Rorate Caeli

"L'Eglise, c'est moi!" - Reflection by Francis Patruno

The famous expression "L'État, c'est moi!" is commonly attributed to Louis XIV, the Sun King, ruler of France. It is debated among historians whether the King ever uttered it. Whether uttered or not, it expressed the idea of a fact, namely, that the state was identified with the person of the King. A conviction that dies hard when we recall that a De Gaulle, still in the 20th century, affirmed: "Je suis la France."

Now, moving to the ecclesiastical level, paraphrasing the famous phrase we have recalled, Francis may well say: "L'Eglise, c'est moi!" And this, with no qualms about the breezy principles of synodality, subsidiarity, and co-participation.

The latest motu proprio promulgated by the Bishop of Rome on Carnival Sunday (last Feb. 20) and published on Thursday, entitled "The Native Law," is framed in this decisive will of Francis to centralize in his hands every decision.

It is also true that Francis, already in his encyclical Laudato sì, ventilated the project of subordinating all private property to the universal destination of the goods of the earth and therefore the "The Native Law" fits well into this Bergoglian perspective. The motu proprio reads: "The universal destination of the Holy See's property attributes to it an ecclesiastical public nature. The entities of the Holy See acquire them and use them, not for themselves, like the private owner, but, in the name and authority of the Roman Pontiff, for the pursuit of their institutional purposes, which are likewise public, and therefore for the common good and at the service of the Universal Church." And again: "The goods are entrusted to the Institutions and Entities so that, as public administrators and not owners, they may make use of them as provided for by the norms in force [...], always for the common good of the Church" (§ 3).

This would be, after all, a correct principle in this regard, namely, that temporal goods are instrumental to the pursuit of the purposes of the Church and, therefore, the common good of the Church.

Likewise, equally correct is the principle expressed from the very beginning of the motu proprio, that "[t]he native right, independent of civil power, of the Holy See to acquire temporal goods (CJC c. 1254 and 1255) is one of the instruments which, with the support of the faithful, prudent administration and appropriate controls, ensure that the Apostolic See can operate in history, in time and space, for the purposes proper to the Church and with the independence that is necessary for the fulfillment of its mission."

These principles are well known in the history of Church law. Indeed, we owe to the celebrated Sinibaldo dei Fieschi, a jurist destined to ascend to the papal throne under the name of Innocent IV, the conviction that the owners of the Church's temporal goods would be neither the bishops nor the clergy in general, whose task would be limited to the gubernatio of the patrimony. Nor, strictly speaking, would the poor, since their ownership would be understood "quo ad substentationem." For Sinibald, ownership would be of Christ, and, therefore, of the whole aggregatio fidelium of which He is head, namely, the universal Church. Subsequent elaborations have developed in this vein.

In this respect, therefore, nihil novum sub sole.

On the other hand, the points that, more than others, manifest Francis' centralizing will and appear to be at variance with his breezy principles of synodality, subsidiarity, co-participation and co-responsibility are the first two paragraphs of the motu proprio, which are expressed as follows:

"All property, movable and immovable, including liquid assets and securities, which have been or will be acquired, in whatever manner, by the Curial Institutions and Institutions Connected to the Holy See, are ecclesiastical public goods and as such owned, in title or other real right, by the Holy See as a whole and belonging therefore, independently of civil power, to its unitary, non-fractionable and sovereign patrimony" (§ 1).

"No Institution or Entity can therefore claim its private and exclusive ownership or titling of the goods of the Holy See, having always acted and must always act in the name, on behalf of and for the purposes of the Holy See as a whole, understood as a unitary moral person, only representing it where required and permitted in the civil orders" (§ 2).

These provisions make explicit what had already been anticipated by Francis himself in the previous motu proprio "On the Instrumental Juridical Persons of the Roman Curia" of last December 5, which stated, "Although these entities have a formally separate juridical personality and a certain administrative autonomy, it must be recognized that they are instrumental to the realization of the ends proper to the curial institutions at the service of the ministry of the Successor of Peter and that, therefore, they too are, unless otherwise indicated by the norms establishing them in some way, public entities of the Holy See. Since their temporal goods are part of the patrimony of the Apostolic See, it is necessary for them to be subject not only to the supervision of the Curial Institutions on which they depend, but also to the control and supervision of the Economic Bodies of the Roman Curia."

Explains Carlo Marroni in Il Sole24Ore in an article last Feb. 24: "The issue, in itself, would not even need to be clarified: a palace or a bank deposit belongs to the Holy See -- the government of the Universal Church -- and not to that entity or that office. If the Pope had to intervene, evidently that wasn't known or felt to be the case. Each dicastery or related entity has held on tightly to its treasury, with often confusing management or worse, as happened for the Secretariat of State with the London property. The Pope now almost two years ago stipulated that all financial assets -- estimated at about 2 billion total -- should be transferred to Apsa, and it would have them managed under precise directives contemplated in an Investment Policy Document of the Holy See and Vatican City State, approved last summer. But these transfers did not take place, only the Secretariat of State provided, and not even immediately."

There is no doubt that, over time, the various Curia Dicasteries, as well as entities connected to the Holy See, although the property may have belonged to the latter, had often and willingly generated what the journalist calls "treasuries," the administration of which had sometimes given rise to opaque management.

