Rorate Caeli

For the record: On Curial reform and Church decentralization
Secretariat of State and Congregation for Divine Worship face reform

NB: "G-9" and "C-9" are both used to refer to the Council of Cardinals.


Amidst everything that has been happening in the Church and the outside world, the latest meeting of the Council of Cardinals from February 8 to 9 went almost unnoticed. However this may yet prove to be one of the most important of the Council's meetings so far.

The Vatican Bollettino for February 9 carried a brief report by Fr. Lombardi on this meeting, while on the same day News.Va carried a fuller report (G-9 meeting: Decentralization and the new dicasteries). The short meeting had a full agenda. As previously announced it involved discussions about decentralizing the Church. 

The passage below is from the News.Va report; emphases ours.

Father Lombardi said the first session of the G-9 discussed the issues raised during the Pope’s keynote speech at the Synod of Bishops on October 17th 2015. This speech reflected on the theme of synodality within the Church and spoke of the need “to proceed towards a healthy decentralization” and Father Lombardi said this call by the Pope remains an importance reference point for the ongoing work of reforming the Curia. 

The next item on the G-9’s agenda was the reading and the approval of the cardinals’ final proposals concerning the two new dicasteries that are being set up as part of the reforms of the Curia. The two new dicasteries are “Laity, Family and Life” and “Justice, Peace and Migration” and the cardinals’ proposals were approved and then handed over to the Pope who will take the final decision.

Father Lombardi said the G-9 cardinals are still in the throes of discussing planned reforms for two other dicasteries: the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for Divine Worship. He defined this as still “a work in progress.”

Turning next to the work of the Commission for the Protection of Minors, Father Lombardi said the Commission’s head, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, gave an update on the commission’s activities and the proposals he has put forward for the safeguarding of children. Cardinal O’Malley said questions of a juridical and disciplinary nature will be the object of further studies by experts in this field.

As is normal at the G-9 meetings, Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the new Secretariat for the Economy updated the cardinals on the reforms being carried out concerning the economic affairs of the Holy See and the Roman Curia. 

In conclusion, the G-9 cardinals received documentation on the so-called vade mecum or reference manual drawn up by the Tribunal of the Roman Rota for putting into practice the reforms of the canonical process concerning the validity of marriages. The vade mecum will be sent to dioceses around the world. 

The soon-to-be established Congregation for "Justice, Peace and Migration" was initially going to be named "Charity and Justice", and was initially intended to absorb four Pontifical Councils: Justice and Peace, Cor Unum, Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants, and Pastoral Care of Health Workers. (See one of our reports from 2014 and this one from CNA one year ago.) 

The disappearance of "Charity" from the name of this new Congregation raises the question whether it will still include "Cor Unum", which has remained without a head ever since its last President, Cardinal Sarah, was moved to the Congregation for Divine Worship in November 2014. In the meantime, Caritas Internationalis -- which is supposed to be under the oversight of Cor Unum -- has a new "superstar" head in the person of Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, giving both Caritas and Cardinal Tagle enhanced autonomy while Cor Unum remains in a limbo of sorts. 

The coming establishment of the Congregation for "Laity, Family and Life" was already confirmed by Pope Francis during the Synod of 2015; it will roll three institutions into one body: the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Academy for Life. 

Given the Council's growing focus on decentralization it should not be surprising that it has returned to the task of reforming the Secretariat of State and most especially the Congregation for Divine Worship. The latter was the first dicastery to be examined by the Council of Cardinals in 2013, and along with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has long been a favorite target of those who want greater "decentralization" in the Church. The recently-concluded 51st International Eucharistic Congress resounded with calls for "inculturation" and greater independence from Rome on liturgical matters and we fully expect that in the coming years we will see a renewed push by liberals for Rome to surrender even more authority over the liturgy to the local bishops' conferences. 

The CDF itself has not been mentioned so far as a target of C9 but it is without question in the Pope's sights: witness his speech on January 29 of this year to the CDF plenary session during which he exhorted the CDF to promote "synodality  ... at all levels of ecclesial life" and praised its initiative of meeting with representatives of the doctrinal commissions of the generally liberal European bishops' conferences in order to "collegially" address doctrinal and pastoral issues.