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The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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The coordinator of Pope Francis’ eight-member Council of Cardinals has confirmed that the Pope is seeking to decentralise decision-making authority in the Church, but has at the same time assured sceptics that such a move would not weaken papal primacy.
“There is no need for centralisation and there should be no fear of losing power [of the primacy],” said Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, coordinator of the council, on Monday. Speaking at a book launch in Rome just days after the advisory council held its inaugural meetings with Francis, the Honduran cardinal said the Bishop of Rome was “not an absolute monarch” enjoying despotic authority. “The word ‘authority’ is linked to the concept of ‘author’, not that of ‘authoritarianism’,” the 70-year-old Salesian said.
The cardinal’s comments came as concerns were beginning to surface in some quarters of the Vatican and elsewhere over the Jesuit Pope’s still-unclear plans for reforming church governance and the Roman Curia. Francis established the Council of Cardinals to advise him on the reform process, something that is likely to be met with opposition from some quarters.
The 76-year-old Pope held six rounds of meetings with his special advisory council between 1 and 3 October, and Cardinal Rodríguez said the primary issue discussed was a “profound change” to the Synod of Bishops. “The Pope wants to transform it into an organ of permanent consultation,” the cardinal said in an interview last weekend. “Up to now the Synod gathers for three weeks and bishop-members are engaged for only that time period. Instead, Bergoglio would like it to be an instrument that works for three years, with permanent – and, if necessary, daily – consultations using the internet,” he explained to several Italian papers.
Cardinal Rodríguez said the eight cardinal advisers would start offering the Pope ideas for reforming the Curia – that is, “the Secretariat of State and other Vatican dicasteries” – when they hold their second series of meeting 3-5 December. He promised the Curia would be completely overhauled, but said it would take time. “We already know that our work will not be to merely amend Pastor bonus [the 1988 constitution defining the structure and function of the Curia],” he said. “I can assure you there will not be touch-ups, but a new constitution for the Curia and it will take time. Don’t expect that it will be done in the coming year.”
Except for the idea of reforming the Synod, he said the council had not discussed any other topics in depth.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi SJ said the council emphasised that the Curia’s nature was to be of “service” to the universal and local Churches “rather than the exercise of centralised power”. He said after the next gathering in December a third round of meetings between Pope Francis and the Council of Cardinals was already scheduled for February. “In this way the work of the council – above all in this initial phase – can proceed quickly,” he said.