In a recent interview, Pope Francis’ right-hand man for the reform of the Roman curia said we can expect serious downsizing of the offices that make up the Vatican bureaucracy.
Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, the Honduran coordinator of the “C9,” the committee helping Francis restructure Vatican offices, said that the reform of Vatican finances had been the Pope’s first priority. Now that the process is seriously underway, attention is turning to the reform of the Vatican government.
Until now, there has been considerable overlap among the various Vatican departments, and the reform has been aimed at consolidation. There are, for instance, 12 different pontifical “councils” or offices, ranging from the Council for the Laity to the Council for Culture, and from the Council for Justice and Peace to the Council for the Pastoral Care of Healthcare Workers.
Maradiaga said that two larger departments are being created, “dedicated to the laity and charity,” which will subsume a number of the existing pontifical councils. He said that while there are “certain details that need to be fine-tuned,” the project is moving forward quickly.
The Cardinal also said that the two new departments will no longer be “pontifical councils,” but will be “pontifical congregations,” a more important echelon in the Vatican bureaucracy, comparable to a ministry in a national government.
This merger will reduce the number of prelates in the structure, making room for more lay people. “It is also not necessary for there to be a cardinal or a bishop heading every dicastery,” Maradiaga said. “There could be a married couple in charge of family matters, for example and for migrants there could be a nun who has specialized experience in this area.”
According to the Cardinal, the aim of the reform “is to rationalize and simplify things.” He noted that now there are about thirty different Vatican departments, including secretariats, councils, and congregations. “How can a leader regularly bring together all of his ministers? In the past, meetings took place once or twice a year. How can an institution go on like this?” he asked.
Maradiaga said that the powerful Vatican secretariat of state is also undergoing reform, and that Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, “will be presenting a plan for this at the next meeting.” This reorganization will probably include “the redistribution of internal tasks,” the Cardinal said.
Though the reform of Vatican judicial structures has not yet been discussed, Maradiaga said he personally thinks that merging departments relating to justice could have a positive outcome. “I think it would be a good idea to have one single Ministry of Justice in the Church that includes the Apostolic Signatura, the Roman Rota, the department for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts and the Apostolic Penitentiary. Under a single head,” he said.
As a result of this reform, Maradiaga added, there will be fewer cardinals serving in the Holy See’s offices. “Of course, that is the idea,” he said. “The Curia must no longer be perceived as a papal court or as the Church’s centralized super-government. It needs to be an agile structure, at the service of the papal ministry.”
Thomas D. Williams can be followed on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.