As reforms roll out, Pope Francis proves a man of his word

Mon, Jul 18th 2016 02:00 pm
Catholic News Agency  [ View Original Article ]

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) - Several recent appointments by Pope Francis to Vatican departments show that his reform of the Roman Curia is in tune with what he's said from the beginning about his vision for the Church.

When we look at what Francis has preached about since practically his first day in office, three biggies come to mind: a Church that's less clerical, has a stronger lay involvement and a greater presence of women.

With his decision this week to appoint several lay persons to important Vatican posts, among whom are Americans Greg Burke and Kim Daniels, as well as Spaniard Paloma Garcia Ovejero, Francis has made good on his intentions.

On Monday it was announced that Pope Francis had appointed Burke as the new director for the Holy See Press Office, with Garcia Ovejero as his number two.

After the retirement of what's considered to be the "old guard," the new appointments represent a shift from traditional standards. While previously there has typically been a priest and an Italian in the mix, now it's two laypeople in charge, both of whom are non-Italians.

Also worthy of note is that just two days later the Pope scored more points with the laity by nominating Daniels, a high profile U.S. religious freedom and pro-life advocate, to this Secretariat for Communications alongside German professor Markus Schächter and Spanish psychologist Leticia Soberón Mainero.

The appointments are significant because while laity have always been named as consultors to pontifical councils and congregations, Daniels, Schächter and Soberón were appointed members.

Under St. John Paul II's 1988 apostolic constitution Pastor bonus - which regulates and defines responsibilities, duties and the composition of the offices of the Roman Curia but is being reconsidered in Francis' reform - membership to councils and congregations was exclusive to cardinals and bishops.

As Garcia Ovejero put it shortly after her appointment was announced, the Pope's decision to appoint her and Burke was "coherent with what he preached from the beginning."

Garcia Ovejera, the first woman to ever be appointed to the position of Vice Director of the Holy See Press Office, said that to have two laypersons working in a man-woman duo for the press office was "a logical choice."

Pope Francis, she said, "is coherent with his words and with his vision of the Church. A Church that goes out, a Church that's not clerical, which all of us feel a part of and feel responsible in announcing the Gospel. The mission is to announce the Gospel."

If we take a look at what Francis has said from the beginning, we see that Garcia Ovejero is right.


Getting rid of the notion that the Church, and the Vatican in particular, is divided into the classes of commoners versus a higher "spiritual elite" has been a priority for Francis even during his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

In a 2011 interview with a Catholic Argentinian news agency, then-cardinal Bergoglio warned against the temptation of priests to "clericalize the laity" and to "infect them with our own disease" without realizing it. "We cannot fall into that trap - it is a sinful complicity," he said.

This is an idea he has pushed with full force since the beginning of his pontificate. In his first major event after being elected as Successor of Peter in 2013, Pope Francis told a group of Argentine youth during WYD in Rio de Janiero that he hoped "for a mess ... that the Church takes to the streets. That we defend ourselves from comfort, that we defend ourselves from clericalism."

He has consistently spoken out about the issue since, most recently in an April 26, 2016, letter to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America in which he skewered the clerical mentality on the continent as "one of the greatest distortions" facing the local Church.

"We'd do well to recall that the Church is not an elite (group of) priests, of consecrated people, of bishops but all of us make up the faithful and Holy People of God," he said, explaining that it's "illogical and even impossible for us as pastors to believe that we have the monopoly on solutions for the numerous challenges thrown up by contemporary life."

Given his recent appointments, Francis is following through and letting his words become actions by allowing the laity to have more space in decision-making posts in the Vatican.


Coupled with Francis' desire to suppress a clericalist attitude has been his great push to have a stronger, louder lay voice within the Church.

In the same 2011 interview with the Argentine agency, Bergoglio said that the reform that's needed in the Church is "neither to clericalize nor ask to be clericalized," but to encourage laypeople to embrace their role, evangelizing in everyday life within their families, workplaces, schools and neighborhoods.

This idea has been present since the Pope first began his reform by establishing the Council of Cardinals as an advisory body on Church governance and reform. During the council's first round of meetings in October 2013, the topic of the laity came up as one of the most urgent issues to address.

In a press briefing after the conclusion of the meetings, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi S.J. said the council planned "to give more specific attention" to the laity, so that so that issues surrounding them could be "properly and effectively recognized and followed by the governance of the Church."

During the October 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family, Pope Francis announced his decision to establish a new Vatican department dedicated to Laity, Family and Life, set to go into effect Sept. 1, 2016.

While explaining the structure of the new department, he made it clear that the members would include not only consecrated persons, but also laypeople, both men and women, who work in different fields from around the world.

Though it's not yet certain who will head the new office, the Pope has said on previous occasions that a department dedicated to the topics of family and the laity could be headed by either a married couple or a lay individual.

His decision to put two laypeople in charge of the Holy See Press Office, then, shows that he means what he says, and that as his reform continues to move forward, he won't be shy in breaking away from traditional structural compositions.

This is also evident in Francis' appointment of Daniels, Schächter and Soberón, which, strictly speaking, breaks with the outline that has since 1988 governed the Curial structure. However, while the rules of Pastor Bonus remain intact, a whole new set of guidelines is expected to come out of Pope Francis' reform.


The fact that Garcia Ovejero is the first woman - and a laywoman for that matter - to ever be appointed as deputy spokesperson for the Holy See is a prime example of what Pope Francis has asked for several times in calling for a more "incisive" feminine presence in the Church.

He first garnered headlines for the phrase in a 2014 address to Italy's members of the "Centro Italiano Femminile," telling them that "I hope that more spaces are widened for a feminine presence in the Church that is more widespread and incisive."

It was the Pope himself who widened that space mere months later with the September 2014, appointment of four women to the International Theological Commission. Women now comprise 16 percent of the Commission's members, which is a greater representation than they've ever had before.

In April of that year Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, revealed that his department was looking for another secretary after the former had been reassigned.

He recalled that in a conversation with Pope Francis, the pontiff gave the green light for the position to be filled by a woman. However, the position remains empty as the office prepares to merge with several others to form a larger dicastery as part of the ongoing reform.

Typically the position of secretary has always been filled by a man, with one modern exception being the 2012 appointment of Flaminia Giovanelli as the undersecretary for council for Justice and Peace, making her the highest ranking laywoman in the Roman Curia and the first laywoman to hold the position of undersecretary.

Before Giovanelli's appointment under Benedict XVI, only one other woman, Sister Enrica Rosanna, had ever held the position. A religious of Maria Auxiliatrix, Sister Enrica served as undersecretary of the Congregation for Consecrated Life and Society of Apostolic Life from 2004-2011.

"I think we are at a point of seeing (a different model)...a springtime for new forms of the Church," Turkson had said, but cautioned that while the role of women is increasing in the life of the Church, it's a process that "takes time."

However, given the course Francis is taking, it appears that the time is now - or that the process has at least accelerated under his leadership.

In a 2015 address to the Pontifical Council for Culture, Francis said that women "know how to incarnate the tender face of God, his mercy, which translates into availability to give time more than to occupy spaces, to welcome instead of excluding."

So overall, while Pope Francis has often said that his reform won't be a quick process, but will rather be carried out over a period of several years, we're already starting to get a clearer picture of what the process will look like.

And if this past week is any indication, we can see Francis' vision beginning to unfold, showing a Church that truly "goes out" and is open to the "newness" of the Holy Spirit. As a man who follows through on what he says, Pope Francis, we can see, is doing what he was elected to do.

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