Pope Francis and his Council of Cardinals met for the 18th time this week to continue discussion on reforming the Roman Curia, focusing on how new bishops are chosen and the streamlining of several offices, including the Vatican tribunals.
According to a Feb. 15 Vatican communique, after opening their
meetings with a declaration of support for Pope Francis and his reform
efforts, the cardinals “have begun to examine the ‘Diaconia of
Justice,’” and so dedicated a good chunk of this week’s meetings to the
three Vatican tribunals.
The tribunals are the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Supreme Tribunal of
the Apostolic Signatura and the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.
In a nutshell, the Apostolic Penitentiary is the court in charge of
cases involving excommunication and serious sins, including those whose
absolution is reserved to the Holy See, while the Signatura, as it’s
called, functions as a sort of Supreme Court.
The Rota, for its part, is
akin to a court of appeals or court of “last instance,” and is also
where marriage annulment cases are judged.
In addition to the tribunals, the cardinals also dedicated a portion
of the discussion to “the process for selecting candidates for the
episcopate,” a topic that’s been on the table for some time.
Each of the nine members of the council were present for the entirety
of the Feb. 13-15 round of meetings, with the addition of Msgr. Dario
Vigano, prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, who gave an
update on his dicastery’s work.
In keeping with their custom, the
cardinals concelebrated Mass with the Pope in the chapel of the Santa
Marta guesthouse the first two days of the meeting.
As usual, Pope Francis was present for the majority of the sessions
apart from Monday morning, when he met the Costa Rican bishops in Rome
for their ad limina visit, and Wednesday morning, during which he
participated in the weekly general audience.
The cardinals, in addition to speaking about the tribunals and bishop
selection, continued to discuss points brought up during the last round
of meetings, including the possible restructuring of the Congregations
for the Evangelization of Peoples (Propaganda Fides) and Oriental
Churches and the Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Cardinal Pell gave a presentation on work of Secretariat for the
Economy and the continuing reform of Vatican finances, giving special
emphasis to “the formation of personnel and human resources.”
Msgr. Vigano offered his presentation on communications Monday
afternoon, focusing at length on the consolidation of Vatican Radio and
the Vatican Television Center.
It was noted in the Vatican communique that on this point, several
meetings have already taken place with the Secretariat of State, the
Secretariat for the Economy, the Administration of the Patrimony of the
Holy See (APSA) and the Labor Office.
Mention was also made of the plan to “restructure radio frequencies”
and of a new policy for social how to handle social media.
reflection was also given on a project for reforming the Vatican
Before discussion began, however, the cardinals kicked off the first
day of meetings by issuing a statement reaffirming their support for
Pope Francis and his work after the pontiff received some harsh blowback
for his reform in the days preceding the gathering.
On Monday Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga greeted the Pope
on behalf of the group at the start of their first session, thanking
Francis for his Dec. 22 address to the Roman Curia and acknowledging
“his encouragement and direction for the work of the council.”
“In relation to recent events, the Council of Cardinals expresses its
full support of the work of the Pope, while ensuring full adhesion and
support to his person and his Magisterium,” it added.
The statement came out just over a week after posters criticizing the
Pope were plastered on walls of the city center of Rome Feb. 4.
later, a spoof of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano was sent to
cardinals and bishops in the Curia claiming the Pope had finally
answered the five “dubia” submitted to him by four prelates in
September, responding both “yes and no” to each.
In a Feb. 15 briefing with journalists on the winners of the
International “Economy and Society” Prize of the Vatican’s Centesimus
Annus Pro Pontifice foundation, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the
German bishops’ conference and a member of the Pope’s “Council of
Nine,” spoke about the issue.
When asked about the reason for issuing the statement, Marx said the
intention was not to create a “great drama,” but rather to voice their
“It was time to repeat that we are supporting the Pope” and walking
beside him, Marx said, adding that the statement seems to have been
“We have discussion in the Church, normal discussions, tensions, it
will always be like this,” he said, but explained that “at a time like
this” when such vocal and public opposition has been voiced, “loyalty to
the Pope is substantial” to the Catholic faith.
Established by Pope Francis shortly after his pontificate began in
2013, the council, also called “the Council of Nine,” serves as an
advisory body on Church governance and reform, with special emphasis on
the reform of Pastor Bonus, the 1988 apostolic constitution of St. John
Paul II that regulates the competencies and work of the Roman Curia.
Keywords that have come out of the cardinals’ meetings so far and
which have emerged as guiding principles for the ongoing Curial reform
are harmonization, simplification, synodality and the Church’s
The council of cardinals will conclude its last session Wednesday
evening, and is set to meet again April 24-26 to continue discussion on
moving forward in reforming curial structures.