05 September 2014, The Tablet

Move clergy out of Rome to refresh the curial mindset - and to be kinder to priests

by Mgr Mark Langham

It was at one of the large Papal Masses regularly held in St Peter’s Basilica that the nature of the Roman Curia first presented itself to me. Seated with the Monsignori, I was party to the conversations around me from junior members of the Curia. They were discussing earnestly which of the curial bishops and cardinals, positioned in the more important area towards the front, were worth cultivating if you wanted to get on. It struck me that these junior officials assumed that they would spend their entire priestly careers in the Curia, and one day be seated where their superiors were. Accordingly, they had little desire to change a system in which their own future hopes were invested.

There is something to be said for long-term curial postings. Expertise, in some very complex areas, can only be acquired over a considerable period of time. The need for continuity requires stability in structure. But the expectation that a career will be lived out in its entirety in Rome perhaps contributes to the ‘micro-climate’ atmosphere of the Curia; that Rome is somehow different to, and indeed above, the rest of the Church.

The nomination of Cardinal Cañizares, who was until recently Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, to a Spanish diocese may or may not signal a shift in policy. However, such a shift would not only help refresh the curial mindset and relate it more to the lived experience of the Church across the globe, but would also be kinder to the persons involved. One bishop told me that, summoned by the Nuncio and asked to take up a Roman curial position, he was given just fifteen minutes to decide whether to accept – a mere moment to consider a life-changing decision. Elderly Cardinals, having spent their working career in the Curia, with no strong remaining links with their home countries, are stranded in Rome; it may be a gilded cage, but it is a cage. While it is not unknown for those in the service of the Curia to be sent home – minor officials like myself can and do change relatively frequently – the notion that more senior figures might spend only part of their career in Rome would surely broaden the outlook of the Curia. It would also make available to it a wider pool of talent and experience, and help its officials to see their terms in Rome as service, rather than a way of life.

Monsignor Mark Langham is the Chaplain at Fisher House, Cambridge, and previously served in Rome on the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

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