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As a group of eight Catholic cardinals handpicked by the Pope to shake up the Vatican’s murky and autocratic bureaucracy prepares to meet, the group’s leader has said they plan to rip up and rewrite the apostolic constitution which apportions power at the Holy See.
The cardinals, who were appointed in April by Pope Francis and will confer with him for the first time at the Vatican on Oct. 1-3, were briefed to revise the constitution, known as Pastor Bonus, drawn up in 1988 by Pope John Paul, in a bid to give a great voice to bishops around the world.
But Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, the group’s leader, said as the meeting loomed they were planning to go much further that just changing “this and that.”
“No, that constitution is over,” he said in a TV interview. “Now it is something different. We need to write something different,” he added.
“In the past the Vatican has just revised existing rules so this is a rupture after a century of increasing centralisation,” said Gerard O’Connell, a Vatican analyst at the Vatican Insider.
“Cardinal Maradiaga is hinting that the Pope is asking the fundamental question: What can be decided in Rome and what at local level? How can the Roman Curia serve bishops instead of being an office of censure and control?”
O’Connell cited Japanese bishops as victims of the Vatican’s centralisation.
“They must ask advice from Rome on the correct Japanese to use in their liturgies, yet you would think they would be the best judge.”
On Saturday, Francis gave another clear indication that he sees the Vatican as a hotbed of intrigue and power struggles when he instructed Vatican policemen on Saturday to crack down on gossip within the Vatican’s walls as well as looking out for intruders.
Defining gossip as the devil’s work, “a forbidden language” and “a war waged with the tongue”, he told gendarmes gathered for mass to tell gossipers they caught in the act, “Here there can be none of that: walk out of St. Anne’s Gate. Go outside and talk there! Here you cannot!”
Cardinals gathering in Rome before Francis was elected in March complained Vatican officials had become a self serving elite indifferent to the needs of dioceses around the world.
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga said his group had received suggestions on Vatican reform from around the world, including 80 pages of suggestions from Latin America. The convergence on a few main themes suggested God’s will was at work, he said.
“You cannot have millions of Catholics in the world suggesting the same unless the Holy Spirit is inspiring.”
Francis is also set to relax the control the Vatican exerts over the Italian conference of bishops, Italian media reported on Sunday. Unlike in other countries, the head of the Italian conference is not elected by bishops but picked by the pope, a system Francis is reportedly planning to scrap.
“The head of the conference wields political influence in Italy, so this move by the pope means the Vatican’s power over Italian politics will decline,” said Maria Antonietta Calabro, a Vatican expert at Italian daily Corriere della Sera. “The Pope has already told Italian bishops he wants them to deal with Italian politics, not the Vatican,” she added.
Francis last month said he would replace the Vatican’s long time secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone – who reportedly had frequent contact with Italian politicians – with Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s nuncio in Venezuela.