manage to give it a different format? He has wisely surrounded himself with eight experienced cardinals from every continent to accompany him and to accomplish this mammoth task with the purges that must necessarily occur.

Behind it all, there is a historical-theological problem which greatly hinders the reform of the Curia. It is expressed by two conflicting views. The first springs from the fact that, after the proclamation of the infallibility of the Pope in 1870 with the subsequent Romanization (standardization) of the whole Church, there was a maximum concentration at the head of the pyramid -- in the Papacy with "supreme, full, and immediate" power (Canon 331). This implies that in it are concentrated all decisions, a burden that is almost impossible to carry for a single person, even with absolutist monarchical power. No decentralization was accepted because it would mean a decrease in the supreme power of the Pope. The Curia then closed in around the Pope, making him its prisoner, sometimes blocking initiatives that didn't agree with its traditional conservatism or simply shelving projects until they were forgotten.

The other side knows the weight of the monarchic papacy and seeks to give life to the Synod of Bishops, a collegial body created by the Second Vatican Council to assist the Pope in governing the Universal Church. It happens that John Paul II and Benedict XVI, pressured by the Curia who saw this as a way of breaking the centralism of Roman power, turned it into just an advisory and not a deliberative body. It is celebrated every two or three years but without any real impact on the Church.

Everything indicates that Pope Francis, by convening eight cardinals to proceed with reforming the Curia with him and under his direction, has created a board with which he intends to preside over the Church. Let's hope he expands this board with representatives not only of the hierarchy but of the whole People of God, as well as women since they are now the majority of the Church. Such a step does not seem impossible.

The best way to reform the Curia, in the opinion of experts on Vatican affairs and also some hierarchs, would be a major decentralization of its functions. We are in the era of globalization and real time electronic communications. If the Catholic Church wants to adjust to this new phase of humanity, there's nothing better than making an organizational revolution. Why couldn't the dicastery (ministry) for the Evangelization of Peoples be transferred to Africa? Or the one for Inter-religious Dialogue to Asia? The Peace and Justice one to Latin America? The one for the Promotion of Christian Unity to Geneva, next to the World Council of Churches? And some, for more immediate things, would remain in the Vatican. Through video-conferencing, Skype and other communication technologies, immediate and round-the-clock contact could be maintained. Thus one would avoid the creation of an anti-power, something in which the traditional Curia is a great expert. This would make the Catholic Church truly universal and no longer Western.

As Pope Francis is asking us to pray for him, we must effectively pray -- and a lot -- for this wish to come true for the benefit of all Christians and those who are interested in any way in the Church.

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