One of the aims of reform of the Roman Curia – weaken it.

One of the things I have been saying all along is one aim during the present pontificate is the reduction of the number of Cardinal Prefects and Presidents (and therefore Archbishop Secretaries) in dicasteries of the Roman Curia.

Put several dicasteries together – bammo – fewer cardinals slots open.   This will have the simultaneous effect of concentrating power in hands of fewer department heads – easier to control their … world views – and of weakening the power of the Curia globally.

Now I read something from the once-solid, now shakier Andrea Tornielli, an interview with Oscar Card. Rodriguez Maradiaga, who is the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa in Honduras but who spends nearly all his time in Rome these days.  He is part of a small group of cardinals – the Gang of Eight (Nine with the Secretary of State) – appointed by Pope Francis to look at matters of Curial Reform, which we grant is a big job.


And what about the restructuring of the dicasteries? Can you confirm that two new bodies are being created in order to merge the functions of the various pontifical councils being merged into these?

“The two bodies dedicated to the laity and charity are certain. [That would absorb a several dicasteries.] Te Pope has already presented them to the heads of dicasteries of the Roman Curia. Of course soem observations have been made, that was the point of the consultations. There are certain details that need to be fine tuned. But as far as the general setup is concerned, I think they can be considered work in progress.”

Will the two bodies in charge of laity and charity – which should merge together laity, family, migrants, pastoral care for healthcare workers, Cor Unum and Justice and Peace – be congregations?

“Yes, that is the aim. They will be two congregations. [NB] But they will not be the arithmetical sum of what already exists. Primarily because as congregations they will have a different legal status from that of the pontifical councils. It is also not necessary for there to be a cardinal or a bishop heading every dicastery: there could be a married couple in charge of family affairs, for example and for migrants there could be a nun who has specific experience in this area, a member of the Scalabrinian missionaries for instance.”

What is the aim of Curia reform?

“The aim is to rationalise and simplify things. There are approximately thirty different dicasteries at the moment, including secretariats, councils and congregations. How can a leader regularly bring together all of his ministers ? In the past, meetings took place once or twice a year. How can an institution go on like this? Meetings and consultations need to be more frequent. Then we will be able to say that simplification  fosters collegiality. And this is important.” [Keep in mind that before Paul VI there were many fewer dicasteries.]

Will the Secretariat of State also undergo reform?

“Yes, it is currently being studied. The Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, will be presenting a plan for this at the next meeting.”

Can anything be said about this?

“No, it is still too early, we have to wait and see. I think one of the points that will be discussed will be the redistribution of internal tasks. But let’s wait and see.”

Will judicial structures undergo reform too? [There are three major tribunals, the Apostolic Signatura (with a cardinal), the Rota, the Apostolic Penitentiary (with a cardinal)]

“This has not yet been discussed. I personally think the idea of merging bodies relating to justice could have a positive outcome. We will discuss this if we have time at the next meeting. I think it would be a good idea to have one single ministry of Justice in the Church that includes the Apostolic Signatura, the dicastery for the interpretation of legislative texts [with a cardinal] and the Apostolic Signatura [ummm… didn’t he just mention the Signatura a second ago?  Maybe he meant the Rota?]. With one single head.” [3 cardinals reduced to 1]

Will there be fewer cardinals serving in the Holy See’s offices when Curia reform comes into force?

Of course, that is the idea. [!!] The Curia must no longer be perceived as a papal court or as the Church’s centralised super-government. It needs to be an energetic structure, there to serve the papal ministry.” [not the “Petrine Ministry”]


See what’s going on?  This might be a good idea.  The Church seemed to run pretty well for a long time on fewer departments.  Then the Curia was restructured and massively expanded.  Has that helped?  Really?  On the other hand, much depends on what else is being done during a pontificate.  So, it is way to early to tell.  One thing I do know, moves like this are surely to cause, in the short term, paralysis.

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  1. gaudete says:

    And a very interesting last sentence of the article:
    But opposition is also growing, especially internal opposition…
    “Of course there is opposition. But we live in a single-minded world. Not everyone must necessarily think in the same way. But if we have faith, we must always remember that he is Peter.””

