And veteran Vatican-watcher John Thavis helps put it in perspective:
It’s been a busy week at the Vatican: a date set for the canonization of two popes, a stunning new papal interview, a meeting of the pope’s “Group of 8” cardinal advisors and an important visit by the pope to the birthplace of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.
When it comes to the future direction of the church and the reforms planned by Pope Francis, do we know anything more today than we did a week ago?
Yes, we do.
Despite Vatican cautions about expecting too much too soon from the Group of 8, we know after their first three-day meeting in Rome that they’re focusing on some key areas of reform:
– The Roman Curia is in for an overhaul, not a tune-up. The cardinals and the pope want a rewriting of “Pastor Bonus,” the document that regulates the Vatican bureaucracy. The emphasis will be on the Curia’s identity as a network of service instead of a central church authority. The new constitution will likely modify the role of the secretary of state, tying this office more closely to papal ministry and creating a new “moderator of the Curia” to coordinate activities of other Vatican agencies.
– The Synod of Bishops will likely be revamped, too. It appears Francis wants to use the periodic synods at the Vatican as a way to implement what he’s called greater collegiality and “synodality,” implying a sharing of decision-making authority. Sometime in coming days, we should be learning how the new assemblies will work, as well as the theme for the next synod (which the pope has hinted will focus on the human being and the family in the light of the Gospel.)
– The role of the laity in the governing of the church is going to be a major topic of thought and discussion going forward in these meetings. The cardinals made a point of this, reflecting the concerns of their own faithful, and Pope Francis seems receptive. I expect the pope will bring lay people to decision-making positions in the Vatican for the first time – which, of course, means bringing women to these positions for the first time.
And he concludes:
This momentous week began with the decision to canonize Popes John Paul II and John XXIII next April 27. Pairing the two was an unexpected decision by Pope Francis a couple of months ago, and I think he’s setting the stage for an event designed to underline church unity. Although the two popes had different approaches and appealed in different ways to groups of Catholics, by declaring them both saints Francis will accentuate the qualities that transcend those differences.