Pope Francis soon at the time of the balance sheet

Pope Francis soon at the time of the balance sheet

QWhat Catholic Church after me? This is basically the implicit question posed by Pope Francis to the 226 cardinals of the Roman Church, invited to reflect together for two days in Rome, Monday 29 and Tuesday 30 August. The members of Cardinal college, in which those under 80 (132 today) will elect the next pope, chosen in all probability among them, had not found themselves like this since the very first years of the pontificate, which began on March 13, 2013.

Meanwhile, 85-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio has carried out many of the projects he presented in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, his roadmap at the head of the Church. As the end of his pontificate looms, accompanied by health problems, the cardinals today have in hand the outline of his legacy.

On March 19, 2022, Pope Francis published the new Constitution prepared since 2013 and coming into force in June. Concretely, it is its application that the cardinals had to think about. This text reorganizes in depth the functioning of the Roman curia and its role vis-à-vis the local Churches, that is to say the bishops of the whole world. It comes to complete the reorganizations decided over the years to make its administration more financially transparent, more efficient, and to make it a support rather than a policeman for the dioceses.

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This cleansing was the first demand formulated nine years ago by the cardinals who elected Francis. From this point of view, he will leave a deeply reformed instrument, to which, with his own prism, he added a reinforced control of the pontiff over his administration. It is still necessary to ensure that the inertia and very old work habits do not bog down the momentum of the reform, as some predict. It is this assurance that Francis perhaps expects from his cardinals.

Just as the curia is asked to come in support of the bishops of the world and to value their expertise, the Church “in the field” is redeployed with a view to energizing evangelization. Francis favored, in the appointments of cardinals, the prelates of Asia and Africa, continents of growth for the Catholic Church. At the same time, Europe, where the practice continues to collapse, has seen its representation drop: European cardinals have gone from 52% to 40% in nine years.

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So much for reform. Because, on other aspects, and not the least, Francis will have closed more doors than he will have opened. In the meeting of Monday and Tuesday, charged to consider the future, many dresses, but not a woman. Admittedly, the Jesuit pope has appointed some of them to positions of responsibility in the curia, but none has yet reached the head of a dicastery (service), as the new Constitution nevertheless allows. Without even speaking of the ordination of women, categorically dismissed by Francis, the reflection on their diaconal ordination has been carefully buried.

Similarly, the opening of ordination to married men, demanded by certain bishops faced with the lack of priests, was not retained. The place of the laity in the system of power of the Church also remains a question without substantial answer. Clericalism is fought in words, but its foundations remain unchanged. There remains the fight against sexual violence. Texts have clarified canonical responsibilities and procedures. But, in the majority of countries, there is still no inventory or real prevention.

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