Moving forward

  • October 10, 2013

By taking the bold and encouraging step of empowering a permanent council of cardinals Pope Francis has launched an era of revolutionary rebirth to create a less centralized, more inclusive world Church.

In a welcomed break with modern history, the Pope will rely less on a wounded Roman Curia for guidance on papal affairs and instead lean on eight hand-picked cardinals to help direct his papacy and realize his vision of Church renewal. These eight cardinals, representing six continents, have been positioned like an inner cabinet between the Pope and a curia that Francis believes has become “Vatican-centric,” more active in managing the temporal affairs of state than with building the world Church.

“This Vatican-centric view neglects the world around us,” the Pope said. “I do not share this view and I will do everything I can to change it.”

The Pope envisions a Church that is focused first on the care of souls. “The Church is, or should go back to being, a community of God’s people,” Francis told a newspaper interviewer. He wants to see a world Church that is about love and service, a Church that is missionary and a Church, he said, that is not a rigid, top-down organization but one that has a more inclusive structure.

The Council of Cardinals is the Pope’s attempt to swing open the Vatican shutters to welcome in the light of the universal Church. These cardinals will not replace the essential work of the curia but they will bring a much-needed global perspective to Church affairs.

This is a significant and welcomed development. It follows discussions that preceded the papal conclave in March that selected Francis. There, cardinals expressed concerns about Church governance and an impetus emerged for a more de-centralized decision-making structure. Francis responded in April by appointing eight cardinals to an advisory panel to help draft a renovation blueprint. Now, in elevating this advisory panel to a permanent council, Francis has set in motion a potentially momentous reform in the overall operation of the Church.

The Council of Cardinals will have no decision making function but will act similar to a government cabinet on a range of issues. Potentially, the council could become the Pope’s eyes and ears on the world, consulting with local bishops and other church leaders, both ordained and lay, to foster a Church that is more inclusive, collaborative, responsive and transparent. The Pope will make the decisions but do so based on a range of views that will be geographically and culturally broader than anything consistently available to any previous pope.

“I do not want token consultations, but real consultations,” the Pope has said.

The Pope also seems to want real change — and the sooner, the better.

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