ROME – In his annual speech to the Roman Curia on Thursday, Pope Francis presented a sweeping vision of reform for the Vatican’s central administration, outlining the values he wants that reform to embody and insisting that old bureaucratic patterns such as “promoting to remove” must come to an end.
Pulling no punches, Francis also conceded his efforts at reform have attracted opposition — both “open resistance,” offered in a spirit of constructive dialogue, and “hidden” and “malicious” resistance, which he said “sprouts in distorted minds and shows itself when the devil inspires bad intentions, often wrapped in sheep’s clothing.”
Yet even resistance for bad motives, he said, “is necessary and merits being heard, listened to and encouraged to express itself.”
Francis denounced an attitude toward reform in the model of Gattopardismo, a reference to a classic Italian novel, the most famous line from which is, “Everything must change so that everything can stay the same.”
The pontiff called for more lay people and more women to be included in the Vatican’s workforce, and also said he wants to see Vatican departments become increasingly “multi-cultural.”
Francis hinted that more Vatican departments will be either consolidated or eliminated before the reform is over, and suggested that additional personnel changes are also in the cards.
The pope spoke Thursday in the Vatican’s Sala Clementina to the cardinals and other senior church official who make up the Vatican’s power structure, reminding them of reform moves that have been taken so far, such as the creation of two new super-departments for Family, Laity and Life and for Service of Integral Human Development, which bring several previously independent offices under the same roof.
Francis insisted that the reform process he’s been leading since his election in March 2013 isn’t merely cosmetic, or a simple “facelift” intended to smooth out a few wrinkles on the Roman Curia’s face, but rather a work of both administrative and spiritual purification.
“Dear brothers, it isn’t the wrinkles in the Church we have to be afraid of, but the stains!” he said.
The pontiff told the cardinals and other movers and shakers that no reform will succeed without an element of personal conversion, while bluntly saying that personnel changes in senior positions “without doubt happen, and will happen.”
The pontiff then outlined twelve values he believes should guide Vatican reform.
- Individuality: “I again reemphasize that without individual conversion, all the changes in structures will be useless,” he said. “A healthy body is one which knows how to recuperate, welcome, strengthen, take care of and make holy its members.”
- Being Pastoral: Francis insisted that members of the Roman Curia must have a strong pastoral instinct, beginning with the people they encounter every day, and that no one should feel “overlooked or mistreated.” The work of the Roman Curia, he said, must be driven by a spirit of “service and communion.”
- A Sense of Mission: The ultimate end of every work of the Church, Francis said, must be to carry the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.”
- Rationality: Francis insisted that there must be a rational division of labor within the Curia, that every department must have clearly defined responsibilities, and that “no discastery can attribute to itself the competence of another.”
- Functionality: Combining several smaller offices into one, the pope said, strengthens their ability to perform their functions and also gives them a “greater relevance,” including in terms of external perceptions.
- Modernization: Offices of the Roman Curia, the pope said, must be able to “read the signs of the times,” in the language of the Second Vatican Council, and update their operations and personnel accordingly.
- Sobriety: The pontiff said a “simplification and streamlining” of the Curia is necessary, putting some offices together and eliminating redundant functions within offices. He suggested that some “commissions, academies, committees” and the like may yet be suppressed altogether.
- Subsidiarity: Francis suggested that the specific responsibilities of various offices may be retooled to make their competence clear, in order to promote “autonomy, coordination and subsidiarity.” Within that horizon, he confirmed the traditional role of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State as “the most direct and immediate help to the pope.”
- Synodality: The pope called for a more collaborative spirit among the various Vatican offices, including regular meetings of department heads, presided over by the pope. He also said that as the number of offices is reduced, it will make regular meetings for the heads of those offices with the pope more possible. Francis insisted that Vatican offices not become “fragmented” and “self-referential.”
- Catholicity: The pope called for Vatican departments to seek personnel from all over the world, including permanent deacons and laity, especially women, and that the Vatican’s workforce must be “multicultural.”
- Professionalism: Francis urged ongoing formation for Vatican personnel in their areas of professional responsibility, and also demanded a complete end to the time-honored practice of “promoting to remove.” (The Latin phrase is promoveatur ut amoveatur.)
- Gradualism: Francis said reform involves discernment, including a period of “steps, testing, corrections, experiments, and temporary approvals” of changes. “It’s not a matter of indecisiveness but the necessary flexibility to reach a real reform.”
The pontiff then ticked off a series of reform steps that have already been taken, including an overhaul of the Vatican’s financial structures, the creation of a new Secretariat for Communications, the two other new dicasteries recently formed, an overhaul of the Church’s annulment process, and more.
In 2014, Pope Francis denounced 15 “spiritual ailments” Vatican bureaucrats suffered in his address to the Roman Curia. Last year he listed the “catalog of virtues” they should show.
The speech to the Roman Curia is traditionally regarded as the informal beginning of the holiday season for the pontiff, which is generally regarded as closing on Jan. 6 with the feast of the Epiphany. On Saturday Francis will preside over Christmas eve celebrations in the Vatican, followed by his noontime “Urbi et Orbe” blessing on Christmas day at noon Rome time.