CNS PHOTO | L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO VIA REUTERS
Cardinals arrive to attend a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican Oct. 1. The pope and cardinals are emphasizing the need for the Roman Curia to be of service to local churches.
Pope Francis and his international Council of Cardinals are laying out plans to completely overhaul the Roman Curia, underlining its role of "service to the universal Church and the local churches," the Vatican spokesman said.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, said the role and responsibilities of the Vatican secretary of state, the revamping of the world Synod of Bishops, and the Vatican's attention to the role and responsibility of laity also were major themes of discussion.
Lombardi said the group's agenda at its Oct. 1-3 meeting was partially dictated by the pope's own timetable.
Pope Francis has named Archbishop Pietro Parolin to be his secretary of state and has given him an Oct. 15 start date, so it made sense to discuss how the pope and cardinals see his role in a renewed curia.
Under the terms of Blessed John Paul II's constitution Pastor Bonus, a 1988 reform of the curia, the Secretariat of State includes two sections: One section deals with foreign relations and the other deals with internal Church matters.
Pastor Bonus said the secretariat was to "foster relations" with other Curia offices and "coordinate their work."
Lombardi said the pope and the cardinals emphasized the role of the Secretariat of State as "the secretariat of the pope."
The discussions, he said, included "the hypothesis of a new figure – the 'moderator of the curia'" to ensure greater communication and cooperation among the Curia offices.
The discussions, Lombardi said, are going clearly in the direction of an apostolic constitution to replace Pastor Bonus, and not simply "cosmetic retouches or marginal modifications" of the 1988 document.
Possible changes to the organization of the world Synod of Bishops, which has been a periodic gathering of bishops from around the world to discuss a specific theme of Church life, were moved to the top of the meeting's agenda because the synod council was to meet at the Vatican Oct. 7-8, the spokesman said.
At that meeting, the pope announced that the theme for the next synod, to be held in October 2014, will be "challenges of the family."
The eight cardinals – six of whom currently serve as diocesan bishops – brought to the meeting with the pope suggestions they received from Church leaders around the world.
One of the topics mentioned most often, Lombardi said, was concern for the role of the laity in the Church and the world.
The pope and his cardinal advisers talked about "how to ensure that this dimension of the Church's reality is more adequately and effectively recognized and followed in the governance of the Church," Lombardi said.
The vast majority of the Catholic Church's 1.2 billion members are laypeople, the spokesman said.
Their activities and needs are followed by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, which is "very active," he said, but does not have the profile or authority of a Vatican congregation, such as those for bishops, for priests and for religious.
Pope Francis has asked his eight cardinal advisers for counsel on the Vatican's finances, as well, Lombardi said.
The theme, however, was not treated in depth at the October meeting because Pope Francis also appointed several special commissions to look into specific aspects of the Vatican's finances, budgeting process and the Vatican bank and those commissions are still at work.
At the end of their meeting, council members announced they would hold their second meeting with the pope Dec. 3-5, and they planned to meet again at the Vatican in February "so that the work of the council, especially in this initial phase, can proceed quickly," Lombardi said.
Earlier, the pope made his panel a permanent council of cardinals, thereby emphasizing the importance and open-endedness of its work among his pontificate's various efforts at reform.
The Vatican made the announcement Sept. 30.
The new Council of Cardinals will have the "task of assisting me in the governance of the universal Church and drawing up a project for the revision of the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus on the Roman Curia," Pope Francis wrote in his decree, dated Sept. 28.
The eight members, who represent six continents, are: Cardinals Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, retired archbishop of Santiago, Chile; Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India; Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany; Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Congo; Sean O'Malley of Boston; George Pell of Sydney; Giuseppe Bertello, president of the commission governing Vatican City State; and Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.