Although some have worried Pope Francis’ creation of a group of cardinals to advise him means he is giving up some of his papal authority, an expert in Church law says a better description of the move is choosing the members of a cabinet.
Paolo Gherri, who teaches the Theology of Canon Law at the Pontifical Lateran University, told CNA in an April 16 interview that he believes Pope Francis “has in some ways chosen the ministers of his administration.”
“The eight cardinals are intended to decide the institutional-political line,” he asserted.
“After that, there will be probably a number of experts to determine the way this line can be put into effect.”
Gherri bases his analysis on a series of observations.
First of all, the choice of the commission is significant as far as Church policy is concerned.
All eight of the cardinals who were selected are residential archbishops, meaning that none of them work in the Roman Curia, the Vatican-based administration that assists the Pope in carrying out his ministry.
Also noteworthy is that only one of them is Italian – Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello – the head of the Vatican City State’s administration, and none of them is a canon law expert, which seems like a necessary skill for developing a reform plan.
It is also evident that “Pope Francis chose people with his same kind of approach,” Gherri said.
Their appointment is an “institutionalization” of a working group of like-minded prelates, he explained, adding that the move communicates “there is a sort of think tank working on new guidelines of ecclesiastical policy.”
But when it comes to how the reform will be carried out, no one is really sure what that will look like.
The debate on how to solve the Curia’s problems is split between those who maintain that the effort of the Holy See as an international body must not be underestimated, and those who underline that diplomacy is secondary and not part of announcing the Gospel.
The collaborator of a cardinal who took part in the conclave revealed in an April 15 conversation with CNA that “the pre-conclave meetings also dealt with the role and function of the Secretariat of State.”
According to the same source, some cardinals pushed for “a new organization to govern the Church.”
They proposed creating two papal secretaries: one that would handle the administration of the Church and one that would manage international relations and in some ways be detached from the central government of the Church.
Currently, the State Secretariat is divided into two sections: the Section for General Affairs and the Section for Relations with States, known as the First Section and Second Section, respectively.
Ways to improve the Curia’s efficiency were also suggested during the pre-conclave meetings.
Several sources agree that Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, put forth a proposal to create a moderator of the Curia (moderator curiae), a prelate who would identify inefficiencies within the Curia and work for a solution.
The idea was widely appreciated by the cardinals since many of them have experienced how slowly Rome responds to their requests and how the Curia’s bureaucracy can stall procedures for months.
But Gherri cautioned that it is “not time to outline how the eight cardinals on the advisory board will act” to reform the Curia, and what their meeting will be about.
The Pope “can bring into effect the Curia reform through an infinite range of jurisdictional choices,” Gherri explained.
“He could write a four-line motu proprio letter abolishing the current form of the Roman Curia or he could issue a more structured apostolic pastoral constitution that “rearranges the whole ‘geography’ of the offices.”
The eight cardinals will have their first meeting with Pope Francis on October 1.
In the meantime, the Vatican’s April 13 official communiqué on the group underlined that the Pope is keeping in touch with them.