The number two official from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State has dismissed wide-ranging speculation about the reforms Pope Francis will make as “absolutely premature.”
“The Pope has not yet met with the group of advisers who have been chosen and already advice is raining down,” Archbishop Angelo Becciu said in a May 1 interview with the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
“After having spoken with the Holy Father, I can say that, at this moment, it is absolutely premature to put forward any hypothesis about the future structure of the Curia,” he stated.
Archbishop Becciu characterized the current time as one in which Pope Francis “is listening to everyone but, in the first place, he will want to listen to those whom he has chosen as advisers.”
Among the proposals that have surfaced are: creating a moderator for the Curia, naming two “papal secretaries” – one to handle the Church’s administration and another for international relations – and finally, the idea of shutting down the Vatican’s Institute for Religious Works, which has been the target of negative headlines.
The Pope did recently comment on the institute, known in Rome by its acronym IOR, during a daily Mass where some of its employees were present.
As he spoke about how institutions should not get in the way of the love story of the Church, he said, “I know that people from the IOR are here, so excuse me. Offices are necessary but they are necessary only up to a certain point.”
The barb was interpreted by some as an indication that Pope Francis was planning to dismantle the institute, which typically funds missions and other outreach projects in places where stable financing is hard to obtain. But Archbishop Becciu insisted that this was a misreading of the Pope’s meaning.
“The Pope was surprised to see words attributed to him that he never said and that misrepresent his thoughts,” he told L’Osservatore Romano.
“The only mention about it was during a brief homily at the Santa Marta, made off the cuff, in which he passionately recalled how the essence of the Church consists in a story of love between God and human beings, and how the various human structures, the IOR among them, should be less important.”
The archbishop also said that he does not know the timing of when Pope Francis will begin his reform project, but he did say that the temporary status of the heads of all the Vatican dicasteries and councils is tied to the Holy Father’s desire for prayer and reflection.
Finally, Archbishop Becciu addressed the suggestion that the commission of cardinals Pope Francis created to advise him would in some way diminish his primacy.
“It is a consultative, not a decision-making, body and I truly do not see how Pope Francis' choice might put the primacy in question,” he said.
Their mission of advising the Pope should be understood in theological terms, he said, likening it to groups “in dioceses and parishes, or of councils of superiors, provincials, and generals in the Institutes of consecrated life.”
In the secular world it would not make sense to have a council without decision making power, he acknowledged, but “theologically, advising has a function of absolute importance: helping the superior in the task of discernment, in understanding what the Spirit asks of the Church in a precise historical moment,” he explained.
Archbishop Becciu also noted that process will not move as fast as some have suggested, given that reforms to the apostolic constitution “Pastor Bonus” – which details the structure of the Curia – will still need to go through another process to be implemented.