From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis seemed to be set on reform of the curia. In the Vatican the most valued currency is not the Italian lira or the euro but the prestige and power associated with access to the pope. One of the very first things he did upon election was to invite Fr. Lombardi over to Domus Sanctæ Marthæ for a chat. Why is that so strange? Well, Fr. Lombardi, and indeed the entire press office, was directly under the Secretariat of State. Fr. Lombardi simply had no access to Benedict XVI, getting his orders from State instead. In light of this perhaps some of Benedict's so called public relations gaffes begin to make sense.
Let's look back at Pope John Paul II and his handling of the curia. It should come as no surprise that he managed the curia poorly, allowing the various heads of congregations to manage their own affairs under the supervision of the Secretary of State, Cardinal Sodano. I am somewhat relieved that being a poor bureaucrat is not necessarily a bar to sainthood, but I digress. This situation was formalized by the constitution Pastor Bonus in 1988, which centralized everything under State, making the Secretary of State the number two man in the Vatican. The concentration of power and the potential for reducing the pope to more of a figurehead is obvious. The Vicar of Christ does not need his own vicar.
Pope Francis has been deliberately and systematically undercutting the main currency of this power and influence. The apostolic palace has been the source of some of this currency because the closer you live to the pope, the more access you have to him. In fact there are rumors of senior clerics refusing to give up their apartments there. What do you do if everyone is jostling about making a big deal about living close to you? You move into the local hotel where you will rub shoulders with anyone who happens to be staying there. Pope Francis' move to the Domus Sanctæ Marthæ was no public relations exercise or some sort of humility but a carefully calculated stroke of genius. Apparently the representatives of the Patriarch of Moscow and the Ecumenical Patriarch were quite impressed that, instead of some formal occasion, they were able to see Pope Francis daily when he came down for meals. Who knows what other contacts and interactions he is having over there? Certainly not State... and it's probably driving them nuts.
One month into his papacy, Pope Francis let the other shoe drop. He is an outsider to the curia, having spent most of his career in pastoral positions in Argentina. I was quite excited by this when he was first elected because I believed it would take an outsider to implement the necessary reforms to the governance of the Church. He has appointed what can only be described as a privy council with the express intention of advising him and working towards reform of Pastor Bonus. The makeup of this council is significant in that it is composed of curial outsiders who have had pastoral experience in their own jurisdictions across the globe. Thus he seems to have done an end run around the Secretariat of State, which otherwise would be responsible for drawing up and promulgating revisions to Pastor Bonus. I look forward to seeing what will come of all this with some measure of hope.
While some out there may be disappointed that the pope is either too Catholic or not Catholic enough, it seems to me he may be just what we need at this time.