Recent appointments are beginning to show a pattern of how Pope Francis’ reform of the Roman Curia will be carried out, with a seemingly diminished role for the Secretariat of State.
For the first time, the president of the cardinals’ commission overseeing the Institute of Religious Works, or Vatican bank, is not chaired by the Secretary of State.
On March 4, the cardinals’ commission of the Institute for Religious appointed Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major and a former nuncio, as its president.
According to the Institute’s constitutions, the cardinals elect their president. However, Pope Francis reportedly voiced his preference that the new president of the board not be the Secretary of State, but rather his longtime friend Cardinal Abril y Castello, who was apostolic nuncio to Argentina from 2000 to 20003.
The five cardinals of the board – among whom the current Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin -- followed the Pope’s will.
This is just the latest sign that the powers of the Secretariat of State are being redistributed. Indications suggest it may come to be considered one among many Vatican offices, joined by other secretariats of seemingly equal weight.
In recent decades, the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have been the most powerful of the Vatican offices.
In the new design, the Secretariat of State would be entrusted only with the task of diplomacy, while a “moderator curiae” would be in charge of the general affairs and coordination of the Vatican dicasteries.
The idea of a moderator curiae was offered during the pre-conclave meetings of cardinals. Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, proposed the idea based on his experience as a priest and auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Milan.
In his view, a moderator Curiae would manage personnel, organize periodic meetings of the heads of the Vatican dicasteries, and audit the work of these offices. He envisioned the role as a person to coordinate the general affairs of the Roman Curia, the state secretariat, and the Pope himself.
Seemingly, Pope Francis has a different view.
With a motu proprio issued Feb. 24, Pope Francis established a Secretariat for the Economy, a financial oversight council composed of 15 members and a general auditor of Vatican finances.
Cardinal George Pell has been appointed as prefect of the economy secretariat. His second-in-command, with the title prelate general secretary, will be Msgr. Alfred Xuereb, who had until now been Pope Francis’ personal secretary and his delegate within the Pontifical Commissions.
At first glance, the Secretariat for the Economy appears to have the same purpose as the existing Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See.
The only difference is that the prefecture refers to the Secretariat of State, while the economy secretariat refers directly to the Pope.
Luis Badilla Morales, a Vatican Radio journalist, wrote Feb. 25 that the model of the Secretariat for the Economy could eventually be followed in carrying out curial reform. He specifically mentioned the possibility of a new arrangement in which the Vatican communication departments would be brought under a single umbrella.
Following the example of that for the economy, this and other secretariats could take on the tasks of today’s pontifical councils, and eventually the congregations.
All the secretariats, and any remaining offices, would report directly to the Pope, and the Secretariat of State would become an office on par with the others.
The moderator curiae would still exist in this model, but would serve instead as an intermediary between the Pope and the dicasteries.
This, in fact, is just one possibility. What is clear is that Pope Francis will personally make the final decision.