The Pope and the Curia’s spoil system


The Roman CuriaThe Roman Curia

The U.S. has criticised Pope Francis for not having replaced the Vatican Secretary of State yet

andrea Tornielli
vatican city

“We also wanted someone with good managerial skills and leadership skills, and so far that hasn’t been as obvious.” This is what the Archbishop of New York and American papal candidate, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, had to say about Pope Francis at World Youth Day in Rio a few weeks ago. The cardinal voiced this rather frank criticism during an interview with Vatican correspondent John Allen, published on the National Catholic Register website last 24 July.


Basically, one of the most media-friendly protagonists of the last Conclave that elected Bergoglio to the Throne of Peter just four months ago has said that Francis, the Argentinean Pope “from the other side of the world” has not been enough of a “manager”. In his comment, Dolan was particularly referring to the fact that the Vatican Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, has not been replaced yet. Bertone, who was Benedict XVI’s right hand man, was widely criticised during the pre-Conclave discussions. “I would expect that after the summer lull, we’ll see some more signs of management changes,” Cardinal Dolan added, after stating that he had expected the replacement to happen before the summer, as many had wrongly predicted.



Dolan’s comment is completely separate from other statements made by top figures in the U.S. Catholic Church, such as the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, who admitted he was quite disappointed Francis was elected Pope by “members of the right wing of the Catholic Church” in an interview with the National Catholic Register. Many websites and blogs had the same reaction. Unlike certain conservative and traditionalist circles, the Archbishop of New York does not complain about such things as the little changes made to the liturgy, about the current Pope’s simple style or about the fact he has not repeatedly stressed the Church’s well-known position with regard to abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality. But Dolan has not hidden his dissatisfaction regarding Francis’ failure so far to act as a real “manager” – a typically American concern.


After he had been Pope for one month and just before Holy Week was about to begin, with all its demanding rites, on 13 April, Francis announced he was setting up a group of eight advisors to help him reform the Curia and govern the Church. He got stuck in straight away with the Vatican Bank (the IOR) given the rather unevangelical scandals it was at the centre of. He nominated a trusted prelate as its head and set up a commission to reform the Bank. He started restructuring all of the Holy See’s economic and financial structures. He met and listened to numerous people and took decisions. Dolan, and perhaps even others, expected to see some important figure get the axe, starting with Cardinal Bertone who will turn 79 at the start of December.


In the weeks following their election, neither Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II nor Benedict XVI changed the Secretary of State they inherited from their respective predecessors. They waited years (Paul VI waited six and Benedict XVI over one year) or months (the Secretary of State Jean Villot was replaced less than five months after the Conclave which elected Wojtyla, but only because he died). Pope Francis is waiting to do so “post aquas”, after the summer holidays that is, although he has in fact continued working throughout this period.


In his book Open Mind, Faithful Heart, a collection of spiritual reflections published in 2012, Bergoglio, who was still a cardinal at the time, speaks of Abraham and detachment from oneself and reminds readers of certain priests who, once appointed to a higher position, immediately start making changes to the office, changing secretaries, putting new carpets down, curtains up, kitting themselves out with all sorts of office equipment and reshaping the environment they’re in to suit them. This inevitably leads to conflict.


Francis’ words may say something about the method used by the new Pope, who is prepared to make changes to the structures and composition of the Roman Curia – starting with the position of Secretary of State, which could undergo changes as part of the reforms that are being prepared – but without making any hasty decisions, always taking people into account. On the return flight from Rio de Janeiro, Francis told journalists he appreciated collaborators who told him “I don’t see that, I disagree: that’s what I think, you do as you wish,” because those who do say such things are real collaborators, as opposed to those who say: “Oh, how wonderful, how wonderful, how wonderful”, and then they say the opposite somewhere else.”


As the last 8 years show, Benedict XVI’s pontificate was conditioned by collaborators who were not always up to the job. It is understandable therefore, that his successor should exercise due caution when selecting his key collaborators.


About The Voice Of Bombay's Catholic Laity

Bombay Laity Ezekiel’s Chapter 3 Task as Watchman 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 18 When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for[b] their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 19 But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.
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