ROME — A Vatican spokesman said Saturday that a group of nine cardinals from around the world who advise Pope Francis on his most important decisions, a body that includes Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, will focus in coming months on what the pontiff has called a “healthy decentralization” of Church government.
During their Dec. 10-12 meeting in Rome, the council of cardinals, generally known as the “C9,” noted the importance of a speech Pope Francis gave on Oct. 17 during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, the Vatican said Saturday.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi told journalists that the C9 had underlined the need to reflect on this speech and the effect it might have in the reform of the Church’s government, so they have decided to dedicate a session to the subject when they meet again in February.
“In that speech, the pope extensively developed the theme of ‘synodality,’ but also recalled ‘the need to proceed with a healthy ‘decentralization’,” Lombardi told journalists.
“It is not advisable for the pope to take the place of local bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory,” Pope Francis told bishops earlier this year.
“In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization,’” he said.
During last October’s Synod of Bishops on the family, decentralization arose as a possible solution for issues such as access to the sacraments for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, with some bishops arguing this and other hot-button issues could be resolved in a local manner.
Others, however, warned that decentralization on moral issues would be like “nationalizing” morality.
According to Lombardi, the C9 also presented Francis a final proposal for a new Vatican department to be called “Laity, Family, and Life,” which will merge three current offices. That move was confirmed by the pontiff in October, but so far no announcements as to who’s going to head it or how is it going to work have been made.
A second such new department is being considered under the name of “Justice, Peace, and Migration.” The proposed name also implies the merger of several current Vatican offices, but a decision is still pending.
O’Malley, the lone American on the C9, spoke to his fellow cardinals about the work completed so far by the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Intended to advise the pope on policies in the fight against child sexual abuse, that body was created by Francis in late 2013 and is led by O’Malley.
He paid special attention to programs of formation to assist conferences of bishops around the world in developing sound anti-abuse policies.
Australian Cardinal George Pell, tapped by Francis to head the reform of the Vatican finances as the first-ever Prefect for the Secretariat for the Economy and a member of the council himself, spoke about the establishment of a working group to reflect on the future of the economic issues of Vatican, including the control of expenditures and revenue.
German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, also a member of the C9 and president of the Council of Economy, discussed the choice of an external auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to oversee the Vatican’s annual financial audit.
Lombardi also announced the dates for 2016 calendar for C9 meetings: Feb. 8-9, April 11-13, June 6-8, Sept. 12-14, and Dec. 12-14.