The curial revolution seems to be on pause — though it is not clear for how long.
After the new Vatican constitution Praedicate evangelium went into force on June 5, Pope Francis was expected to make a wave of appointments to senior curial posts.
Given that the constitution renamed and, in some cases, merged Vatican departments, it seemed likely that the pope would immediately confirm some curial leaders in their posts and appoint others to new positions.
That hasn’t happened yet, though the appointments could arrive today, tomorrow, later this month, or even after the consistory creating new cardinals in August.
What are the possible reasons for this delay?
The vicar of the Diocese of Rome
When the new constitution entered into force, it seemed likely that the pope would appoint a new Major Penitentiary, the head of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary, given that the current incumbent, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, is two years beyond the retirement age of 75.
Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, currently the pope’s vicar for the Diocese of Rome, appeared to be destined for the post. This would have created an opening for the appointment of a new vicar.
Everything seemed ready for the arrival at the vicariate of Cardinal Paolo Lojudice, the archbishop of Siena and a former auxiliary bishop of Rome. Lojudice is considered one of the pope’s favorite Italian prelates and was in the running to be the next president of the Italian bishops’ conference.
But Pope Francis met De Donatis on June 9, and Monsignor Angelo Pedretti, secretary-general of the vicariate, on June 11. The meetings were very positive and the pope confirmed both men in their current positions.
Lojudice is therefore now expected to stay in the archdiocese of Siena, which should be joined in person by another small suffragan diocese. In short, everything has changed in the last week — at least until the pope decides otherwise.
The situation in the Curia
Since June 5, the official daily records of private papal audiences — known as audience sheets — have offered clues about coming curial appointments.
Cardinal-elect Arthur Roche, who met the pope last week, was described on the audience sheet as the prefect of the newly named Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who met the pope on June 11, was referred to as prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, meanwhile, had no title on the sheet on June 9. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, until now president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, was described simply as “titular archbishop of Voghenza,” even at the press conference presenting the message for the World Day of the Poor.
A possible explanation is that the leaders of the dicasteries that have simply changed their names are still in office. Nevertheless, a new appointment is needed to define the heads of the dicasteries that have changed not only their names but also their competencies.
The impression given is of a Curia “sede vacante.” In this situation, with no formalization of new roles, no curial employee can feel entirely secure. Everything will remain suspended until the new appointments arrive or the pope publishes transitory norms. Time is crucial: at the moment, there is only the pope in command, with a Curia devoid of reference points.
How will the new Curia be designed?
There are various rumors about how Pope Francis will design the new Curia.
The latest hypotheses suggest that the leaders of the Secretariat of State will be confirmed in place, and so will the following:
- Cardinal Mario Grech, general secretary of the Synod (formerly the Synod of Bishops);
- Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life;
- Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development;
- Cardinal-elect Arthur Roche, prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments;
- Cardinal-elect Lazarus You Heung-sik, prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy;
- Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life;
- Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints;
- Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, prefect of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue;
- Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity;
- Paolo Ruffini, lay prefect of the Dicastery for Communication.
There are also expected to be some temporary confirmations. So, for example, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches, could stay until September. And perhaps Ouellet will also remain in charge of the Dicastery for Bishops for a while.
Who will replace Ladaria? Some speculate that it will be Tagle, but others think he will instead succeed Ouellet at the Dicastery for Bishops.
Since 2019, the Filipino cardinal has served as the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which under the new constitution is absorbed into the flagship Dicastery for Evangelization. But it seems that Tagle will not be pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization for the Propaganda Fide section. Fisichella, however, is expected to be pro-prefect of the new evangelization section.
When Sandri retires, his place could be taken by Cardinal Dominique Mamberti, currently prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. Archbishop Filippo Iannone, head of the Dicastery for Legislative Texts, should therefore go to the Signatura. His place would be taken by Bishop Marco Mellino, secretary of the Council of Cardinals and editor of Praedicate evangelium. It would therefore be Mellino who was responsible for resolving the various disputes concerning the new constitution’s interpretation.
If De Donatis does not go to the Apostolic Penitentiary, another Major Penitentiary will have to be appointed, as well as a pro-prefect for evangelization in place of Tagle.
Cardinal Konrad Krajewski should remain prefect of the Dicastery of Charity, which has taken the place of the Office of Papal Charities (Elemosineria Apostolica). As there is no continuity between the two offices, a formal appointment will be needed.
The pope will also have to appoint the new prefect of the Dicastery for Culture and Education, which replaces the Congregation for Catholic Education, led by Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, and the Pontifical Council for Culture, led by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi. Both men are over 75 years old. Indeed, Ravasi is almost over 80, so he will also lose all positions in the Curia.
The new prefect is expected to be Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, the Archivist and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church, who will also manage the Apostolic Library.
Towards the consistory
It remains to be seen whether these rumors will be confirmed or if the pope will change his mind again. As far as we know, Pope Francis can leave everything suspended until Aug. 29-30, when the reforms will finally be discussed with the College of Cardinals. At that point, the pope will also have made his much-debated trip to L’Aquila.
The trip on Aug. 28 revived rumors of a possible papal resignation. In one scenario currently being floated, Pope Francis could make a gesture to govern the transition to the next pontificate, following the example of the Jesuits. He could announce his resignation but give a period of at least a year to govern the transition and finish the reforms.
This would follow the practice of Jesuit superior generals: Father Peter Hans Kolvenbach announced that he would be stepping down three years in advance, while his successor Father Adolfo Nicolás gave a year’s notice.
At that time, Pope Francis could give new rules for the management of the Vatican during the Sede Vacante period and the conclave, perhaps thinking of decreasing the quorum of votes needed after a second day of ballots in the Sistine Chapel.
Benedict XVI established that two-thirds of the votes were always required for the election of a pope and that the quorum should never be lowered. His conviction was that the pope should come from a communion of ideas, not from a political agreement.
Indeed, we are heading towards the end of an uncertain pontificate, especially from a juridical perspective. Over and over again, Pope Francis has intervened with motu proprios, rescripts, and other immediate documents to take personal management of situations. He is, in the end, a pope who focuses a lot of power on himself.
As the summer season descends on Rome, everything is frozen, and very few decisions are made. But perhaps that will change after the August consistory.