Since 2015, Pope Francis has not called an extraordinary consistory like the one to be held on August 29-30

In 2015, Pope Francis summoned the cardinals to discuss the reform of the Curia. However, the discussion on the reform was still young, even though some steps, such as creating the Secretariat for the Economy, had already been taken. 

In 2022, the reform of the Curia is still the basis of the discussion. The consistory, however, will be profoundly different.

There will be only one report already anticipated to the cardinals: A text that Bishop Marco Mellino, secretary of the Council of Cardinals, already presented to dicastery leaders and published in L'Osservatore Romano.

The 11-page text explains the philosophy behind the reform of the Roman Curia. There are no debates. No other reports are foreseen. Instead, the cardinals will be divided into language groups for free discussions. 

Everything, therefore, will end on Aug. 30, with Mass with the new cardinals to be celebrated in the afternoon in St. Peter's Basilica. In practice, the cardinals are asked to take note of the reform of the Curia, which is now a reality. There is no more room for any discussions, counter-proposals, or adjustments.

The path to reform

In reality, reading the text of Bishop Mellino sent to the Cardinals –– which CNA has obtained –– it appears the reform of the Curia was more or less conceptualized by 2020. By that time, the text was in the pope's hands, and only the pope himself could tweak it.

The procedure for drafting the text is detailed in note 4. It says the first draft of the apostolic constitution arrived in late 2018, almost five years after the beginning of the work. It was a draft aimed "at continuity with the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus while setting forth the criteria and guiding principles of the new constitutional structure."

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The Council of Cardinals then discussed the text during the February and April 2019 sessions. Following these deliberations, the document was sent for consultation to "all the superiors of the dicasteries and institutes of the Roman Curia and institutions connected to the Holy See." 

Episcopal conferences, major archiepiscopal curias, and Pontifical Universities in Rome — as well as several abroad, chosen by the pope — received the text, too. Moreover, several Catholic bodies and institutions across languages and continents were also allowed to consult on the text.

The Council of Cardinals reviewed the feedback and proposals in June and September 2019. 

Finally, in October 2019, the new text, refined with the comments received, was again sent to the dicastery heads of the Roman Curia and then to the cardinals residing in Rome for further feedback and suggestions.

The subsequent councils of the cardinals studied the amendments up to the draft of June 2020 delivered to the pope. And it is at that point that the text remains firmly in the hands of Pope Francis, who "since July 2020 has personally examined the amendments, taking into account the observations, indications, and proposals received and making his own choices, as Supreme Legislator."

On Sept. 16, 2020, the final text was submitted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. Then, after their considerations, the text was published, almost suddenly, on Mar. 19, 2022.

The missionary dimension

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Mellino's text particularly exalts the missionary dimension, which "must be capable of transforming every ecclesial structure." It emphasizes that this is why the department for evangelization appears first in the list of departments.

However, the secretary of the Council of Cardinals is keen to specify that "it is good to specify that all dicasteries enjoy equal juridical dignity." Therefore, their place in the list "has no juridical value."

However, it is a significant decision, at least for the first three Dicasteries –– the Dicastery for Evangelization, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Dicastery for Charity. These "not only stand side by side but play, each for their respective area, a complete role in missionary action to which the Roman Curia is called. They constitute a triad that sets the tone for the rest of the Apostolic Constitution."

The role of the laity

It is interesting to note how the role of the laity is interpreted. The new constitutionPraedicate Evangelium, suggests that the laity can be dicastery heads because power is not given by episcopal ordination but instead by canonical mission.

Indeed, the text differentiates potestas (power) and munus (office). The sacrament of Holy Orders, in fact, "grants the three munera to teach, sanctify and govern, but not the corresponding power."

Mellino's text has a broad interpretation, at the end, of the Code of Canon Law. In article 129, the code emphasizes that "those who have received sacred orders are qualified, according to the norm of the prescripts of the law, for the power of governance," while the laity "cooperate in the exercise of this same power according to the norm of law."

"Cooperating actually means working together with another," Mellino writes. 

"Therefore, cooperating in exercising the power of governance means exercising the same power that the one with whom one works has."

Mellino also specifies that the power of governance of the laity is limited "to offices that do not require either the power of order or the power of ecclesiastical governance."

However, nothing is said of how the laity maintains the fullness of potestas over the bishops who are members of the same dicasteries.

Many questions remain open unless the Curia is considered only an office, a function. But this would be the secular interpretation of the curial offices, excluded a priori by the very constitution itself.

Discussions at the Consistory

Some cardinals told CNA they did not know how the debate would develop but expected to be divided into language groups. 

According to another cardinal, a plenary session is planned for the morning of Aug. 30, in which the coordinators of the linguistic groups will speak, and everyone will be able to intervene freely. This will be the time for getting to know the new cardinals.

Pope Francis has profoundly changed the college of cardinals since 2015, and it would be helpful for cardinals to meet and get to know each other.

According to a CNA source, many cardinals would like to ask questions that concern the life of the Church more than the functionality of the dicasteries, thus emphasizing the question of missionary enthusiasm and the need to evangelize.

Of course, this is the first consistory of a new type. Previous extraordinary consistories included one or more reports and a free debate. The form of the division into linguistic groups follows the running of synods and represents a substantial break with the traditional way of managing consistories.

It also throws up another question: Will this be a test for a possible reform of pre-conclave meetings?