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Is the Curia Catholic or Roman?

Does the Curia need to be ‘internationalised’?

By on Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Curia  CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters

The Curia CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters

When people talk of reform of the Roman Curia, what exactly do they have in mind? What would a reformed Roman Curia look like? What sort of changes do people want to see?

Reform of the Roman Curia is very much on the menu at present – just as it was the last time we had a new Pope; the only difference is that this time the task seems more urgent than ever, given the unedifying Vatileaks scandal, which gives ample evidence of a Roman Curia that is out of control and not fit for purpose.

Before one goes further, it is best to define terms. The Roman Curia is the Church’s central organ of government. It is there to put the Pope’s will into effect; it consists of several departments, called “dicasteries”, the most important of which is the Secretariat of Sate, which is presided over at present by Cardinal Bertone, who is the nearest thing there is to a Vice-Pope. And there are also departments of lesser importance, called “congregations”. There is part of the Vatican website dedicated to the Curia, which can be found here, where details are given. 

It is clear that there has to be some form of Curia around the Pope, and one cannot simply abolish it; a lot of the Curia’s work is extremely tedious but necessary: for example, the Secretariat of Sate employs several people who answer the thousands of letters people from all over the world write to the Pope. These people, many of whom are priests, have little reward for their labours, so they may feel rightly aggrieved when they are spoken of as part of a problem that needs solving.

The main thrust of the reform movement is now what it has always been – namely a desire to see the Curia internationalised. This has been a constant theme of George Weigel, for example, whose sensible views can be sampled here and here. But the word “internationalisation” is in itself the tip of an iceberg, hiding below its surface an entire programme for reform. It also is code for de-Italianisation.

This is where the crucial fight will come. Is the Curia a body that reflects the international, indeed Catholic, nature of the Church, or is it something that is in fact Roman but not in name only: does it reflect the Roman and Italian nature of the see of Peter?

To my mind the first is the only position to take. The Papacy is in Rome by historical accident. It could feasibly move elsewhere, even if the historical precedent of Avignon is not a happy one. Moreover, in this present age, the Italian nature of the Curia looks increasingly anachronistic. For example, do the offices of the Curia have to close in the middle of the day for lunch and the siesta? How on earth can this be justified, especially for the press office, in the age of 24 hour news? Why is it that Vatican diplomats are forced to submit all reports to the Secretariat of State in Italian, even when many are writing in from English-speaking countries, and are in fact not native Italian-speakers? Why, when Benedict XVI went to Poland, did he deliver speeches in Italian, rather than in German or English, both of which would have been more appropriate, given the fact he did not speak Polish?

But the predominantly Italian personnel of the Roman Curia, one suspects, is deeply suspicious of what it terms “il mondo anglo-sassone”, the English-speaking world, the world of the Anglo-Saxons, especially the Americans, and very keen to preserve its perceived entitlement to run the Curia and its Italian way of doing things. So, at the heart of the battle for reform is a culture clash.

It will take a mightily strong Pope to achieve what Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI all hoped but in the end failed to achieve. If change comes, these are the early signs to look out for: first of all, a non-Italian, even non-European Pope, particularly one from il mondo anglo-sassone. Secondly, the appointment of a successor to Cardinal Bertone who will represent a break with the past. And finally, the appointment of new officials who will bring with them a new culture and a new way of doing things, which will reflect that Italy is no longer the centre of the world, and that the tide of history has moved on.

  • $27740841

    Fr Lucie-Smith asks – ‘… do the offices of the Curia have to close in the middle of the day for lunch and the siesta? How on earth can this be justified, especially for the press office, in the age of 24 hour news?’

    Help. Do we all have to succumb to the 24 hour news cycle?  Is there no room in the modern world for traditional ways of doing things?  Does everything have to be ‘internationalised’, in other words, stripped of all local, cultural features and foibles?   

    You want fewer Italians in the Curia.  What an insult to the Italians.  And what would be gained by having a multiplicity of languages spoken?  Which language would the Vatican diplomats then choose, when submiting their reports to the Secretariat of State?

  • Kevin

    Whoever runs the Curia in future is bound to be as proprietorial about their position as the current incumbents. Surely the need for the siesta is down to the local climate? If the Curia were moved to London there would be a need to get plastered on a Friday lunchtime.

    It is also important not to confuse 24 hour news channels with 24 hour news. For example, the trial of Oscar Pistorius will not proceed any faster because Sky News keeps replaying the same sixty-second video segment for half an hour.

  • Anna

    The secular take on recent events is typical: “Pope resigns because of scandalous behavior revealed in explosive Vatileaks probe. ” What they fail to realize is that they have it completely BACKWARDS!I am convinced more each day that the Pope ordered the investigation into the environment surrounding the vatileaks scandal PRECISELY BECAUSE HE WAS PLANNING TO RESIGN! He wanted to get a clear picture of the positive and negative aspects of the functioning of the vatican bureaucracy which he could present to the new Pope. Benedict made some attempts to reform the curia (he brought in outsiders because he wanted a break from the careerism that he saw present in his years working there). His approach caused tensions with the old guard and in the end had some good and bad results. But Benedict is a very patient man. He thought it better to use the talents God gave him to focus on clear teaching and exquisite preaching in the humble way that we have come to love during what he anticipated would be a relatively short papacy. The reports that will be present for  the” new pope’s eyes only” are his final gift to his successor. He has given him all the information that he needs to assess the situation with objectivity and patience. God willing, he will have the wisdom and grace a long enough pontificate to do what needs to be done in a thoughtful and effective  way.

  • chunixyiwa

    If the Catholic Church wants to be taken seriously then drastic changes will have to be made, starting with the make-up of the Curia.   All countries should be represented in accordance with the numbers of their flock.   Women should also be participants in the Secretariat which shouldn’t exclude non-ordained men either.   Both have much to offer in life experience.   Proficiency in languages is, needless to say, a necessity but probably English being the most widely spoken commercial language should be the principle one used for press releases.  It would also be a good idea for the “Roman” to be dropped in front of Catholic which is seen as a nonsense to anyone who doesn’t come from Rome and can be insultingly used by non-catholics on occasion.

    The Curia itself should be gone through with a fine comb to weed out all undesirables such as Mafia, Freemasons,Paedophiles, etc.   Unless and until this is done rapidly, the decline of the faithful will be morally justifiable.      

  • Agent Provocateur21

    With all due respect padre Smith, you should leave your Anglo-Saxon bubble sometimes and then you would perhaps realize how good it is to close down everything for two hours in the middle of the day. 

  • JonathanBurdon

    Seeing as how the Catholic Church is an international organization then giving its government a more international flavour certainly isn’t a bad idea. Nothing against Italians, but the Church extends beyond the border of Italy and the Church should reflect that.

  • JonathanBurdon

    True, but the Church has lost control of the ‘narrative’ in various news stories in recent years because there’s no office dedicated 24 hours a day ready to respond to breaking news that has an impact on the Church. That’s been damaging in my opinion.