The cases of the purchase of the London property or that relating to the financial collapse of the Istituto Dermopatico dell'Immacolata (IDI) are exemplary at this juncture.

However, one cannot fail to see the flipside of the coin.

Indeed, such a centralizing claim by the Holy See, given the amount of assets, movable and immovable, including financial availabilities, runs the risk of turning into a real managerial system not dissimilar, on closer inspection, to that proper to feudalism in medieval times, with all the problematic profiles of that system, which marked its crisis. I recall in this regard that the vassal obtained from his lord the fief or benefice of which he did not become the owner, but a mere administrator, being able to draw from it the utilities that the sovereign had acknowledged to him. But that system, although it worked rather well at first, began to show cracks until it broke down, since it gave rise, in the long run, either to vassal's claims to ownership or to the vassal's disinterest in the good administration of the fief (except as far as his own particular interest was concerned).

In my conviction, perhaps, it would have been more appropriate to institute measures for more efficient controls, which were mentioned in the motu proprio of December 5 last year.

Among the entities connected to the Holy See, moreover, likely to be covered by the motu proprio of Feb. 20, should the Sovereign Military Order of Malta probably also be included, since it is a religious-chivalric order canonically dependent on the Holy See? It is true that the order is "Sovereign" by ancient privilege of Pope Paschal II (although as a result of the new Constitution it would be less so), but it is still an entity dependent on the Holy See and, therefore, connected to it. And the motu proprio expressly refers also to the assets of "Entities Connected to the Holy See." It is not clear, therefore, whether S.M.O.M. will fall under the application of that motu proprio or will be exempted from it because of its special status.

But this is only one of the aspects that deserves clarification.

I was saying that this measure falls into the more general pattern of centralization carried out by Francis during his reign.

One need only think of the recent Apostolic Constitution In ecclesiarum Communione of last Jan. 6, by which the structure of the Vicariate of Rome was redesigned. By way of example, while John Paul II's previous 1998 legislation, Ecclesia in Urbe, stipulated in Art. 25 § 2 that "The Directors of all the Offices, such as the Parish Priests of the Diocese of Rome, are appointed by the Cardinal Vicar after my approval; the Vice Directors and other Attachés are appointed by the Cardinal Vicar," today, the new Franciscan Constitution in Art. 19 § 2 indicates a complex process for the appointment of parish priests that sees as its crowning circumstance the circumstance that "[t]he Cardinal Vicar, having completed the process, shall submit to me for eventual appointment the candidates for the office of parish priest, and shall appoint the Vice-Parish priests." If, for the appointment of the parish priests of a suburban Roman parish, the Bishop of Rome has to intervene directly, compared to the circumstance that previously this was carried out by the Cardinal Vicar after papal approval, one has a clear perception of that centralization mentioned above.

Also in the same centralizing path, one can read the recent rescript ex audientia of Feb. 21 on the celebration of Mass in the extraordinary form. While in the apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes of 2021, art. 2 spoke of the "exclusive competence" of the diocesan bishop, as the "moderator, promoter and custodian of all liturgical life in the particular Church entrusted to him," to "authorize the use of the Missale Romanum of 1962 in the diocese, following the guidelines from the Apostolic See" and reserved to the Holy See the power to express itself regarding the faculty of presbyters ordained after the publication of the Apostolic Letter to be able to celebrate Mass in the extraordinary form," the new rescript established that it constitutes a "dispensation reserved to the Apostolic See." The same is true of "the use of a parish church or the erection of a personal parish for the celebration of the Eucharist" and of "the granting of a license to presbyters ordained after the publication of Motu proprio Traditionis custodes to celebrate" in the ancient rite and, even, with an innovative provision with respect to the same text of Traditionis Custodes, "[w]henever a diocesan bishop has [already] granted dispensations in the two cases mentioned above, he is obliged to inform the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which will evaluate individual cases."

In short, the celebration of Mass according to the Roman Missal of 1962 becomes, as a result of the rescript, a reserved matter of the Holy See, as if it were a decision about a violation of the sacramental seal or of the profanation of the Eucharistic species or some other serious crime. So, for instance, if the pastor of a parish on the outskirts of the kingdom, like Timbuktu, were to ask his bishop for permission to celebrate in the extraordinary form, the Holy See would have to deal with this matter (as if the latter had nothing more important to do than to decide on the celebration of a Mass in Timbuktu).

Or, finally, think also of the apostolic letter Authenticum Charismatis of 2020, by which the opinion -- formerly advisory -- of the Apostolic See in the recognition of new communities of consecrated life in the diocesan sphere was made a requirement.

All of these measures are illustrative of how Francis, while tediously pestering us about synodality, co-participation, subsidiarity, etc., in fact disregards those very indications of his own, adopting, on the contrary, measures that are clearly centralized. I have give examples of some of the measures of recent years, but one could mention others as well, since this is now a clear orientation of Francis' reign. The Bishop of Rome, after all, can be said to be rather traditionalist, if not, indeed, backwardist, from this point of view: when it comes to centralizing powers and decisions, he does not hesitate to exhume forms and instruments of the past.

Francis Patruno is a researcher in canon and ecclesiastical sciences.