What are the theological criteria to reform the Church and the Roman Curia?

St. Peter's statue in St. Peter's Square. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.
St. Peter's statue in St. Peter's Square. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

.- The reform of the Roman Curia must be an example for the spiritual renewal of the entire Church, the prefect of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote in an essay published Saturday in the Vatican's newspaper.

“A true reform of the Roman Curia and of the Church has the objective of rendering the mission of the Pope and of the Church in the world of today and of tomorrow more radiant” Cardinal Gerhard Mueller wrote Feb. 7 in L'Osservatore Romano.

In the article, “Purifying the Temple,” Cardinal Mueller identified the final goal of  Church reform as enlightening the mission of the Church; stressed the differences among the Roman Curia, the College of Cardinals, the Synod of Bishops, and the administration of Vatican City; and warned against the temptation of over-spiritualizing the Church, thereby relegating it to an environment of ideals divorced from reality.

Cardinal Mueller’s article was published on the eve of a meeting of the Council of Cardinals, and a subsequent consistory convoked by Pope Francis to discuss curial reform.

The Council of Cardinals are meeting for the eighth time Feb. 9-11, and under discussion are several proposals concerning the way the curia may be outlined in the future.

A first comprehensive draft designed the establishment of two super-congregations, each of including five secretariats that would take over functions and competences of several existing curial bodies: the Congregation for Justice and Peace, with the Secretariats of Justice and Peace, Cor Unum, Migrants, Pastoral Health Care, Human ecology and life; and the Congregation for Family and Laity, which would include the secretariats for Laity, Family, Married Couples, Youth and Ecclesial Movements.

Other proposals were that of a substantial role for the Synod of Bishops in the general government of the Church, and a sort of common administration between the Holy See and Vatican City.

In his article, Cardinal Mueller implicitly addresses all of these proposals.

“At the heart of the Church stand the Gospel, truth, and salvation. History has taught us that any time the Church was freed from a worldly mentality and from earthly models of the exercise of power, the path to her spiritual renewal in Jesus Christ, her head and source of life, has opened,” he began his essay.

This has emerged in all attempts at Church reform, he said, noting the Gregorian reform of the 11th century, the Tridentine reform of the 16th, and the new springtime of Vatican II.

The temporal power of bishops was often corrupting, he said, yet “even more devastating were the systems in modern times of state Churches, such as Gallicanism … and the subjection of the Church to the State through royal patronage.”

“The Lord instituted the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation for the world … the Church cannot understand herself, or justify herself, by the worldly standards of power, wealth, and prestige: reflection on the nature and mission of the Church of God is, then, the basis and premise of any true reform.”

However, Cardinal Mueller warned against the temptation, in the face of man's fragility, of “spiritualizing the Church,” thus relegating it “to an ambit of mere ideals and dreams, beyond the abyss of temptation, of sin, of death and of the devil, as though to reach the glory of the resurrection, we did not have to pass through the valley of pain and suffering.”

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith turned to Benedict XVI’s discourse about the need for the Church to free herself from forms of worldliness, and underscored that “Pope Francis has certainly continued this thought, speaking of a poor Church for the poor: the Church must never cede to the temptation of self-secularization, adapting to secular society and to a live without God.”

Discussion on curial reform has largely dealt with a desire to streamline the number of Vatican offices and employees, but Cardinal Mueller offered different criteria for reform: “the spirit of love through which the Church serves people through preaching, the sacraments, and charity.”

Cardinal Mueller explained that Roman Curia “is not a mere administrative structure, but is rather a spiritual institution rooted in the specific mission of the Church of Rome.”

The prefect stressed that the “organization and functioning of the Roman Curia depend on the specific mission of the Bishop of Rome.”

“Since it is only through the light of revealed faith that we can distinguish the Church from any religious community of merely human nature, likewise only through faith are we able to understand that the Pope and bishops enjoy a sacramental and mediating power which connects us with God,” the cardinal maintained.

He pointed out that “in the local Church, the bishop, constituted by the Holy Spirit, is not a delegate or a representative of the Pope, but the vicar and legate of Christ,” and that “the relationship between the universal Church and particular Churches cannot be compared to the relationship which exists among secular organizations.”

“The universal Church is not born as the sum of the local Churches, nor are local Churches mere branches of the universal Church,” explained Cardinal Mueller, saying there is a “mutual interiority” between particular Churches and the universal Church.

The Pope makes visible the unity and the indivisibility of the bishops and the Church, and this is why “he presides over the local Church of Rome” while at the same time presiding over the universal Church.

“The Pope cannot exercise primacy if he is not joined to the Church of Rome.”

Cardinal Mueller stressed that “the Pope exercises the universal pastoral ministry because the Pope is the successor of Peter,” but also explained that “the Pope puts into action this ministry with the assistance of the Church of Rome.”

The rationale that lies behind the existence of the Roman Curia is that “the Roman Church collaborates with the Pope’s task through the college of cardinals,” and so “groups of cardinals and bishops appointed by the Pontiff shape the body of the Roman Curia.”

“The cardinals and bishops of the Roman Curia assist the Pope in his service to Catholic unity,” while the Pope on the other hand “is not limited by the action of the Curia, and he is rather supported” by it.

Cardinal Mueller described the collegial modus operandi of the Roman Curia, and said that “it is fundamental, for the reform of the Curia, that it be understood as a spiritual family: its character and its necessarily pastoral orientation are guaranteed by mutual cooperation and by charity, by prayer and the Eucharist, by retreats and pastoral commitments and preaching.”

It is important, he said, “that the Roman Curia be distinguished from the civil institutions of Vatican State, whose structures are subject to the law of public administration and safeguard the Church’s political independence.”

Cardinal Mueller also explained that “the Synod of Bishops is not a part of the Roman Curia in the strict sense: it is the expression of the collegiality of bishops in communion with the Pope and under his direction. The Roman Curia instead aids the Pope in the exercise of his primacy over all the Churches.”

“The Synod of Bishops, the bishops conferences, and the various aggregations of particular Churches belong to a theological category distinct from the Roman Curia,” he said.

“Only those who think through the lens of power, influence, and prestige will interpret the organic relation of primacy and episcopacy as a struggle between competences,” clarified Cardinal Mueller. “The Holy Spirit, however … creates harmony between the poles of unity and multiplicity, between the universal Church and particular Churches.”

This is why – the prefect continued – “fostering a just decentralization does not mean attributing more power to the bishops conferences, but only that they exercise the genuine responsibility to which they are entrusted” always “in union with the primacy of the Pope and with the Roman Church.”

True reform, according to Cardinal Mueller, will allow the Church to counter both the “dictatorship of relativism” identified by Benedict XVI and the “globalization of indifference” seen by Pope Francis.

“The challenge for the hierarchy and for all members of the Church is to resist these worldly infections.”

In conclusion, Cardinal Mueller stressed that Pope Francis “is pursuing a spiritual cleansing of the temple, at the same time both painful and liberating, so that the glory of God can shine in the Church and be a light for all people. Recalling then, like the disciples of the Lord, the words of Scripture, 'zeal for your house will consume me', we will understand the objective of the reform of the Curia and of the Church.”

Tags: Cardinal Mueller, Curial reform