Pope Francis has not hidden his ambition to reform the Roman Curia, a central element of his program. He had already spoken about this reform project in 2015, on the occasion of the consistory. Cardinal Müller then managed to make him stumble. With success.
The reform project
It was discussed at the consistory (February 12-13, 2015), immediately preceding the eighth meeting of the Council of Cardinals (the “C9”) in charge of the dossier. Informed circles in Rome disclosed that the reform project was distributed too soon before the consistory. The meeting was very stormy, and the strictest secrecy was demanded and observed. The only information, which referred to a sine die report, is a note from l’Osservatore Romano: “No document publication is planned in the short term; the delays are naturally long, since they are working on a new constitution and not a simple updating of the previous one.” However, l’Osservatore Romano of February 8, 2015 contained a long article by Cardinal Müller on the subject, obviously intended to short-circuit the project. What did he say?
Cardinal Müller’s Warning (in 2015)
Without ambiguity, it reveals to us one central element of the reform project. “The Curia,” he states, “is not a simple administrative structure, but is essentially a spiritual institution rooted in the specific mission of the Church of Rome…which depends on the specific mission of the Bishop of Rome, successor of Peter,” the principle of the unity of the Church.
But the pope “presides at the same time over the local Church of Rome,” and the German cardinal remembers that the primate is forever connected to this church through Peter. “Thus the Bishop of Rome…is never the pastor of the universal Church without his link to the Church of Rome…This is why Tradition speaks of the primacy ‘of the Church of Rome.’ The pope only exercises primacy with the Roman Church.” Consequently, “the essential marks of the Church: one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic, are located, a fortiori realized, in the Roman Church.”
Now comes the crucial point: “but the pope accomplishes his ministry thanks to the assistance the Roman Church gives him,” notably, the suburbicarian bishops, the priests and the deacons of Rome, from whom a part of the college of cardinals is formed. Two important statements follow: “despite all the historic changes, the idea solidly remains that the Roman Church collaborates in the pastoral and universal doctrinal duties of the pope through the college of cardinals…It is not an intermediary between the pope and the bishops, because the relationship between the pope and the bishops, based on episcopal collegiality, is immediate.” A well-founded remark, but full of consequences, if one does not have an accurate idea of collegiality.
He comes to practical conclusions: “The Roman Curia must be distinguished from the civil institutions of the Vatican City state,” which is an indication, but the important thing follows. “The Synod of Bishops in the strict sense, does not belong to the Roman Curia either. It is the expression of the collegiality of the bishops in communion with the pope and under his direction. On the other hand, the Roman Curia helps the pope in the exercise of his primacy over all the churches.” The difference is that between unity and catholicity. And lastly, “the episcopal conferences and the various groups of particular churches belong to a theological category different from the Roman Curia...Fostering a just decentralization does not mean that more power is given to the episcopal conferences.”
Cardinal Müller's analysis calls for the following observations: 1) The intrinsic danger of episcopal collegiality, even defined within the limits imposed by Paul VI's Nota Prævia, is strongly raised in the project. [This note was added by Paul VI to the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, to clarify the meaning of an ambiguous text, which can be interpreted as a diminution of papal power, according to point 2.] 2) And especially, the danger of gradually seeing established two errors, more or less completely rejected by this note. On the one hand, the affirmation that the pope never ceases to be the Head of the College of Bishops, and always necessarily acts as such. On the other hand and reciprocally, the College of Bishops, never ceases to be, through “communion,” linked to the pope, sharing with him the supreme power over the universal Church. In other words, the pope must necessarily share his own power with the bishops. 3) The institution of the Synod inevitably favored these errors. 4) The logical outcome is to introduce the Synod into the Curia, which will soon be supplanted, and the most progressive concept of collegiality will be realized.
In addition, the divine constitution of the Church has always been presented by theologians as a monarchy (the word is in St. Pius X’s works), to which is added an aristocracy. For the pope is a monarch and possesses all the powers, but the bishops are of divine institution, though subject to the pope with all the faithful. If Francis’ project would end in the sense we have just said, the analogy would only guard the aristocracy, with a primus, a president, whose power would be inseparable from the college. Or perhaps only as a kind of parliamentary monarchy.
And even if, in the beginning, they somehow maintain the current doctrine strictly interpreted, how long could it last? It is enough to recall the course of the Council and the manipulation of the electoral mechanics which gave intoxicating power to the European Alliance—the union of bishops of the countries bordering the Rhine: Germany, France, and Belgium, who worked in a progressive way—now become a global alliance—the modernists being organized on a planetary level. These two alliances carried considerable weight in the elections at the beginning of the Council, in the debates, and in the votes. A parliament introduced into the Curia, even an advisory one, would not remain so long.
To this analysis, some might oppose the attitude of the pope himself, who behaves like a monarch—which he is in reality, according to the divine constitution of the Church. But, on the one hand, one can answer that this pope will not be eternal, and what can a weaker pope do? On the other hand, it would not be surprising that, his reform made, he resigns, as he may have implied, leaving a difficult to control situation for his successor.
Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga
People have been aware of this cardinal since 2005, when he was among the papabili in the election that brought Benedict XVI to the pontifical throne. He was then named by Francis as a member of the Council of Cardinals (C9) responsible for the preparation of the reform of the Curia, of which he is the coordinator.
In an interview on December 3, 2014, he revealed that two new congregations would be created, dedicated to lay people and charitable works. They will bring together some of the current Pontifical Councils: for laity, family, migrants, health workers, Justice and Peace, and Cor Unum. The Secretariat of State would be limited to a “distribution of internal tasks.”
The Honduran cardinal pointed out that it is not a requirement for clergy be at the head of congregations and pontifical councils. “We do not necessarily need a cardinal or a bishop to direct each dicastery. For example, a married couple could be in charge of the family, and a sister who has specific experience in the area could be over migrants.”
One of the goals of the reform, he said, is to reduce the number of cardinal-directors in Rome. “The Curia should no longer be seen as a papal court or centralized super-government of the Church. It must be a dynamic structure to serve the papal ministry.” And to make things clear, on January 20, 2015, he added, “the pope wants to achieve the reform of the Church in such a way that it becomes irreversible.”
In other words, the Vicar of Christ wants to reform what the Son of God has instituted.