It took Francis more than five years to take action on APSA, which has been a sore spot for many who were hoping to see the pope crack down on financial issues. In a recent interview with Reuters the pope admitted that “there is no transparency” at APSA.
“We have to move ahead on transparency, and that depends on APSA,” he said in the interview. Many Vatican watchers are hopeful that Galantino will be able to bring in the accountability and oversight the office has typically resisted.
The second important personnel change is the appointment of Italian layman Paolo Ruffini as head of the Vatican's communications office, making him the first layperson to lead a Vatican department, also called a dicastery.
Though Ruffini's nomination was highly celebrated among Italians, who are pleased to have one of their own moving to such an important post, the new prefect is also seen as highly competent, bringing with him professional experience in journalism dating back to 1979.
Until his appointment Ruffini worked as the director of TV2000, the network of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, and he brings with him extensive experience in television, radio, and print, making him a choice perceived as a competent, well-rounded pick for the job.
Ruffini is considered to be in line with key priorities of the current pontificate, and his appointment can be read as follow-through on Pope Francis' commitment to eradicate a clericalist mentality in the curia and to add more laypeople to the mix.
Despite the fact that Msgr. Dario Vigano, who headed the office until the “Lettergate” scandal, is expected to stay in the dicastery in the advisory role the pope gave him, observers are hopeful that at least some of the pope's stubbornness in decision-making is gone, and that the days of poor personnel choices will be a thing of the past.
And with several decisions made that seem to indicate reform is moving in the right – or at least a better – direction when it seemed to be on the brink of failure, a natural question comes to mind: what changed?
Some believe the turning point was the pope's reaction to the Chilean abuse crisis. After initially defending the bishop at the center of the debate, calling accusations of cover-up on the part of the bishop “calumny” and claiming that no evidence of the prelate's guilt had been brought forward, Francis had a major turnaround when news came out that evidence had been presented years prior which he either never got, or potentially ignored.
It was a serious blow to Francis' credibility in the fight against sex-abuse in the Church, and to his public image. Soon after he sent his top investigator on abuse to Chile to look into the situation, and after receiving a 2,300 page report, the pope issued a letter to Chilean bishops saying he had made “serious errors” in judging the situation due to a lack of “truthful and balanced information.”
Many observers pinned the blame on 84-year-old Chilean Cardinal Javier Francisco Errazuriz, who is a member of the pope's nine-member Council of Cardinals and who has come under heavy fire from victims for covering up abuse while archbishop of Santiago, and for trying to discredit victims' testimonies.
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In his recent interview with Reuters, Pope Francis said his council of cardinal advisors, called the “C9” and whose mandate will be up in October, would be refreshed with new members.
Though such a decision is natural after term limits end, some observers have pondered whether the Chilean crisis and the accusations against Errazuriz, the absence of Cardinal Pell and separate accusations of financial misdealing on the part of Honduran Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga, also a member of the advisory team, have, to a certain degree, awakened Francis to the need to be more selective with his inner circle.
The answers to these questions, of course, are pure speculation, but if one thing can be said about the pope's latest round of appointments, it's that while his track record on reform efforts has not been the best, and while there are still loose ends to tie up, he is at least aware of the problems and he seems intent on making good on his promises, even if that does not happen immediately.
And if the first five years of Pope Francis' curial reform have largely been seen as ineffective, the appointment of Ruffini and Galantino just might give the flicker of hope needed for Catholics to decide that the jury is still out on the long-term process. However, as with any reform, really only time will tell.