Suggestions regarding synodalization and decentralization in the reorganization of the so-called Roman Curia (Curia reform, Council of Cardinal Advisers)
by Thomas Schumacher (2015/2017)
On the path of her earthly pilgrimage, the »complex reality« of the Church, which »comes together from a human and a divine element«, means that she is »at once holy and always in need of purification« (LG 8). Under the impression of obvious deficits, the Council of Cardinal Advisers, on the basis of an initiative by Pope Francis (April 14, 2013; September 28, 2013), has begun an examination of all those dicasteries that up to now have been collectively designated as »the Roman Curia«, looking at the type and number of these bodies and at the way they work. Initial results can be seen, for example, in the setting up of a Secretariat for the Economy and of a »Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development« in the light of the Gospel, which brings together commitment to social justice and to treating the natural environment with care (17.08.2016).
Other future measures, such as the fusion of some existing dicasteries or the establishing of new dicasteries, could perhaps improve operational methods in points of detail, but they would not do justice to the real challenge, which is generated by the very essence of the Church – a complex organism that consists only in and out of local Churches. This points to some very fundamental aspects of the reform that are based on the service character of the Roman dicasteries in relation both to the worldwide Church and to the local Churches. In what follows, these aspects will be formulated as suggestions, in keeping with the essential interlocking of the worldwide Church and the local Churches.
- Curia reform on the analogy of the »conversion of the papacy«
In the context of the new pastoral orientation that is in accordance with the essence of the Church, Curia reform is analogous to the »conversion of the papacy« (EG 32). In the nineteenth century, a centralism concentrated on the Pope promoted the formation of a Roman Curia styled like a monarch’s court; but the shape of the institutions of the worldwide Church that are to be renewed will follow the form (which must also be renewed) in which the Bishop of Rome, who embodies in his person the service of unity, exercises his primacy. Accordingly, the institutions
of the worldwide Church must be seen, in terms of their constitutional reality,
not as organizational units »alongside« the local Churches, but in keeping with the collaboration in koinônia of all the local Churches in the one Catholic Church. This suggests the application of elements of a modern project organization and virtual organization, which are widespread today and prove their worth in businesses that operate on the global level.
- Orientation to the collegial or synodal principle
»Synodality, as a constitutive element of the Church, offers us the most appropriate interpretive framework for understanding the hierarchical ministry itself. […] In a synodal Church, the Synod of Bishops is only the most evident manifestation of a dynamism of communion which inspires all ecclesial decisions« (Pope Francis, discourse on the fiftieth anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, 17.10.2015).
It is true that the Congregations already have the structure of assemblies of their members, but there is a certain distortion, most probably because of the numerical superiority of the curial staff in relation to the synodal assembly of the members.
The »path of synodality« should leave its mark on every single institution of the worldwide Church when these institutions are restructured. Every dicastery would thus be reshaped into a »miniature synod« whose appointed members themselves carry out the tasks of the dicastery, partly in the plenary assembly, partly in working groups, and partly in subgroups that concentrate on particular themes. Other members could be coopted for specific projects, simply to provide support.
Instead of central offices, we have synodal bodies that work in a collegial manner. They perform their service in keeping with the collegiality of the ministry cum Petro et sub Petro.
The Secretariat of State ensures, for example by means of »mirror departments«,
the link between the synodically structured bodies and the Petrine ministry. The Pope himself could enhance the value of selected meetings by taking part in person, instead of granting formal audiences. A distinction between Congregations and Councils will become obsolete once all the institutions of the worldwide Church have a congregational, collegial, and synodal constitution. The differences between the institutions concern the areas of their responsibility as well as the number and importance of the members who are appointed to work in them.
- Orientation to the personal principle: bishops at the head of dioceses as prefects
Just as the ministry of a bishop (including that of the Bishop of Rome) is always essentially oriented to one specific local Church, so too the heads of the institutions of the worldwide Church ought at the same time to exercise the ministry of a diocesan bishop; and they should not be released from this. Should this be necessary in an individual case, they can be given additional help for the exercise of their ministry in the dioceses that have been entrusted to them through an auxiliary bishop or a diocesan vicar. This will give them the necessary freedom to carry out their tasks for the worldwide Church.
The head of an institution of the worldwide Church recruits a small staff, who work partly in Rome, as in a business office, and partly in the leader’s diocese or in another suitable place. But the only function of the staff is to provide support to the members of the institution. The leader of the institution and its members are appointed for a period of five years. After this time, they can be appointed anew. Otherwise, they are once again completely available for the service of their local Church.
- »Sound decentralization« (EG 16)
»Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach« (EG 32). Topics or procedures that do not directly concern the primatial service of unity can be taken care of on the level of the local Churches or the episcopal conferences. This leads to a considerable reduction in the quantity structure of the tasks that have hitherto been located in the Roman Curia.
A further form of decentralization and a »bringing down to earth« will come automatically from the continuous participation in the local Churches by all the members of each institution of the worldwide Church, including the leader, where these men remain in office as diocesan bishops.
- Dynamic flexibilization
Institutions of the worldwide Church with this kind of synodal and project-organizational form can be set up or abolished flexibly, in keeping with the tasks
that have to be undertaken. In organizational terms, some thematic areas such as
the doctrine of the faith or the liturgy would tend to exist in continuity, while other organizational units, such as climatic change, migration, or sexual abuse, would be set up on a temporary basis, for as long as the problem lasts.