At a recent dinner party a non-Catholic friend commented that she hoped Pope Francis wouldn’t turn out to be another Obama. When pressed as to what she meant, she explained her fear that Francis’s papacy would go much like Obama’s presidency: first international acclaim, and soon thereafter a cooling of emotion as the pope, like the president, realized that change is hard to accomplish.
Among the top priorities for both Church leaders and the laity alike was reform of the Roman Curia, the Church’s central administrative body. As we mark the one-year anniversary of his election today, it seems Francis has spent the past month ensuring that this hope for change becomes a reality.
On February 19, Francis concluded a three-day stretch of meetings with his handpicked committee of eight cardinals tasked with leading this reform. Sometimes referred to as the C-8, this was the third of these meetings since his election, with reports suggesting that a new apostolic constitution that would fully reorganize the departments within the Curia is in the works.
While the content of the constitution remains unknown, Pope Francis has offered several hints of what we can expect. On February 24, he announced that the Vatican's new Secretariat for the Economy will be headed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, who will have “authority over all economic and administrative activities” of the Curia. The new office will be comprised of eight clerics and seven lay financial experts. The strong contingent of laypersons indicates Francis’s willingness to look outside the confines of the Curia in order to better understand and fix what ails it.
Earlier last month, Francis also tapped Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput to join his Council for the Laity, the Vatican department dedicated to evangelization. Chaput, the former archbishop of Denver, is widely heralded as both a skilled administrator and an ardent defender of Church teaching.
During his time in Denver, Chaput oversaw the launch of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, the largest Catholic student missionary group in the country and one of the Church’s most successful ministries. In addition, Chaput reopened the local seminary, which now boasts some of the highest priestly ordination rates in the country. More recently, he has been actively involved in balancing the budget of the Philadelphia archdiocese in an effort to regain its financial footing after an estimated $11 million in sexual abuse settlements.
Contrary to speculation that the change Pope Francis is eager to bring about is doctrinal in nature, the appointments of leaders such as Pell and Chaput are evidence of both Francis’s theological unity with his predecessors and a realization that an ordering of its own house is necessary if the Church’s evangelical efforts are to succeed. Both men are known to be theological conservatives with business acumen—a signal that Francis is equally committed to reform as he is to doctrine.
At the commencement of the February meetings, Pope Francis held a Mass in which he spoke on the subject of patience, indicating his realist understanding that this work involves both a commitment of faith and time. Soon thereafter, he joined his team of Cardinals for the first of several fourteen-hour workdays, showing that hope and change depends on action. Or as the scriptures teach, faith without works is dead.