I’ve been reading around the topic of Francis’ proposed restructuring of the Roman Curia. It is, in Latin terms, revolutionary: Res novae.
At the National Catholic Register there is a summarizing piece by Ed Condon. Within, you read…
The most dramatic reform proposed in the current draft of Praedicate Evangelium is the effective ending of any curial department’s ability to exercise papal governing authority on a stably delegated basis.
The draft text lays down that a curial department “cannot issue laws or general decrees having the force of law, nor can it deviate from the prescriptions of the universal law” except on a case-by-case basis “approved specifically by the Supreme Pontiff.” It further provides that any “important, rare, and extraordinary affairs” cannot be treated by the prefect of the dicastery unless and until he has cleared the matter with the pope and received his approval.
Legally, this means that the pope must personally approve every authoritative decision to emerge from a curial department – an historic recentralization of Roman power into the person of the pope.
Closely related to the end of curial departments’ ability to exercise the power of governance is another historic proposed reform: that lay people can serve as the head of any dicastery.
Think about this for a moment.
Right now, and for centuries, the different entities of the Curia exercised power of governance and some jurisdiction, in the sphere of competence, the tasks to which they are dedicated. This, to use the term in a rather generic sense to indicate both jurisdiction and potestas regiminis, the shorthand “jurisdiction” has been delegated to dicasteries (entities of the Curia) by the Supreme Pontiff. However, if this power or jurisdiction is withdrawn, then the individual dicasteries or entities of the Curia essentially then have to propose to the Supreme Pontiff stuff to do and he then does them himself or tells them to on a case by case basis. In military imagery, the curial entity or “dicastery” is is reduced from being a kind of XO to being a kind of dogsbody or batsman. In academic parlance, they would be a grad-student TA or a “research assistant in residence” (whatever that is).
Power of governance and jurisdiction were, before the Council and then the 1983 Code, closely bound up with the Holy Orders. Hence, the top officials of a curial entity such as a Congregation, would have to be not only in orders, but also bishops. There are practical, psychological reasons as well.
Under this new vision for the Roman Curia, if loosely defined jurisdiction has been effectively withdrawn from the curial entity, for example from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments then anyone can be the figurehead. If that position doesn’t require the power that is tied in with Holy Orders, then Sr. Randi of the Short-Haired Ministers of Social Action can be the head of the dicastery. See?
It seems as if this is what is being proposed. The draft probably won’t be finalized until September. Then, in October, we will have the extravagant “wag the dog” event, the Pan-Amazonian Synod (cha cha cha) that ought to distract everyone for a while.
This would also mean a massive increase of paperwork for the Roman Pontiff. This will have to be handled by helpers. That could happen in one of two ways. First, perhaps the Pontiff’s household will have to be increased with particular secretaries to handle the specialized papers from each curial dicastery. Of course they won’t have any jurisdiction either. See? But wait! The working draft also has massively increased the role of the Secretariat of State, whose role was already magnificently increased under Paul VI. Guess where all the decision making will be done.
At least that’s how I read this. Keep in mind that the words like “jurisdiction” and “power” and “power of governance” are also technical terms. And, the concepts behind these terms have been shifting since the Council and the 1983 Code. It’s murky. Who can hold offices these days, or who can carry out various tasks seems now, more than ever, to be a matter of the office and task bestowers ecclesiology. That is to say, frankly, “If I like the person appointed, then I probably won’t complain very much even if I think that it ought to be a bishop or priest in the post, but if I don’t agree with that person’s views, I’m going to be seriousl p.o.d!” Let’s say that a bishop appoints my friend and highly educated and tradition-loving canonist M, to be a kind of “pastoral life moderatrix” of a parish without a stable pastor. I wouldn’t complain nearly as much at that out-of-the-box non-clerical appointment as if the bishop were to appoint Sr Dyna Moore, a transgendered Daughter of Charity whose prayer life consists of communing with the grass spirits in accord with the Instrumentum Laboris for the upcoming Synod (“walking together”) through the use of crystals and, well, grass, and who keeps switching off the church’s AC in the summer because of Laudato sì.
And here we were worried about “decentralization” of power to regional conferences of bishops.
What a complete mess.