    So, the bishop of Rome is Peter. New tune? Reminds me of the synod address, we seem to head into captain’s on deck mode…

  2. Bosco says:

    Dear Father Z., you suggested:

    ” This might be a good idea.”

    And indeed why not? Everything else proposed under Francis has gone according to plan. ¡Vaya lío!

    I am guided these days by the adage “Fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice, shame on me!”

  3. Gerard Plourde says:

    I agree that a smaller, more accountable, more transparent Curia has the potential of being a very good idea. The task is difficult because we are discussing the reform of a centuries-old institution, one that developed during the age of monarchies and still bears some of the inefficiencies and intrigues of a royal court. This is not to say that intrigue is unique to the monarchical system. If you really want to see intrigue, shifting alliances and other forms of hijinks, just spend time immersed in the academic departments of just about any college or university. Likewise, many modern organizations, both public, like government, and private, like a number of entrenched corporations, are models of gross inefficiency.

    Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit may guide the Holy Father and the Council of Cardinals to a successful conclusion to this important work.

  4. Thorfinn says:

    Looks like a translation error:

    Per me sarebbe una buona idea quella di avere un unico ministero di Giustizia della Chiesa, che comprenda la Segnatura apostolica, la Rota, il dicastero per l’interpretazione dei testi legislativi e anche la Penitenzieria apostolica.

    For me it would be a good idea to have a single Ministry of Justice of the Church, including the Apostolic Signatura, the Rota, the Congregation for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, and also the Apostolic Penitentiary. [Google Translate]

  5. msc says:

    The presence of Maradiaga on this committee is worrying. He has his virtues, but his dabbling in Marxism (he likes to cite, favourably, the Swiss Marxist. pro-Castroite Jean Ziegler) and his anti-Semitism (blaming Jews for undue media attention to the paedophilia scandals) should have discredited him enough. In light the treatment of Burke, I’m not at all happy with this.

  6. liberameDomine says:

    I think the reform of the Curia is an expected effect from Pope Francis. He is a proven organizer, first of the Society of Jesus in Argentina, and then of course, as Archbishop of Buenos-Aires, and then in his former role in the Curia. I am not worried. I trust in both, his ministry being guided by the Holy Spirit, as well as he organizational skills that have been demonstrated in the past. This reorganization of the Curia will be better for the Church, I think.

  7. Peregrinator says:

    The Church seemed to run pretty well for a long time on fewer departments.

    One might note that there were also fewer Cardinals in those days. The number was fixed at 70 for almost five centuries. So reducing the number of curial Cardinals relative to the total number of Cardinals would appear to be a new thing.

    One might also add that it is fitting to have many Cardinals in Rome as the Bishop of Rome ought to be elected by Roman clergy.

  8. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Peregrinator,

    “One might also add that it is fitting to have many Cardinals in Rome as the Bishop of Rome ought to be elected by Roman clergy.”

    The counterweight to that observation is the unique status of the See of Rome. Given the Bishop of Rome’s universal authority it seems altogether fitting that the College of Cardinals remain representative of the entire Church and not concentrated in the Vatican City State.

  9. Swanson says:

    I don’t know much about the Curia, but I have observed this in many areas: leaner is better.

    We have seen the rise of lean manufacturing and lean start-up companies. Lean government is a good idea, too.

    So is Lean Church. Not just in Rome, but also at the level of the diocese and parish. Why do we need to build so many buildings on church campuses? The church got along fine for 1900+ years without all these buildings. Need to adopt a lean mindset to stop pastors from hitting us up for more money.

  10. SimonDodd says:

    “[The] Curia must no longer be perceived as a papal court.” Hmm. I thought that that was precisely what “curia” meant–but perhaps he meant to place the stress on the word “papal.”

  11. Fr. Andrew says:

    The change in curial size from less than a hundred years ago was strikingly obvious in Soldier of Christ the bio on Pope Pius XII. Bureaucracy isn’t always good.

