Cardinals to discuss proposal for two new Vatican congregations

Vatican City — The cardinals advising Pope Francis on reforming the church's central bureaucracy have yet to create a single comprehensive draft of a new structure of governance, the Vatican spokesman said Wednesday.

Addressing the work of the Council of Cardinals during a briefing, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said several times that many working documents had been discussed in the group, but no draft was ready.

"There is not a draft," the spokesman said at one point. "There was not a draft of the [new] constitution."

Lombardi was speaking Wednesday toward the end of a three-day meeting of the cardinals' group, which is composed of nine prelates and has been advising the pope on how to reform the Vatican bureaucracy, known as the Roman Curia.

The meeting of the council is a part of an unusually busy week at the Vatican, as discussions on reform of the Curia are to continue Thursday and Friday during a rare meeting in Rome of all the church's cardinals. On Saturday, Pope Francis will officially name 20 new cardinals in a formal ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica.

Lombardi said Thursday's full meeting of the cardinals would see an address from Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, who is coordinating the cardinals' council.

Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who serves on the Council of Cardinals, is also to address the full group of prelates regarding his work with the new papal commission on clergy sexual abuse.

While Lombardi demurred when asked if he had any specifics about where the project of Vatican reform sits, he did say the Council of Cardinals had discussed "with a certain concreteness" several proposals that have been reported by media outlets.

One of those proposals, he said, was an idea for two new large Vatican congregations dealing with the realms of justice and charity and with laity and family.

"I imagine that [Rodríguez]'s address might speak of these ... two ideas," Lombardi said.

The Vatican bureaucracy is currently split between 12 councils and nine congregations. The congregations are normally considered more powerful, as they handle matters like church doctrine and appointment of bishops.

Media speculation in recent weeks has centered on rumors that two of the councils -- the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace -- may somehow be changing in the pending Vatican reform, perhaps taking on the status of congregations and subsuming the work of other curial offices.

The Council of Cardinals meeting this week is the group's eighth. Lombardi announced Wednesday they will next meet April 13-15 at the Vatican.

Lombardi said presentations made to the council during this week's meeting included an address from Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who leads the Pontifical Council for Culture. Also addressing the council was Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and of a commission investigating reforms to the various media offices of the Vatican.

Lombardi was also asked Wednesday if the Council of Cardinals had discussed an article published in L'Osservatore Romano about the theology of reforming the Curia by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"It was not the object of debate or reflection in a particular way," Lombardi replied.

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

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