More fundamental changes are underway for the Vatican Curia, the Catholic Church’s bureaucracy ot civil service, with Thursday’s statement by Pope Francis that women and lay experts be considered for senior positions therein.
This is one way, he believes, the reform process he launched in 2013 can lead to more than a cosmetic “face-lift” or plastic surgery to remove wrinkles.
Women within the Church have long campaigned for a greater role in its governance and Francis agreed earlier this year to study the historical role of female deacons in the first centuries of the Church. This is interpreted by some as potentially opening the door to women entering the clergy.
In his Christmas speech to senior church officials, he acknowledged resistance to change in the Catholic Church’s corridors of power, but said were necessarily bad.
But there is no such fundamental obstacle to women being given top jobs in the Curia, with the issue being one of culture and tradition rather than doctrine.
But he hinted at a toxic atmosphere when he railed against both “hidden” and “malevolent” resistance, describing the latter as being inspired by “the devil, often dressed in lamb’s clothing.”
He thereafter set out 12 principles guiding the reform he wants to see. One of those was “catholicism” in the sense of “all embracing”, and it was under that heading that he made arguably his most significant comments.
Referring to the Vatican dicasteries, or departments, that he has sought to streamline and reorganise, Francis said it would be “appropriate” to bring in more lay people, especially where their expertise made them more competent than staff drawn from the clergy.
“The development of the role of women and lay people in the church and their appointment to leading roles in the dicasteries, with particular attention to multiculturalism, is furthermore of great importance,” Francis added.
A lack of professional expertise within the Vatican was notably highlighted by recent scandals centred on the Holy See’s finances, which exposed problems in ensuring transparency and reliable controls on waste and mismanagement.
Francis has made the introduction of modern accounting standards for every department one of his reform priorities. But his efforts appear to have hit obstacles and an audit by PriceWaterhouseCoopers was halted earlier this year.