Meanwhile, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, whose public intervention was credited with the pope’s change of heart toward Juan Carlos Cruz and the other Chilean victims, is widely considered to be the Church’s most credible voice in speaking out against sexual abuse. Yet the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he leads, has seen the resignation of two high-profile members, both survivors of sexual abuse. One of them, Marie Collins, has spoken often about her frustration that the Commission’s recommendations have not been adopted in the Curia or by national bishops’ conferences.
And O’Malley has faced criticism over reports that in 2015 his office received a letter from a priest detailing allegations against McCarrick, but issued only a staff member’s response, saying that the allegation was not the cardinal’s responsibility to address.
If the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a member of the C9, cannot advance binding reforms in the Curia, or even instill a culture of moral responsibility in his own staff, some working in Vatican tell CNA they are left wondering whether meaningful change can be expected to get beyond rhetoric.
Meanwhile, the structural reform of the Curia rumbles on, with Vatican departments being newly created, combined and renamed.
Initially, the most important of these new developments was the creation of the Prefecture for the Economy, led by Cardinal Pell. But even before Pell had to return to Australia, it became clear that bringing transparency and accountability to the Vatican finances was going to be an uphill slog.
In 2016, the Secretariat of State cancelled an external audit of Curial finances that had been arranged by Pell’s department. The cancellation was ordered by then Archbishop, now Cardinal, Angelo Becciu. It was widely seen as an old-fashioned power-play - neither Becciu nor anyone else at the Secretariat of State technically had the authority to overrule Pell and the Prefecture for the Economy. That Francis was persuaded to back the move, granting it legal authority after-the-fact, was seen a serious blow to financial reform in the Curia.
In June 2017, Pell’s departure for Australia coincided with the dismissal of the first Vatican auditor-general Libero Milone. Milone was fired in dramatic fashion by the Secretariat of State, once again through Angelo Becciu, while being accused of “spying” on the finances of senior officials and facing the threat of prosecution.
Milone maintained that he was fired for being too good at his job, and because he and the reforming work of the Prefecture for the Economy were a direct threat to the Curial old guard. In May of this year, the Vatican quietly announced it had dropped all charges against Milone, but the financial reforms he and Pell were working towards appear to have been effectively dropped as well.
Despite expectations that the C9 would deliver a comprehensive reform of the Roman Curia, the results have been decidedly haphazard. New ‘super-dicasteries,’ like the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, were announced with much fanfare, but thus far, without clear mandates of responsibility and processes for oversight, changes to the names of departments appear to be about as tangible as the reforms have gotten.
Meanwhile, as other departments like the Prefecture for the Economy have had their wings very publicly clipped, the Secretariat of State has seen its influence grow under Cardinal Parolin, to the point where virtually all Vatican business, either formally or informally, comes under its purview.
Ironically, some in Rome claim that Parolin’s greatest coup was arranging for his personal rival and nominal deputy, Angelo Becciu, to be made a cardinal and moved to the far less influential Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
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Parolin has also been known to take a personal interest in high-profile disciplinary cases handled at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “checking in” with the CDF to monitor their progress – something unthinkable in previous decades. Outside of Rome, bishops in far corners of the world have been awakened by phone calls from the cardinal weighing in on those local issues of Church governance that may have caught his attention.
A capable diplomat and politician, Parolin has managed to thrive in a Vatican where foundering structural reforms have disrupted traditional spheres of influence and centers of power, and the day-to-day authority he has centralized in his own department is considerable.
If the reformed Curia under Pope Francis has become, perhaps accidentally, ever more administratively centralized, doctrinally the pull is in the other direction.
On a whole range of issues, most notably the pastoral implementation of Pope Francis’ 2016 exhortation Amoris laetitia, bishops’ conferences have begun articulating very different approaches to what were, until recently, universal points of teaching and discipline.
Many of the more radical approaches have begun, or at least been strongly championed in Germany, where the national bishops’ conference is led by Cardinal Reinhard Marx. As de facto head of the German Church, Marx has been closely associated with some highly controversial pastoral policies, most notably the recent proposal to allow protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Communion.
The way in which the German bishops have effectively refused to take no from Rome as an answer is seen to demonstrate how weak the CDF has become, and how little Parolin’s preeminent state department can do, for all its administrative clout, on matters of discipline.