Curial Reform: Softlee Softlee, Catchee Monkey

When Cardinal Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis, it was widely acknowledged that this was largely on the grounds of his contribution to discussions inside the consistory, on the pressing need for reform of the curia. So, the world watched anxiously to see what form this reform would take – and in particular, which curial officials would remain in post, be booted out, or receive promotion. Months later, there seemed to  be little change.  This perception though, simply missed the point. Some years on, the perspective is rather different.

Pope Francis addressed the members of the Roman Curia for his annual Christmas greetings – ANSA

The first point to note, is that instead of rushing into a “reform” of the curia, Pope Francis’ first and most important action was simply to downgrade its simple importance. This was dramatically signalled symbolically, by taking up his personal residence outside the traditional buildings, away from the officials. Later, it was given more substantive form, in his formation of an advisory inner circle of cardinal advisors. This is where the important decisions are now taken, not in curial offices. A further sign of the diminished importance of the curia, is in the much reduced flow of published documents issuing from those offices, as compared with the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The rightful role of the curia has been restored to that of the church’s civil service, not its government. (That is not to deny that there is extensive unhappiness and resistance within the curia. That is to be expected – but matters far less, than it would have done under Francis’ predecessors).

For a useful summary of just how extensive Francis’ reform has been, taking one simple step at a time, see Pope Francis’ hard-hitting Christmas address to the leaders of the curia, reported in full at Radio Vatican. Every Christmas since taking office, in these seasonal addresses Francis has  given some thoughts on what the curia should be – and what at times it is, but should not be. 

In this year’s address, Pope Francis first listed the general principles for what he expects from the curia, then followed up with a summary of all the measures that have been already taken towards reform, one small step at a time. Collectively, they add up to something substantial. While no single issue in any way addresses the needs of LGBT Catholics, taken together they will create the conditions for the reforms we so  desperately need.

In summary:

12 general principles

1. Individual responsibility (personal conversion)

2. Pastoral concern (pastoral conversion)

3. Missionary spirit (Christocentrism)

4. Clear organization

5. Improved functioning

6. Modernization (updating)

7. Sobriety

8. Subsidiarity

9. Synodality

10. Catholicity

11. Professionalism

12. Gradualism (discernment)

For LGBT Catholics, what is notable is what is not there – no reference at all to doctrinal orthodoxy or enforcement. This continues a constant theme in this papacy, of greater emphasis on pastoral ministry than attention to rules.  Further, several of the general principles (eg modernization, subsidiarity, synodality, Catholicity, gradualism), if followed through properly, can be expected to result in time in some modification or removal of the most questionable of those rules affecting us.

Steps already taken:

13 April 2013  – Creation of the Council of Cardinals

24 June 2013 –  Creation of the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Institute for Works of Religion (Vatican Bank), Further steps for improved control of fiscal, economic and administrative  management taken on 18 July 2013, 8 August 2013, 15 November 2013,  24 February 2014, 8 July 2014,, 22 February 2015, 4 July 2016

11 July 2013, provisions  to define the jurisdiction of the judicial authorities of Vatican City State in criminal matters.

22 March 2014 – Creation of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors

27 June 2015 – Creation of  the Secretariat for Communication, with its statutes promulgated on 6 September 2016.

15 August 2015 – Provisions were made for the reform of the canonical process in cases of declaration of marital nullity (ie, “annulment” of marriage)

4 June 2016 – An “effort was made to prevent negligence on the part of bishops in the exercise of their office”

15 August 2016 – Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life was established

17 August 2016  -Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development was established

18 October 2016 – the Statutes of the Pontifical Academy for Life were approved.

The early initiatives were overwhelmingly concerned with financial and administrative reforms. Later however, as these were bedded down, it became possible to turn to more directly pastoral issues. The August appointments of dicasteries for Laity and Family Life, and for the Promotion of Integral Human Development hold at least the possibility of more consideration of the proper place of LGBT Catholics in the Church, with our own need for family life, justice, and proper participation in the life of the Church.

I wait with interest to see what further reform 2017 will bring.

Happy New Year to all.


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