Just a month after becoming the leader of the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics around the world, Pope Francis has taken a giant step toward dismantling the huge Vatican bureaucracy that has been the cause of so many of the church’s problems.
The pope’s appointment of an advisory board of cardinals from around the world must have sent shock waves through the Holy See, where the bureaucracy is so deeply entrenched that the governance has resembled some Third World dictatorship.
Pope Francis, who was chosen at the conclave of cardinals on March 13 following days of closed-door discussions centering on the crisis in the church, obviously believes the status quo in Rome is unacceptable. The former cardinal from Argentina, which has 40 percent of the 1.2 billion Catholics, understands that the universal nature of the church must be reflected in key governing decisions.
The advisory panel is made up of cardinals from the United States, Italy, India, Chile, Germany, Australia, Honduras and Congo.
Archbishop Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston, who had been touted as one of the leading American candidates for pope, will be in a position to focus on the disconnect between Rome and the American Catholic Church.
Many of the panel members have been outspoken in calling for a shake-up of the Vatican bureaucracy, which was last reformed 25 years ago under Pope Paul VI, Some church leaders and many Catholics, especially in the U.S., have called for an aggressive campaign to rid the church of pedophile priests and to deal with bishops who protected them after the abuse of children became known.
The child-abuse scandal has rocked the American Catholic Church and has contributed to a decline in church attendance and membership in this country and throughout Europe.
The new pope has talked about the need to reach out to disaffected Catholics, but persuading them to return to the flock will take more than the appointment of a panel of advisors.
The disconnect between what occurs in the Vatican and local dioceses and even parishes must be addressed by Pope Francis.
According to Reuters wire service reporter Philip Pullella, the cardinals in the meetings that preceded the conclave that elected Francis suggested changes to the Curia to “make it a model of good governance, including introducing term limits on Vatican bureaucrats to prevent an atmosphere of ‘careerism’ that critics said led to some of the inflghting and scandals.”
Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XIV, left a secret report on the problems in the administration, which came to light when sensitive documents were stolen from the pope’s desk and leaked by his butler in what became known as the “Vatileaks” scandal, according to Reuters.
There are other issues that have plagued the church that Pope Francis will have to address, such as giving women a greater role in the governance of the church, priestly celibacy and even married priests.
The new pope has made it clear that such drastic changes are not in the offing, but he has acknowledged that those and other such issues should at least be discussed openly.