Pope Francis, cardinals and cardinals-designate pray before a meeting in the synod hall at the Vatican Feb. 12.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Pope Francis, cardinals and cardinals-designate pray before a meeting in the synod hall at the Vatican Feb. 12.

February 23, 2015
CAROL GLATZ
and CINDY WOODEN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Cardinals meeting at the Vatican discussed better ways to balance the responsibilities of local bishops and of the Roman Curia, said the Vatican spokesman.

A recurring theme in the cardinals' Feb. 12-13 meeting was "what is it that is done best where," Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told journalists Feb. 13 during a pause in College of Cardinals' discussions.

About 40 of the 164 cardinals present in the Vatican's synod hall spoke Feb. 12 about the proposal to reform the Roman Curia, he said.

A number of them brought up the subject of "decentralization" and "the relationship between the Curia and the local churches, the episcopal conferences" as a fundamental part of how best to serve the church and the world, Lombardi said.

No decisions were made and no vote was taken, he said.

However, there was an emphasis on determining what tasks are best done where based on "competencies and knowledge of the situation" by either the Curia with its more "universal vision" or by dioceses and bishops' conferences with their direct experience, he said.

Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec told Vatican Radio Feb. 13 that the Curia's role must be to assist the pope and also be at the service of local dioceses.

New Cardinals, Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona-Osimo, Italy, John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, and Berhaneyesus Souraphiel od Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, are pictured after receiving their red birettas from Pope Francis Feb. 14. The pope created 20 new cardinals in a consistory in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 14.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

New Cardinals, Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona-Osimo, Italy, John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, and Berhaneyesus Souraphiel od Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, are pictured after receiving their red birettas from Pope Francis Feb. 14. The pope created 20 new cardinals in a consistory in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 14.

Pope Francis "has said several times – so I'm not revealing any secret – that when a bishop comes here to the Roman Curia it should not be like going through customs. He comes here to receive support, guidance, the tools necessary to carry out his mission, encouragement."

The Curia's identity must focus on serving the Church, helping it fulfill its mission and issuing "broad guidelines to clarify issues whether they are doctrinal, pastoral or liturgical," Lacroix said.

Lombardi told reporters that cardinals also discussed the role of the laity, "in particular women and their presence in positions of responsibility in the Roman Curia."

Pope Francis opened the meeting saying the reform of the Roman Curia should promote "greater harmony" among the Vatican offices, not primarily to save money or promote efficiency, but to solidify the unity of the Church and strengthen its ability to evangelize.

Pope Francis scheduled the meeting primarily to discuss with the cardinals the proposals his nine-member international Council of Cardinals had developed for the reform of the Curia.

The proposals include the creation of two new large, high-profile Vatican offices: the Congregation for Laity, Family and Life, and the Congregation for Charity, Justice and Peace, said Lombardi.

CHARITY AND JUSTICE

The charity and justice congregation would include the existing pontifical councils for health care and for migrants, but also would have a new section dedicated to "safeguarding creation," Lombardi said.

The proposed grouping, he said, flows from an understanding of "charity as fundamental to the essence, existence and mission of the Church" and of working for justice "as a consequence" of charity.

The new section for ecology reflects the Church's increased commitment to the protection of creation.

The section also would work in the area of "human ecology," or the idea that social and political environments can be deadly for the human person and for human dignity, he said.

"There is an ecclesial and theological vision" behind the planned combination of the pontifical councils involved and raising their profile to the level of a congregation, Lombardi said. "It is not just about taking certain offices and putting them together in order to reduce their number."

The Second Vatican Council insisted on the important vocation and role of the laity in the life of the Church, particularly in witnessing to Christ in the world.

Just as there are congregations for bishops, for clergy and for religious, Lombardi said, it seemed "natural" to the Council of Cardinals that there would be a congregation for laity, Lombardi said.

FAMILY LIFE CENTRAL

Given the centrality of family life for many laypeople, it made sense to combine the two councils and to have the Pontifical Academy for Life conduct its work under the new congregation's auspices, he said.

While the congregation would promote lay involvement in the Church, Lombardi said, it is almost "unthinkable" that a layperson would be appointed its prefect because the pastoral responsibilities of a Vatican congregation require that it be led by an ordained minister, usually a cardinal.

At the beginning of the meeting, Pope Francis reminded his brother cardinals that the reform was requested by the College of Cardinals during the meetings that preceded his election in 2013.

"The reform is not an end in itself," he said, "but a way to give a strong Christian witness, to promote more effective evangelization, a more fruitful ecumenical spirit and encourage a more constructive dialogue with all."