Pope discusses reform with Vatican department heads

Rome — Pope Francis is moving ahead with plans to reform the Catholic church's central governance structures, meeting Monday with the heads of each of the Vatican's various departments to discuss pending changes.

While the Vatican released little information about the meeting, spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said in a short briefing Monday that it was held "regarding the reform of the curia," the Vatican term for its offices and departments.

The meeting, Lombardi said, took about three hours, with the pope and the department heads discussing various proposals for reform. The department heads, said the priest, "spoke and gave their observations" to planned reforms.

News of Monday's meeting has triggered speculation of just how wide-ranging Francis' reform of the Vatican curia might be. Some analysts have speculated the pope might be dissolving certain congregations or councils, or raising the importance of others.

The Vatican bureaucracy is split among 12 councils and nine congregations. The congregations are normally considered more powerful, as they handle matters such as church doctrine and appointment of bishops. Examples of councils are the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Last year, Francis appointed a group of eight cardinals to "study a project of revision" of the Vatican's bureaucracy. That group, known as the Council of Cardinals and since expanded to nine prelates, has met several times at the Vatican to discuss possible changes with the pope.

Lombardi said Monday that the Council will be considering the Vatican department heads' observations during their next meeting, set for Dec. 9-11.

Asked if that meeting might see the announcement of some changes, or of some new constitution for the structure of the Vatican bureaucracy, Lombardi said "We will see at the next meeting."

"There is not an imminent publication," of any new constitution, said Lombardi.

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

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