    I’m curious how this fits into His Eminence, Cardinal Maradiaga’s vision of things. From the political commentary he’s given previously, you would think he would be opposed to cutting of jobs and positions. Will this be a cut only of Cardinals/Bishops and not of staffers?

  12. Tim Ferguson says:

    with the death of Cardinal Angelini last month, there are no living cardinals who were born in Rome (I’m unsure if any of the living cardinals were clergy of the Diocese of Rome prior to their elevation). While the internationalization of the Sacred College has, overall, been a good thing for the Church, I think the absence of truly Roman cardinals is something that should cause some concern.

    As Peregrinator noted above, Cardinals are, de iure, Roman clerics who elect their own bishop.

    While I would favor a smaller, more efficient curia, I would have some worries about the Sacred College being seen as some representative parliament. One of the benefits of having a solid clutch of Cardinals in Rome is that they spend some time together, getting to know one another, building relationships and providing something of a touchstone for the Cardinals scattered across the globe. Thus, if Cardinal Wörtzelbacher of Outer Minnesota wants to know about Cardinal Mortadella of Fiumefreddo, he can speak with his old friend, Cardinal von und zu Hügelsdorf of the Sacred Roman Congregation for Nepotism and Favours and kibbitz before casting his vote for or against. If there end up being only a few Cardinals resident in Rome, these connections become more strained and the election becomes more difficult.

  13. Matimus says:

    I agree with liberameDomine. I was always appalled at how complex the curia was and I believe that the Holy Spirit is working through Pope Francis and using his gifts of organization to improve the operations of the Vatican. I do think a “Lean” organization is good. I don’t agree that all buildings that are built on a parish campus, however, are bad. Swanson sees them as a way for the pastors to hit us up for more money. I know on our campus this has not been the case. Our additional buildings allow us to fill all sorts of parish, educational, and charitable works. It is rare that our many facilities are not in use.

  14. Robbie says:

    Whenever I see Cardinal Maradiaga pop up, I grow concerned. I guess the proof will be in the pudding. Of course, what is unsaid about consolidation is it reduces the chances of opposition to the directives of a pope. So while Maradiaga may claim to not want a centralized super government, that may be just what the result of consolidation is. And in fact, a more powerful one could easily be the result. In other words, fewer men wielding even more power than before.

  15. Matt R says:

    Pope Francis doesn’t like airport bishops, yet one of his right-hand men is precisely that. Second, I don’t think the way they are approaching curial reform is a good idea, particularly with the proposals made to combine the judicial dicasteries.

    As far as membership in the College of Cardinals is concerned, I think that participation in the conclave need not be limited to cardinals. The major archbishop of the sui iuris Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is excluded, since his predecessor was still eligible to vote towards the end of the previous pontificate. On the other hand, the major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church is included because he is a cardinal. While I cannot claim to have an appropriate understanding of the Petrine office in relation to the heads of other churches in communion with the Latin church, I can say that forcing them to become Roman clergy, but only a select few, is not the best ecclesiology.

  16. amont says:

    My antenae start twitching when I read reports of “downsizing” and also the agenda of both Pope Francis, and those in his court. Francis seems set to diminish the role of the papacy whilst his minions are out to dimish the role of the Vatican- and the ability of officals to keep Doctrine and Practice sound, in the face of unorthodox Bishops and Episcopal bodies throughout the globe.In the last five decades or so, it has often been the officals such as the former Cardinal Ratzinger etc. who kept things in check. Denuded of quality and quantity, how would they manage under this new order? (Rather badly I imagine)

  17. TWF says:

    Matt R:
    Your comment regarding the Eastern primates is spot on. This is a hotly debated topic in Eastern Catholic circles. It has been suggested, as far back as Pope Paul VI if memory serves, that the Patriarchs, and today I would include the Major Archbishops (as they have nearly the same canonical rights as Patriarchs), should be papal electors ex officio without the controversial “honour” of being made a member of the Roman clergy. The Melkite Patriarch has refused the Cardinal’s hat as he considers it inappropriate for a Patriarch of the East, head and father of his own Church “sui iuris”, to join the ranks of Latin clergy.

