Vatican downplays progress of cardinals working on reform

by Joshua J. McElwee

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The Vatican on Tuesday downplayed the progress of the select group of eight cardinals advising Pope Francis on reforming the governance of the Catholic church, saying not to expect final results until 2015.

In its previous meetings, the council has reviewed the work of Vatican congregations with much emphasis on reforming financial structures. The council will now shift its attention to studying the Vatican's 12 pontifical councils, a Vatican statement said.

"The work to be done is still much, so it should not be expected that it will be completed in the current year, but in the following," the Vatican said in a statement Tuesday regarding the work of the Council of Cardinals, which is meeting for the fourth time Monday through Wednesday at the Vatican.

Francis established the council last year to "study a project of revision" of the Vatican's bureaucracy, appointing eight cardinals from six continents to advise him. Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga is the group's coordinator; Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley is its only participant from the United States.

The work of the council has raised much speculation over how Francis will reform the Vatican bureaucracy, known as the Roman Curia.

Following their last meeting, held in February, Francis announced a sweeping reorganization of the church's financial structures, creating a new central office for financial matters called the Secretariat for the Economy. Sydney Cardinal George Pell, a member of the Council of Cardinals, was appointed to lead that office.

The cardinals' group also previously advised Francis to set up a Vatican commission tasked with advising the pope on safeguarding children from sex abuse and working pastorally with abuse victims. That commission is to meet at for the first time Thursday through Saturday.

The Vatican's statement Tuesday said the cardinals' group met Monday with Joseph F.X. Zahra, the head of a separate office Francis established last July to study the Vatican's organizational and economic problems.

The cardinals, the statement said, heard a report from Zahra "about some of the business areas" his Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See has examined.

The cardinals, the statement said, have also now turned their attention to studying each of the pontifical councils. The Vatican bureaucracy is split between 12 such councils and nine congregations. The congregations are normally considered more powerful, as they handle matters like church doctrine and appointment of bishops. Examples of councils are the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

"After having reviewed, in the previous meetings, the congregations of the Roman Curia, the council is now taking into consideration the Pontifical councils, first with general reflections and then individually," the Vatican statement reads.

"It is to be expected that in the course of this meeting it will complete an initial review of considerations on the pontifical councils."

Tuesday's statement also said Pell's new secretariat for economic matters would meet for the first time Friday with a Council for the Economy, a group of eight prelates and seven lay experts appointed by Francis to advise Pell in his work.

Speaking in a short briefing with reporters Tuesday, Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said not to expect much from that meeting as it is "only the first" for the group.

Lombardi also briefly spoke of the new commission advising the pope on clergy sexual abuse. The spokesman said there may be a statement from the group following their meeting this week, but emphasized that it, too, was just the first.

The spokesman also said Tuesday that Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin has been joining the work of the Council of Cardinals, though he has not been formally named a member of the group.

There is no document announcing him joining the group, Lombardi said, but "the fact is that he participates."

Following the conclusion of this week's meeting, the cardinals' group is to meet again July 1-4 at the Vatican.

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

A version of this story appeared in the May 9-22, 2014 print issue under the headline: Results from cardinals' review of Curia not expected until 2015.

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