The place of the Curia

John Allen reports that the Vatican is being rocked by another bout of administrative turmoil. Calls for change in NCR’s comment section are less “dog bites man” than “man breathes air,” but in this case, as I’ve argued before, 1 I think that the calls are well-taken, although I suspect that I and they have quite different views on what kind of reform is needed.

Benedict has been a great teaching pope, but, as Allen’s and my previous remarks have said, his interest in governing seems relatively limited. 2 At very least, it does not seem to be his major priority. I’m not faulting either man, because each faced pressing challenges, but while John Paul II did a great job of evangelizing, calming the waters and steadying the ship after the postconciliar crisis, and Benedict has done a great job of teaching and reproposing orthodoxy, neither has been a firm hand on the tiller. If the curia isn’t out of control, it looks like it is. The result is inefficiency and scandal, neither of which is tolerable.

There is no curia in the deposit of faith, only Peter. The curia exists because Peter cannot discharge the Petrine ministry personally and alone; “[t]he Pope cannot govern a one-billion-member church by himself,” or even “relate individually to the [more than] 4,000 bishops in the world. 3 The curia exists to facilitate the Holy Father’s exercise of the Petrine ministry; if it is not serving that goal as efficiently as possible, and a fortiori to the extent it is an obstacle to that goal, it should be reformed. 4 It seems to me that the next Pope—and one hates to sound mordant, but Benedict is not a young man and, in a manner of speaking, apostolic succession is not only the lifeblood but the lifecycle of Catholicism—must be a governing pope. The analogy is somewhat tenuous, but one can say that John Paul sanctified well, and that Benedict is teaching well; the next pontiff  must govern well. It seems to me that he must be a man able and willing to set his house in order so that he or his successor can set the Church in order. 5


  1. See MP: Teaching and governing (Dec. 20, 2011), reprinted in 1 Simon Dodd, Motu Proprio Breviarium Annuum 95 (2012).
  2. This thesis is not undisputed; I have friends who point to Summorum pontificum, 99 AAS 777 (Ben. XVI, 2007), Ap. Con. Anglicanorum coetibus, 101 AAS 985 (Ben. XVI, 2009), and Ecclesiæ unitatem, 101 AAS 710 (Ben. XVI, 2009), and, most recently, the commencement of a long-overdue overhaul of LCWR (placed, in the characterization of Fr. James Martin, SJ, “into receivership”) as examples of leadership in a governing sense.
  3. Thomas Reese, Inside the Vatican 140 (1996); see also MP: Episcopal throughput (July 2, 2011), reprinted in 1 MPA, supra, 27.
  4. Cf. MP: The Kansas City fumble (June 7, 2011), 1 MPA, at 15; MP: The laity and the chalice in Phoenix (Nov. 22, 2011).
  5. Cf. Lk 22:32.