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Vatican reformers are lining up at last

Pope Francis cannot lead the Church effectively without an effective Curia to carry out his wishes

By on Thursday, 10 July 2014

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney (CNS photo/Daniel Munoz, Reuters)

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney (CNS photo/Daniel Munoz, Reuters)

At long last the eagerly awaited reform of the Roman Curia seems to be getting into its stride. Before the election of Pope Francis there was near universal consensus that the Roman Curia was not fit for purpose; given that the Curia exists to put the Pope’s will into action – it is the Church’s central organ of government – no Pope, however charismatic, can lead the Church effectively unless he has an effective Curia to carry out his wishes. Thus the reform of the Roman Curia affects us all.

So far we have not seen any reforms as such, but what we are seeing is a lining up of reformers, the people who are going to bring the ‘new’ Curia into existence. Chief among these is the energetic Australian and Oxford man, Cardinal Pell (he did his doctorate at Campion Hall) who is head of the new department for the economy. This new power base inside the Vatican will, one can predict, be of the utmost importance, as everything costs money, and so everything will come under the supervision of the Cardinal eventually. And so it is proving, as we see Cardinal Pell unveiling a new head of the Vatican Bank, as well as turning his attention to the entire Vatican public relations and communications machine.

As the report on this website makes clear , the Cardinal wishes to see a streamlining of the Vatican’s media efforts, which seem to be pulling in a variety of directions, and whose effectiveness has been, in the past, open to question, given the numerous public relations disasters that befell the Papacy in the reign of Benedict XVI. Things have greatly improved since then, perhaps due to the importation of an American spin doctor in the last year of Benedict, one Greg Burke, who used to work for Fox News and Time magazine. Mr Burke is a member of Opus Dei. which is good news, as the last class act to grace the Vatican communications efforts, Dr Joaquin Navarro Valls was from the same stable. But one wonders: does the Vatican press office still shut for lunch?

The recrafting of the Vatican media organisations is going to be guided by a committee that is headed up by another Oxford man, Lord Patten of Barnes. Lord Patten is man who has been loaded with honours and who has a track record of taking on difficult jobs. He it was who guided the Conservatives to victory in 1992; he oversaw the handing back of Hong Kong; he was chairman of the BBC Trust, and he has been Chancellor of Oxford University. It is interesting to note that Pope Francis seems to be relying on reformers from the Anglosphere and the banks of the Isis.

Lord Patten will preside, but he will not be alone in his task, having several people to help him some of whom are Italians, and one of whom is an Argentinian. (There is also a French national and a German and Singaporean, as well as a Mexican and an American). Most of them, it is good to see, have some background in media work, though none seem to be television people per se. But Lord Patten has, thanks to the lamentable Savile scandal, some knowledge of how to manage a large institution when it is under pressure and dealing with unwanted attention. This can only be good news for the Vatican, the Church as a whole, and for those of us in the pews and pulpits who have long been fed up to the back teeth by stories of media mismanagement from Rome.

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