  18. JMody says:

    This story along with the recent change of the commandant of the Swiss Guards (evidently not renewed beyond his current term because he’s too “military”, an officer of the Swiss Army, commanding Swiss soldiers on detail assignment to the Holy Father, behaving in a militaristic fashion, why WOULD he?) makes me think of Chesterton’s quip that tradition is the democracy of the dead, protecting us from the tyranny of those who happen to be alive, or similarly. Consolidation and simplification is probably a good idea — what was the reason for the rapid growth under Paul VI? Depending on who is doing the simplifying, it may come at a very high price.

  19. Gerard Plourde says:


    I agree with your and Matt R’s desire to include the Eastern Primates. Our Lord specifically commanded the Apostles to baptize all nations, thus it is appropriate that the electors (for that is what the office of cardinal is) should represent the entire Church. A possible solution to the dilemma of the Latin Church’s title of Cardinal could be a revision of the Code of Canon Law to state that electors hold the office either of Cardinal of the Latin Rite or Patriarch of a Uniate Eastern Rite Church.

  20. Pastor Bonus says:

    There is a danger that reforms to the curia (which as a human institution can always be made more efficient) do not conflict with catholic theological and eccesliological principles. Two areas of concern spring to mind:

    1. Involving lay people in working and even running some aspects may be ok (if it is more than just tokenism) but surely it must always be Bishops who act as prefects and have the office of governing. This goes after all conform to the 3 basic ‘munere’ (offices) of the episcopacy, to teach, sanctify and govern. While this normally takes place in a diocese it is not exclusive to it or exhausted by it. The bishops in the curia are therefor participating in the governance of the church which is part of their divinely instituted office, this cannot be replaced by a lay person. Perhaps analogy already exists in the curia where the prefect of the Congregation of Consacrated Life while they can be religious but must also be a bishop. Thus putting a lay person in overall charge of a congregation would have no theological basis.

    2. The purported desire to downsize the number of cardinals in the Curia is indeed very odd. One of the main purposes of the Cardinalate is to function as the Papal ‘senate.’ Cardinals are first and foremost the consulters of the Pope. Removing them from the Vatican presumably in favour of giving more red hats to diocesan bishops may sound appealing but it runs contrary to the very point of the sacred college if taken to its fullest conclusion. I would venture to suggest increasing the number of cardinals overall, the limit of 120 electors can easily be changed and is not a strait jacket.

    Finally I woud add that downsizing the clerical element of the Curia and inevitably replacing it with a smaller hand picked group seems to me to achieve nothing but even further centralisation and less diversity of prelates and views immediately available to the Pope. While reform is always possible Curia which assists the pope in overseeing 1.1 billion catholics, 400,000 priests and 4,000 bishops works remarkably well and compares well to many national governments around the globe.

  21. Imrahil says:

    I wonder.

    On the one hand, a smaller Curia does indeed look fine in the first place.

    On the other, I just cannot see so much of a reduction of dicasteries possible. They were introduced for a reason in the first place.

    So, what do we need? A CDF. Then for the three basical actions of the Church a CDW, Propaganda and something for charity (presently the P. C. “Cor Unum”). They could possibly be joined with the posts of Papal Master of Ceremonies and Papal Almoner. Then a diplomatic and organizational department: the Secretariate. Then, the Pope is Head of the Episcopal College, his relations to the Episcopate is of a special nature, and he has an important practical rôle in the choice of bishops: so we need what is now the Congregation of Bishops. Then, as the Eastern Churches couldn’t bear it to be dealt with in the ordinary process, we need a specific Congregation for the Eastern Churches (which then also can do the ecumenical relations job w.r.t. the Eastern Orthodox Churches, as it does now). And then, there’s a lot of practical, administrative work to do for clergy and religious, so we need someone to do it, though they could possibly be joined.

