Today, Pope Francis (Bergoglio!) named a panel to consult with him to reform the Curia, the bureaucracy that runs the Vatican City and ostensibly, the church worldwide.


The last time the Curia was reformed was by John Paul II in the 80s, but that it was a half effort, largely ignored because of other priorities. This time, Francis is forming a panel made up of Cardinals from every inhabited continent, and one from the Vatican. Francis’ choices reflect the universal nature of the church, and that the majority of its members are now from the Southern hemisphere.

And these are not just hierarchical stooges. Some of these names were on my shortlist of Papabile (prospective Popes) that would’ve made me happy if they were elected.

The ones I know:

  • Cardinal Marx, who has been at the forefront of cleaning up sex scandals in Germany
  • Cardinal O’Malley, a Franciscan Capuchin who has been tireless in cleaning up the scandals in his Archdiocese. Lobbied strongly for reform in the pre-c0nclave meetings. A humble wonder.
  • Cardinal Pell – Australia, very public leader of the reform movement.
  • Cardinal Maradiaga – Honduras. Head of the group. Here’s ABC’s quote about him:┬áHe is considered one of the few moderates left in the College of Cardinals and is known for his often blunt talk and off-record criticism of the curia.

I don’t know the rest, but by all accounts, the group is reform minded.

Some of these men have publicly floated the following ideas:

  • Bringing in laity (non-clergy) to help run the Curia.
  • Term limits on Vatican jobs to prevent lifelong bureaucrats.
  • Regular financial reports/audits to un-murk the Vatican’s finances
  • Regular meetings of department heads. Apparently, they don’t meet much now. wow.

This stuff might feel like no-brainer business management 101 stuff to outsiders, but it is difficult to remember just how calcified the church is. Calcified and insular. They really don’t know any better.

I am most excited about the potential to have laity take over Curia positions; imagine the potential expertise JUST in retired Catholics. People who have a lifetime of experience, and would leap at the chance to help the church. Also, with a light heart I contemplate women working in positions of power in the Vatican.

The best comparison I can make is of a local parish. The clergy are there to minister to the flock, with non-clergy picking up the other duties. Maybe a better, slightly ridiculous comparison would be to the Marines. Every Marine is a rifleman and we use sailors for the support stuff.

I can’t seem to communicate the significance of this fully. A move like that could crack the patriarchal stranglehold on power in the church. It would also make the church more efficient and better run, more capable of serving the people around the world, but that one little thing brings me joy.

So no, to my more progressive friends, this isn’t going to bring women priests, married priests, or any number of other radical (to an outsider) changes. But it has the potential to start a process that, in addition to refocusing the church on the mission of helping the poor and restoring humility to the Vatican, will bring the Church into the 20th century.

Every day I thank God for Francis and the work he is doing. A truly amazing man. Like how Socrates proved he was the greatest mind in Greece by insisting on his own ignorance, Francis is showing his greatness by insisting on his own personal humility.