Friday, April 19, 2013

The Papal Posse: White Hats, Black Hats, Red Hats continued

Commission member,
Cardinal Sean O'Malley
Well in the past two postings we have looked at the eight Cardinals who make up the papally appointed commission to see what can be done to reform the administrative branch of the Church, the Roman Curia.  So  now, what is there to think of this reform commission?  Rather than look at how the different personalities fit together, I think we first need to frame the analysis correctly.  What most people have picked up on is that given the troubles at the Vatican Bank, the dossiers stolen by the butler and given to journalists, the “rumors” of a gay cabal in the Curial ranks, and other front-burner news items, the commission’s task is to go in and identify the problem people and suggest their replacement.   But in fact, it seems to more keen observers that the task is far more fundamental.  According to Robert Mickens, Vaticanista at the London Tablet, probably the finest English language Catholic paper, Francis was struck, in his Cardinal days, by a book by former San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn, The Reform of the Papacy, the costly call to Christian Unity (Crossroads, 1999).  Quinn who earlier in his life leaned somewhat toward the right, grew very disillusioned with the recentralization of the Church under John Paul II.  He took an early retirement—some say he was pushed into early retirement by an unfriendly papacy—and has spent most of his golden years with a subtle but weighty undermining of the current style of papal authority.  When John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint (That All May Be One) asked leaders of all denominations to help him find new ways of exercising the Petrine Ministry, Quinn used the pope’s own words as wedge to force open the door to a historical critique of the Papacy.  In his lectures and writing, Quinn demonstrated how the papal monarchy of the last five centuries is a malformation (I would like to say cancerous malformation but that would be stronger than Quinn’s stated views) of the historic papacy.  Vatican II with its call to collegiality tried to change the way that authority is exercised in the Church, but the re-centralizing of authority in the Roman Curia under John Paul II and Benedict XVI undid that mission to restore proper governance to the bishops.  Now it seems that Francis wants the question investigated anew and what this commission is charged with it not simply looking for unworthy servants in the papal household, but restructuring the governmental apparatus of the Church. 
One person I spoke with said that supposedly Francis picked this particular group of Cardinals because they have each had run-ins with the Curia.  In fact, it would have been difficult for the Holy Father to pick any bishop for this commission who has not had runs with the Curia.  In my years in Rome I saw any number of prelates making their ad limina reports —Bishops, Auxiliary Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinal Archbishops—come out of the various meetings with dicastery officials apoplectic over the way some pezzo grosso monsignor with his ego inflated by his purple belly-band had treated him.  Bishops called in like miscreant schoolboys and berated by some pompous junior grade pansy in a red dress—this is no way to run a Church.  Hopefully this commission will design the sort of reforms that will empower bishops to be the shepherds of their flocks, empower the pope to be first among equals, and give the administrative departments of the Holy See the mission to be of service to the universal Church and not to get wrapped up in egocentric power plays that satisfy their petty egos but hinder the Church’s mission of evangelization.       

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