Reforming the Church with ‘no possibility of return’

When the reform of the Vatican bureaucracy is completed, the curia will no longer be a mouthpiece for the Roman Pontiff, but an institution at the service of him and the world’s Bishops.

Jul 04, 2019

By Robert Mickens
How many cardinals does it take to help Pope Francis re­form the Roman Curia? And how many years do they need to get the job done?

What Pope Francis has been doing over the course of this nearly six years is to put into motion processes (and some leg­islation) with the aim of giving more authority to local bishops and national (and regional) episcopal conferences.

When the reform of the Vatican bureaucracy is completed, the curia will no longer be a mouthpiece for the Roman Pontiff, but an institution at the service of him and the world’s bishops.

Francis is obviously convinced that changes, and a good many of them, need to be made to the Church’s structures, methods of doing things and its overall ethos (mentality). But he knows that these changes cannot be introduced all at once. Some of them will not materialise for years to come.

One principle seems to be underpinning the project of re­form – “time is greater than space.”

“This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give a priority to time,” the Pope writes in Evangelii Gaudium.

That apostolic exhortation, which Francis issued in 2013 just months after his election as Bishop of Rome, is the governing manifesto of this pontificate and the Jesuit Pope’s vision for a reformed Church.

“Giving priority to time means being concerned about ini­tiating processes rather than possessing spaces,” he writes.

“Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return” (cf. EG, 222-225).

In other words, Francis wants to make sure that any reforms he and the bishops try to implement – including the reform of the Roman Curia – will be long lasting and not easily reversed.

The project to reform the curia originated in the discussions the Church’s cardinals held in the days before the 2013 con­clave that elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires as Bishop of Rome.

The cardinals wanted the next pope to rid the Vatican of cor­ruption, cronyism and institutional inefficiency. But few could have imagined that Papa Bergoglio would initiate a reform that would extend well beyond the curia or the confines of the tiny Vatican City State.

Francis has used the curia reform to set in motion a profound and radical reform even of the papacy and the entire global Church. He has done so by re-igniting the vision of the Sec­ond Vatican Council (1962-65) and its still unrealised intention bring the Church into the modern world.

“Christendom no longer exists,” said Bishop Marcello Se­meraro, Secretary of the Council of Cardinals at the June 27 press briefing. In this post-Christendom era “it is no longer enough to be concerned with doctrine”. The main focus, he said, must be the “proclamation of the Gospel… which must, first of all, generate joy.” But this will require a radical reimag­ining of how to carry out the missionary mandate.

“Go out to all the world; proclaim the gospel to all creation” (Mk 16,15). This is the final command the Risen Christ gives to his disciples – Praedicate Evangelium.

Pope Francis knows this requires that the Church (in all its forms, expressions and various manifestations), once and for all, leaves behind any ideas of reviving Christendom. It re­quires that we turn away from our Eurocentric theology and ecclesiology, looking for new ways to proclaim the gospel in new milieus and cultures.

The long-awaited reform of the Roman Curia is an essen­tial part of the processes Francis has initiated to bring about this radical transformation. --LCI (

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