In the ensuing years, Vatican financial reform took steps both forward and back, which mirrored the discussion at the 2015 consistory. In fact, the financial autonomy of Vatican departments was discussed then, as well as which departments maintained a degree of independence because of their unique nature, such as the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
In the end, however, after much trial and error, Pope Francis continued briskly with the reforms he had in mind. And perhaps it was precisely the discussions of those days, which some did not hesitate to call “resistance,” that convinced him of the need to pursue reform without consulting the wider College of Cardinals.
Father Lombardi said that there had been “a certain consensus” on the possibility of a partial implementation of some specific aspects of the reform, “without waiting for the completion of the whole work.”
That’s exactly what happened. But the use of the consistory as a sort of “papal advisory board,” as the pope had sought to do at the start of his pontificate, was suspended.
The evolution of consistories
Consistories had a particular importance in the Middle Ages. They functioned at times as a governing body, as well as a court. Pope Innocent III even convened three meetings of the cardinals per week.
After Pope Sixtus V’s reform of the Curia in the 16th century, the consistories lost the weight of government. The cardinals assisted the pope in governing the Church instead through work in the Vatican congregations, while consistories were convened to add solemnity to important moments in the Church’s life.
The consistory assumed renewed importance after the Second Vatican Council. Writing in the book “Paul VI. I saw, I believed,” Father Gianfranco Grieco said that the pope always wanted the cardinals gathered in a consistory to wait for him on his return from an international trip, to exchange first impressions of the visit with them.
John Paul II convened six extraordinary consistories during his almost 27-year pontificate, discussing themes such as the renewal of the Curia, Church, and culture, the threats against life, and the challenge of the sects.
During these meetings, the cardinals seized the chance to get to know each other, talk to each other, and understand each other’s way of thinking. The gatherings were opportunities for exchange, not just for discussion. These have been lacking in the past seven years.
The extraordinary consistory in August, therefore, will have an impact on the next conclave. But what the cardinals have to say during the formal discussions is unlikely to carry much weight. The reform of the Curia has already been completed and promulgated; the cardinals can merely take note of it.
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