    Which makes, in the first place:
    – one Secretariate
    – congregations: Faith, Rites, Propaganda, Cor Unum, Bishops, Eastern Churches, Clergy.

    Religious life and, alongside with it, those responsibilities of the P.C. for Laity that deal with organizations of what is actually religious life (Emmanuel Community, Neocatechumenal Way, etc.), could possibly be joined with Clergy, and so could Education (in its main responsibilities), though the result would be quite powerful. [Which may set a false sign, though: for the idea of a diocesan priest is quite distinct from the idea of a religious.]
    Canonizations could possibly be joined to Rites again, though I think the practical amount of work they do makes that unlikely.

    Then, of course, we come to the judicial bodies. These, let me say in the first place, should pretty much stay as they are. Why?
    – The Penitentiary, most of all, should not be merged with anything. Please. You cannot deal with the internal forum and run a Church ministry (“ministry” in political sense) in the same time. If anything, the Penitentiary could, but I guess on a personal-union basis only, be joined to the CDW.
    – Legislative Texts: they are doing the authentic interpretation job, and, I’d assume, advise the Pope in his function as legislator. Enough said I’d say. They need to retain the general outline in their view, they cannot do day-to-day work.
    – Apostolic Signature: this is the Church’s Ministry of Justice, and of course also doing some finely chosen part of court-proceedings work which can</i< be done by a Church Ministry although it's judicial. (No, it is not the Church's Supreme Court, because that is:)
    – the Rota: which is the Church's supreme court, and for that very reason should remain as it is. If anything, it could feasibly
    get a Cardinal.

    If anything, some of the proceedings that are now reserved to the Pope could be ceded to the Rota, but that’s not of practical relevance anyway; and the Vatican City Supreme Court and Vatican City Court of Appeals could be joined to the Signature and Rota, as in the person of their prefects they already are. (It wouldn’t seem problematic for the Pope to give a Vatican City state law that says “court of appeals and supreme courts are ‘borrowed’ from the organs of the Holy See”.)

    Then the Economical offices, and there’s
    – one that deals with Church economy in general: the Prefecture,
    – one that does the Holy See’s own economy: the Patrimony Adm.,
    and they should remain quite distinct. If anything, the Financial Control Authority could be (re-)joined to the Prefecture, but does the Pope want to do that?

    So, without even going to the main body of what is now the Pontifical Councils, and – for convenience – counting the Vicariate and the Governatorate as dicasteries, I’m already at 16 dicasteries.

    As for the different Pastoral Councils:
    – yes there should be two, and two distinct, P.C.s on Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue. We may not be content with much that we encounter being called “Ecumenism” and “Interreligious Dialogue”, but all the more is it necessary to do that, and do it in an orthodox way. (Unless we’d assume e. g. the other faiths shouldn’t be talked with at all.) “Interreligious Dialogue” can take the atheist-dialogue responsibilities, which would leave the rest of the P.C. for Culture, possibly being merged with what remains from the Cong. Education, and the Archivary and Bibliothecary of the H.R.C., to do something cultural, unconnected to “dialogue” necessities, which indeed I’d assume necessary to the Church as well. In sum: 3 bodies here.
    – Laity: can take Family.
    -Pastoral care of healthcare workers: could be extended to what it is already inofficially, pastoral care for healthcare workers and the sick (perhaps in addition “and those mourning for their deceased relatives and friends”). On the basis of mere theory, this could be joined to laity as well, of course. But then, sickness, old-age and the deathbed are so very important in practical pastorals, and many, and not entirely without reason, see in sorrow, sickness, death, and funerals a specifically religious thing (more so, to go by feeling, than in Baptism and, oh yes, certainly more so than in Marriage). And not entirely without reason, though that is peripheral here – anyway, here’s a lot of the practical pastorals the Church has to do. Could be joined (ad personam) with Patron of Knights of Malta, and no, that’s not a joke, but due to the fact that the Maltese knights run an ambulance service.
    – Justice and Peace: should stay as it is. This is not, unless by implication, a charitable (in the down-to-earth practical sense) organ of the Church. Which is why it is called Justice and Peace, not Charity and Peace. It is a political organ of the Church. If anything, it could be joined to – the Secretariate! But then it makes sense to keep “diplomatic bargaining” and “pursuing a goal” finely distinct, and more so since the Church’s diplomacy is first of all to secure an atmosphere to undisturbedly fulfil the Church mission among which fighting for justice and peace in this world has, not no place, but a secondary place indeed. Could be joined ad personam to Prefect of the Knights of the Sepulchre, because the Knights of the Sepulchre are in fact chosen from them how do something to see justice and peace introduced around them (at least in ideal), and because the Holy Grave and the adjoining regions are very much in need of justice and peace.
    -Migrants: could be splitted between Cor Unum and Justice and Peace – charitable caring to the first, fighting for justice to the second. Or stay as it is.
    – New Evangelization: could, of course, be joined to Old Evangelization again.
    – Social Communications: could, perhaps, be joined to Evangelization (which once was called Propaganda) too… and could possibly be downgraded to a secretariate possibly headed even by a layman. It’s, as far as I understand, only to be of service.

