Yesterday, the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis welcomed its new Co-adjutor Archbishop, John Nienstedt, fifteen months or so after Archbishop Harry Flynn had requested one, and one year after a decision was rumored by many knowledgeable sources, in and out of the Curia. The day before yesterday, Father Peter Christensen of St Paul was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Superior, 20 months after Bishop Raphael Fliss had submitted his retirement request.
A week from today, July 7, it is expected that the long expected Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict loosening the requirements for priests who desire to say the Mass using the old Latin version attributed to Pope Pius V, often called the Tridentine Mass, last updated by Pope John XXIII in 1962 and virtually outlawed since the adoption of the Novus Ordo Mass using English in 1969.
They sure do take a long time to make decisions in Rome. I've often joked that that is why the Church has lasted 2,000 years (forgetting the promises of Our Lord).
Sandro Magister, columnist for the Italian magazine, L'Espresso, a professor at an Italian university and author of the widely distributed internet column "Chiesa" (Church), is acknowledged by most to be the most knowledgeable person in the world communicating about what is happening in the Church. Today he deals with "Roman Standard Time" in his column, Roman Curia: The Reform that isn't there.
The last great reform of the Vatican curia was made by Paul VI in the fifth year of his pontificate. Benedict XVI is in his third year, but there’s nothing to indicate that he is preparing anything similar.
The few appointments made in the curia so far by pope Joseph Ratzinger, interpreted by almost everyone as the preannouncement of a systemic revolution, have remained what they were: few and isolated. The most spectacular of his initial decisions was even revoked.
Joseph Ratzinger worked in the curia for 24 years before being elected pope. He knows it better than anyone else. He arrived there with the anti-Roman distrust typical of the Germans. But he later acknowledged that he had been won over. “One of the things that I learned well in Rome is how to bide time,” he said in a book-length interview in 1985. “Biding one’s time can be a positive thing; it can permit a situation to settle, to mature, and so to clarify itself.”
Perhaps this is exactly the way in which Benedict XVI intends to discipline the curia. For the two crucial appointments at the beginning of any pontificate – that of secretary of state and that of his deputy – he waited until the resistance and rivalries had dwindled down to nothing.
In the third year of his reign, it is by now evident that reform of the curia does not figure among the priorities on Benedict XVI’s agenda.
In part because of his advanced age, pope Ratzinger has drastically pared down the matters to which he dedicates himself body and soul: before all else, preaching, the liturgical celebrations, and the book “Jesus of Nazareth,” the second volume of which, on the passion and resurrection, he is already writing.
On these absolute priorities, Benedict XVI is not “biding his time”; on the contrary, he dedicates himself to them with a tireless passion equal to the crystalline clarity with which he formulates his theses. Pope Ratzinger never minces words on the controversial questions close to his heart. He clearly says what is the right thing to do: in the field of the liturgy as in the field of public ethics, for example on whether or not to receive communion if one maintains that abortion is permissible. But in the end, the pope wants to leave these decisions to conscience. More than issuing orders and establishing sanctions, he aims at educating, at convincing.
And it’s not only the appointments – documents, too, can undergo long delays intended to smooth over resistance.
The pope’s letter to Chinese Catholics that was promised for Easter was put off until the summer, in order to find a formulation that would satisfy both the “realist” diplomats, the ones most accommodating toward the Beijing authorities, and the “neoconservatives” like the cardinal of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, who are much more combative.
Another document that was announced repeatedly but delayed a number of times was the one that authorizes more extensive use of the Roman missal in Latin that was in effect until 1969. Here the opponents are both within and outside of the curia, and the pope listened to all of them.
One reason for this preventive caution was the deluge of criticism that continues to assail, forty years later, certain daring innovations made by Paul VI in the areas of the curia and conclaves.
Instead of going up against the machine, Benedict XVI limits himself to placing here and there in the curia his trusted men: from Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don of Sri Lanka, made secretary of the congregation for divine worship, to his former right hand man at the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, Bertone. Or he calls in prominent personalities from the outside: like Brazilian cardinal Cláudio Hummes, and the former archbishop of Bombay, Ivan Dias.
Much more than curia appointments, Benedict XVI has at heart the appointment of bishops.
He dedicates much greater attention to these than John Paul II did. Before giving his permission, the pope keeps the dossiers of the designates on his desk for up to two or three weeks. And sometimes he rejects them, without giving an explanation to the competent curia dicastery presided over by cardinal Giovanni Battista Re.
Pope Ratzinger is very demanding; he wants bishops of quality, and doesn’t always find them. The pace of episcopal appointments has fallen by a quarter with him, in comparison with the previous pontificate.
To explain to the Roman curia what it was not supposed to be, Paul VI described it in 1967, the year of his reform, as “a pretentious and sluggish bureaucracy, entirely wrapped in rule and ritual, a breeding ground for ambition and sordid antagonism.”
But Benedict XVI is not tender, either. On May 7, 2006, while ordaining 15 new priests for the diocese of Rome at Saint Peter’s, he recalled in the homily that, shortly before describing himself as the good shepherd, Jesus said of himself “I am the door.” And he continued:
“It is through Him that one must enter the service of shepherd. Jesus highlights very clearly this basic condition by saying: 'he who climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber" (Jn 10: 1). This word 'climbs' – 'anabainei' in Greek – conjures up the image of someone climbing over a fence to get somewhere out of bounds to him. 'To climb' – here too we can also see the image of careerism, the attempt to "get ahead", to gain a position through the Church: to make use of and not to serve. It is the image of a man who wants to make himself important, to become a person of note through the priesthood; the image of someone who has as his aim his own exaltation and not the humble service of Jesus Christ. But the only legitimate ascent towards the shepherd's ministry is the Cross. This is the true way to rise; this is the true door."