Does the Church really need a new “Pastor Bonus”?

Edward Condon, who, if you’ll remember, broke the news about Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s letter about the question of consent to the processus brevior, has a piece at the Catholic Herald about Francis’s ongoing project of Curia reform:

Rereading Pastor Bonus, it is hard to see where that document could be meaningfully changed to prevent the kind of financial chicanery we are reading about, other than by the creation of a Secretariat for the Economy, which has already been done. Pastor Bonus outlines what the various Vatican departments are and what matters they deal with, it is not the curial equivalent of a civil service code; that does exist and is called the General Regulations of the Roman Curia, and about the reform of this we have heard next to nothing.

While the reordering of the curial departments might be useful in some respects, like the creation of one department to handle everything pertaining to the laity, it cannot prevent or address ongoing abuses by those who work in those departments.

Pope Francis has spoken strongly and often of his disapproval of careerism in the Curia, yet we have seen sadly little, if anything, done to discourage it. While the C9 group of cardinals was drawn from around the world and could at least have represented an outside perspective for reform, this has not carried over into actual curial appointments. The most high profile appointments under Francis have continued to go to career Vatican civil servants, including Cardinal Parolin, as Secretary of State, and Cardinal Mamberti as head of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican Supreme Court, to say nothing of the highly controversial appointment of Mgr Ricca to the IOR, or Vatican Bank. All of these appointments were made by Francis under advice from the very Curia he is trying to reform, with the ridiculous consequence that he has had to write to his own Secretary of State reminding him to run the Church according to the rules.

(Emphasis supplied.) If you’re especially interested in the Church’s administrative regulations, the General Regulations of the Roman Curia are available in Italian here. We have remarked a couple of times that the project of sweeping reform of the Curia, so much on the cardinals’ minds as they prepared for the conclave, seems to have fallen into second or third prominence on the Holy Father’s agenda. Certainly, the promised rewrite of Pastor Bonus has not appeared. And on this issue, Condon’s point is pretty sound: where could Pastor Bonus be improved? We’re not so sure.

Certainly, codifying, for want of a better word, the competence of the Fidelis Dispensator entities would be nice, as would long-term clarity on the role of the Council of Cardinals. And, if the Holy Father does erect a super-congregation for family, laity, and life, as he promised at the Synod, it would be nice to have its competence codified. But, in the main, as Condon notes, Pastor Bonus only sets out the competence and jurisdiction of the various dicasteries, and even then only in very broad terms. The implementation of that competence and jurisdiction comes in other sources of law. For example, one has to consult sources other than Pastor Bonus to figure out what the penal jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is—an important issue if one is worried about allegations of heresy, for example—especially the so-called Substantive Norms.

A brief digression: we have long complained that the Church’s sources of law are remarkably opaque, and that real transparency will not be possible until all the faithful can access, in a language they can understand, all of the relevant law. In the United States, most states make not only statutes and regulations but also judicial decisions available for free via the internet. (The federal government is very good about statutes and regulations, but less good about many judicial decisions.) In addition to the states’ publications, private services like Westlaw and Lexis provide access to statutes, regulations, and judicial decisions at all levels. Compare that to the Church of Rome, which makes some things available, but not all, and not always in widely spoken languages. (Italian is not widely spoken outside Italy, as some Synod fathers noted.) One big gap is the relative unavailability of Rotal jurisprudence, which provides hugely important glosses on the relevant canons, especially in matrimonial cases. The Vatican’s website is also a mess, which is a problem when it comes time to access important legal documents.

Put it like this: while “apostolic constitution” is a term of art, it is helpful to think of Pastor Bonus as a constitution for the Curia. And, as with any constitution, it deals in broad strokes. The detail work comes later and elsewhere. So, the question is, really, whether the broad strokes of Pastor Bonus need to be replaced with the broad strokes of another document. And that is not so clear. But even if Pastor Bonus needs to be replaced by a new document, it is not clear that that fixes the problem of the Curia. Condon again:

While a new version of Pastor Bonus will be an interesting, and probably helpful, development in the governance of the Church, it is not going to be the panacea of reform many are hoping for. If we ever hope to see real transparency in the governance of the Church, there needs to be reform, not of the Vatican departments, but of those working in them.

(Emphasis supplied.) On this point, given the Holy Father’s stringent Christmas speech to the Curia, it seems that Holy Father agrees.