Over here I posted about the new G8 that Pope Francis will call together in October. They are supposedly to help with alterations to the constitution called Pastor bonus, that governs the Roman Curia.
We all agree that reform of the Curia is necessary. We can all imagine that Francis was elected because the Cardinals thought he could and would do the job.
Let’s think about this.
First, the G8 (the group of 8 Cardinals) won’t meet until October. That means that not much will be done for about a year or so into this Pope’s pontificate. He has been Pope for about a month. The G8 meets for the first time over half a year from now. They won’t be leaping into action on the day after there meeting. They will have to ponder and consult and listen some more. They will have to draft proposals, which will need study and reflection and more consultation.
A lot can happen in a year of a pontificate. Consider, for example, what happened in Benedict XVI’s first year after the famous Regensburg Address. Benedict was set to launch a reform of the Curia. He had even started in motion the combination of offices into a new location, hoisted the head of the dicastery for inter-religious dialogue, etc. After Regensburg, that crawled to a halt. A lot can happen in a year of a pontificate. Even six months.
Second, when people start talking about structural reformation, they usually think about term limits. Term limits sweep out the undesirable chaff. That’s what we want in curial reform, right? Out with the chaff? The problem with term limits is that the wheat is also term limited. In the Roman Curia clerics are generally given 5 year appointments. They are appointed ad quinquennium, with possibility of renewal…or not. Fine. The problem with giving pretty much everyone the heave-ho after 5 years is that you lose both institutional memory and you lose competence. If takes about 5 years to learn some of these complicated positions well. Moreover, it takes a while to get language skill up to speed. If anyone is under the illusion that just because a man studied in Rome he speaks Italian well (much less writes it well), well… get over that. They live and study and work in their own little national ghettos where they don’t have to speak or write in Italian. In most of the universities, profs accept exams and papers in the major languages, since Latin is all but lost. Furthermore, and this is not a secret, bishops are not always eager to let their brightest and best go: they are needed in the diocese. There is, therefore, a fairly small pool of men who can fill the jobs competently and they need time to get up to speed. In addition, if they are swept out every few years, it may be hard to motivate them.
Some might accuse me of defending “careerism”, which they will identify as a root of problems in the Curia. Term limits, however, might not produce the desired results: a lean but still competent, well-motivated Curia.
“But Father! But Father!”, some of you are itching to say, “What you are saying is an argument in favor of declericalizing the Curia. We need more lay men! And women! They would never be as incompetent and corrupt as those bad male clerics. And there are more of them, too! It’s a larger pool. There’s your solution!”
Curial reform doesn’t eliminate the effects of original sin.
If you are looking for the real corruption, the deep and serious curial corruption, forget about the clerics. For example, in the scandal about the vast overspending on things like flowers for papal events or the building of the Christmas presepio in St. Peter’s Square, the kickbacks and bribes and the differences in actual costs versus what was paid were not going into the pockets of clerics. Lay people are not the silver bullets for the curial werewolf. And the clerics who could name names were shown the door.
And, frankly, some matter have to be handled by clerics.
I don’t know what the G8 are going to recommend (if they recommend anything at all). Having been on the inside for a while, I can say with confidence that the reform of the Roman Curia won’t be among the easiest of many pending herculean labors.