‘Everything’s NOT up to date in Vatican City…”
[February 17, 2016]
Shortly after his election to the papacy in March, 2013, Pope Francis set up an advisory group of eight cardinals to advise him on reforming the Vatican Curia. The cardinals were chosen as representatives of major geographic regions; for North America it has been Boston’s Cardinal Seán O’Malley.
Over time the “Group of Eight” has morphed into the “Council of Nine,” by adding – after the unceremonious departure of Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone – his successor as the Vatican’s deputy pope – Cardinal Pietro Parolin. And the group was given official status as a “Council,” hence its current moniker in the media, the C9.
Perhaps C4 (the plastic explosive Semtex) would have been more appropriate, because after almost three years of quarterly deliberations in Rome with the Pope, the C9 may well be seismic in its impact. Some of the C9’s major recommendations are seeping into the blogosphere, notably in Global Pulse and Zenit.it, and through the Catholic News Agency.
But not much is being heard from mainstream media, even those few print outlets with religion reporters or a Rome presence.
The C9 recommendations, of course, are just a piece of paper until they are endorsed and promulgated by Francis. That’s how absolute monarchies work. To paraphrase Mel Brooks, it’s good to be the pope.
With extensive prep work by some prominent consultants and advisers, notably McKinsey (corporate structure), The Promontory Group (financial strategy), and KPMG (accounting and financial reporting), some interesting specifics are emerging:
As widely reported, there is to be a Congregation for the Laity, Family, and Life; this would be a merger of existing Pontifical Councils; yawn;
Less commented upon, and causing quite a ruckus within the Curia and the Vatican bar, a dicastery [major departmental entity on a par with congregations] would be created for Justice, Peace and Migration; hmmm, as several prelates have been muttering; and
As a preview of coming attractions, next on the C9 agenda there is to be a review of the all-powerful Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s central coordinating mechanism for almost two-dozen congregations, councils and commissions. This is causing an OMG reaction across the Curia, not as a serene prayer but as an expostulation.
The C9 is scheduled to meet again in April and in June. Speculation is that consistent with the standard practice of major Curia announcements before the summer break (July-August), something official with the pope’s imprimatur might be announced officially and implemented over the next four months. The discussion below focuses upon the “Justice” dicastery. For the upcoming C9 review of the Secretariat of State, stay tuned.
The Justice (etc.) Dicastery
The focus here is upon the Vatican’s judicial system, includes three of its separate tribunali:
The Tribunal of the Roman Rota, best known for its marriage annulment proceedings; traditionally it has moved at glacial speed – for those who followed the annulment proceedings of a Kennedy clan couple, it took eight years from the time the contested case reached Rome until a decree was issued by the Rota annulling the annulment from the lower-level Boston diocesan tribunal;
The Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, currently at the pinnacle of the canon law’s appellate system, and familiar to the thousands of American Catholics who have challenged parish and church closing decrees by their bishops; and with a care-taker management (this is not a guess);
The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts which, created almost a century ago, is responsible “ for the authentic interpretation of the Code of Canon Law.” If you can explain clearly how this quasi-tribunal meshes with the Signatura’s appellate function, you could also explain to me some of the off-season trades of Boston’s Calzini Rossi.
Oh, there are also The Tribunals of the Vatican City State, consisting of three levels of courts, but apparently not within the scope of the sweeping reorganization now being planned by the C9. However, one of its tribunals is very much in the news today as the venue for Vatileaks II, the trial of five individuals involved in yet another massive leak of sensitive Vatican financial (yes) documents. The legal offices of the avvocato for one of the defendants were broken into a few months ago. More about that ongoing trial at a later date.
The principal judicial reorganization option currently under consideration is to merge the three entities noted above into a single one, with the Rota touted at the preferred choice. Think of this in the context of a parish merger, where one lucky parish emerges as the winner, and the other is on the road to canonical extinction. Putting aside the tedious detail, what would this mean to Catholics in pews?
Answer: A lot…
The Rota (maybe renamed) has now essentially gone out of the marriage-annulment business, which is a growth industry at the diocesan level. Effective last December, most all appeals involving uncontested annulments now do NOT go to Rome, but to an adjoining ‘metropolitan tribunal’ in the country where the annulment process started; these two-step kwikie annulments are known on the street as ‘Divorzio all’Americana’.
And the same treatment is now being proposed for ‘administrative appeals’, i.e. challenges to parish and church closings so dismally familiar to tens of thousands of American Catholics. As planned, in almost all cases of appeals against parish and church closings there would be the two-step process, first back to the diocesan bishop, and then (if He doesn’t change his mind) to an adjoining metropolitan tribunal.
Frankly it mystifies me that this radical [as in ‘going to the root of the matter’] approach has been ignored by national as well as specialized media. And there are some yooge implications:
The Church’s power over an essential aspect of Catholic life, marriage, has already been devolved to some 2,800 dioceses (and their good neighbors, on appeal) around the globe. This devolution revolution has already happened, with an official pronouncement last December. Shrewd Vatican observers viewed that as a testing of the waters, but limited to a highly specialized canonical function, so it has not attracted much attention. Needless to say, diocesan bishops and national episcopal conferences like this – they really like.
As the old Washington saying goes, where you stand is a function of where you sit.
This could be the shape of things to come for the governance of parishes and churches. But with almost 2,800 Latin Rite dioceses around the world, it is fair to say that a wide variety of practices, compromises and accommodations could emerge. Presumably the 220+ Eastern Rite eparchies would be left alone.
So, what happens to the binding force of Roman Catholicism: Unam, Sanctam, Catholicam et Apostolicam? Particularly to the Unam?
In the years ahead, we might see the birth of a Catholic Confederation, or perhaps a broader Christian Commonwealth.embracing other Christian tradition creeds.
Next year marks the 500th anniversary of the posting of Martin Luther’s 95 theses.
Pope Francis’ recent surprise meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia at the Havana airport is a striking indication of this pope’s willingness to reach across current divides, without preconditions (to the dismay of some in His diplomatic corps, Havana not being a neutral venue. It is beyond any doubt that by now the Patriarch will have debriefed his Moscow mentor, who rules within sight of the Lenin Hills. But Francis’ direct-report resides at a much higher altitude. Chi vivrà vedrà (whoever lives that long will see.)