    All in all, I don’t see how the Church can possibly have less than 22 seperate dicasteries, all of which (possibly excepting, as now, the Rota) under a Cardinal. Though the Cardinal responsible for the laity could possibly be a married actual-deacon Cardinal-deacon.

    Church-governing is to be done by clergy at any rate, which is why membership in the Congregations (one of the little things that distinguish a P.C. from a Cong. is that only the latter have, as far as I see, actual canonically necessary stuff to do representing the Holy See, without consulting the Pope – as in the CDW giving a dispensation from liturgical law and so on) is restricted to Cardinals and bishops. It could be extended to priests and deacons. The Secretary of such a body could be a layman, though I don’t think he should then have (as he has now) the right to vote.

    Speaking of vote: one thing that could be done – is to introduce the ministerial system – one person responsible – already present in the Secretariate, Vicariate and Governatorate, among the other dicasteries, except the Rota and the judicial proceedings of the Signatura, Penitentiary and CDF, and perhaps the CDF altogether. We would not then have congregations anymore at all, but Secretaries with consultors. I don’t know if that would be better, but it’s not unthinkable.

    On a final note, as for them meeting twice in a year: they could meet more often. By video conference. I see that personal presence is still something not to be neglected, but I’d guess it would suffice to be personally present once or twice per year and do the rest, on a weekly basis or so, by video conference. Prefect and Secretary are of course Rome-based and can note that up. The conferences could be filmed to be presented to the Pope on his request.

    Above all, the Curia – while I don’t think it impossible that there is too much micromanaging at present; I don’t know whether there is – should not be weakened, but made stronger (to do what it really is to do).

  22. TMKent says:

    I was born in 1962 and have no real memory of the mass before about 1968. I remember fascinating paintings on the ceiling of my church painted white and a beautiful hand-carved German high altar that my dad said they pitched over the hillside in the cemetery.

    Fast forward 10 years to the summer of 1978. I’m 16 and attending the KofC family picnic with my folks. The outdoor picnic table Mass was ended and thinking myself too old to play in the creek with the little kids, I retreated to our car to listen to the radio. A few minutes later, I heard a news report that Pope Paul VI had died. I got up and ran to the pavilion where the adults including Father were playing cards and breathlessly shouted out the news. I receive no reaction – no response what-so-ever. My mom saw this upset me and she took me aside and told me I had done the right thing. She told me how sad it was that in the “old days” we would have stopped and prayed for the Pope’s soul. In the old days we would have ended the picnic and gone back to mass at the parish.
    A few short years later on the 13th of May, 1981, I heard the news reports of the shooting of John Paul II. The bells would ring at my parish church and upset I began walking the blocks to go say a prayer. On my way I saw my pastor going door-to-door telling people to come to mass and pray. What a difference a Pope makes.

  23. Supertradmum says:

    Very Jesuit to have a small, strict hierarchy with all the power at the top.

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