Council of Cardinals discusses role of laity in the church

by Joshua J. McElwee

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The group of cardinals advising Pope Francis on reforming the Catholic church's central bureaucracy spent their latest meeting focusing on the roles of the Vatican offices that interact with foreign governments, oversee the church in missionary territories, consider which priests are appointed bishops, and work with Eastern rite churches.

Greg Burke, the head of the Holy See press office, said the nine-member Council of Cardinals focused particularly on the roles of the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Congregation for Bishops, and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

Burke said two major themes emerged as “guide-lines” during the meeting: Missionary zeal and synodality.

The Cardinals’ Council, created by Francis to help him in reforming what is known as the Roman Curia, has been meeting with the pope in Rome Monday through Wednesday for the 17th of its in-person meetings.

The only American serving in the group is Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley.

Burke said the Council of Cardinals did not speak about a controversial November letter from four semi-retired cardinals challenging Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on family life, Amoris Laetitia.

“The pope is clear enough that a Synod has spoken, the Spirit has spoken,” said the spokesman, referring to the 2014 and 2015 meetings of the Synod of Bishops that the prompted the pope to write his document.

Burke said that during their meetings the cardinals received updates from two new Vatican offices that Francis created at their suggestion: the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life and the Dicastery for Integral Human Development.

The spokesman said Cardinal Kevin Farrell of the laity-family-life dicastery emphasized the importance of the role of laity in the church and gave the cardinals “an invitation to reread” a letter the pope wrote on that subject earlier in the year to Cardinal Marc Ouellet in his role as the head of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

In that letter, released in April, Francis strongly reaffirmed the right of laypeople to make decisions in their lives, saying that priests must trust that the Holy Spirit is working in them and that the Spirit "is not only the 'property' of the ecclesial hierarchy."

Australian Cardinal George Pell, head of the new centralized Secretariat of the Economy, also gave a presentation to the cardinals, as did O'Malley, who leads the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Burke also said the Council has now finished considerations of four Vatican offices -- the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for religious life, the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity -- and submitted proposals about them to the pope.

The next meeting of the Council of Cardinals is set for Feb. 13-15.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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