More curial moves and machinations

There has been quite a few appointments in recent weeks, and there are growing rumblings that Pope Francis will soon unveil his long-anticipated document on curial reform.

Pope Francis leading his annual audience to give Christmas greetings to members of the Roman Curia at the Vatican on Dec. 21, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis may be getting ready to pull up the curtain on his shiny new curial reform. It’s been a long time coming, and we’ve been promised before – several times – that the draft is basically done and the finished product about to be unveiled. So, there’s no need to wait with ’bated breath. Still, there is one big thing that happened last week, which suggests something could be in the offing, with bearing on the next conclave as well as the new curia.

There was a lot of noise last week about other doings in the Vatican – the maxi-trial of Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu et al. and the already infamous responsa ad dubia from the Congregation for Divine Worship regarding Pope Francis’s ill-considered motu proprio restricting the Latin Mass were the big stories in Catholic Land – so getting late to the other big news that dropped last week is perhaps forgivable.

I mean the announcement that Pope Francis has named an “administrative delegate” to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

That’s the Vatican shop to which Pope Francis named Manila’s popular cardinal-archbishop, Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle, two years ago this month. The conventional wisdom was – is – that bringing Tagle to Rome was designed to show favor, especially with a view to the next conclave.

The next conclave will be extraordinarily difficult to handicap, for a host of reasons better explored in a separate column.

Suffice it to say that the appointment of a delegate – essentially a political commissar – is a pretty transparent attempt either to distance Cardinal Tagle from his principal or to distance the principal from Tagle, or both, and also in view of the next papal election. There is no “safe money” in the big race this time around, but it is fair to say that Pope Francis wants his guy to have a shot and understands that being perceived as “Pope Francis’s pick” is not going to increase his chances.

That said, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples is already a behemoth, and is poised by all accounts to get bigger under the new disposition. Prop[aganda] fide – as the dicastery is known in curialese – controls untold wealth, and jealously guards its books.

There’s nothing necessarily nefarious in that, mind, since the Congregation’s mission profile requires it to have resources and freedom to dispose of them. Prop fide supports struggling Churches in places the Gospel is not always welcome, and helps missionary Churchmen deal with frequently hostile local leadership. That is expensive work, and only part of what the Congregation does to assist missionaries as they navigate fraught waters to develop self-sufficiency, and to help in choosing leaders for missionary Church jurisdictions.

For its part, the Vatican has taken a “nothing to see here” line on the appointment of Benjamin Estevez Dominges – a Spanish layman and telecom engineer who founded a business-to-business e-commerce outfit earlier in his career and had most recently been the general director of economic affairs for the Jesuit-run Pontifical Comillas University in Madrid – and there may, indeed, be nothing to see here.

Still, Pope Francis has “visitors” and/or commissars to several curial dicasteries recently, including the Congregation for Divine Worship and the super-Dicastery for Integral Human Development. He has also named commissars for the Basilica of St. Mary Major and the St. Peter’s Fabric, not to mention his successive commissars – technically Special Apostolic Visitors, Archbishop Henryk Hoser in 2017 and Archbishop Aldo Cavalli last month, following Hoser’s death – for Medjugorje.

The departure of Cardinal Robert Sarah followed on the heels of a visitation to CDW, and Cardinal Peter Turkson is rumored to be on his way out of Integral Human Development after Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago visited the offices earlier this year. Two upper-level officials departed IHD in the wake of Cupich’s visit earlier this year.

In fairness, things at IHD had been impractical from the get-go. The dicastery had no clear mandate. Pope Francis welded it together from the former offices dedicated to justice and peace, charity (cor unum), migrants and itinerants, and pastoral health care. He gave a red hat to one of the under-secretaries – Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ, the pope’s point man for migrants and refugees – and left him in place. Frankly, it was difficult to see how the arrangement wasn’t designed not to work.

Government-by-commissariat may be a temporary thing, a stop-gap in the in-between period of the lame duck curia, but it is certainly a feature of modes and orders in Rome under Pope Francis.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 190 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. The American pewsitter, working family man, likely working wife, feels no connection to or interest in all this Vatican skulduggery. It is embarrassing.
    For me, this is a poisonous waste of time. It is corruption and deception personified in these commissars. Young Catholics clearly see this for what it is. This is organized crime.

  2. Is Cupich Bergoglio’s “point man” in McCarrick’s stead?

    Sooner or later the wreakovators will be gone and Christ will restore His Church. In the meantime, we must remind ourselves and we are ‘One in Christ’ and not ‘one in Bergoglio’.

  3. Pope Francis is really a godsend. He is being guided by the Holy Spirit to lift the Church out of the environment in which it seems to be stuck. In this article, Massimo Faggioli wrote: “By denying that something can and must change in the Church is also a way of denying that the Church has a history as a people, a collective history. If Church history is forgotten or overlooked then it will be impossible to reform the Church. Reform is never only about the individual. It is also a call to the Church as a people with a history. This is why the Synod assemblies under Pope Francis are the most important and telling moments in his pontificate. They are reconnecting the Church with the wide variety of Catholic experiences throughout the world of today.
    And they are also delving into the Church’s history where synodality has deep roots.”

    • Mal says, “Pope Francis is really a godsend. He is being guided by the Holy Spirit…”
      To support that personal assessment, evaluation or judgment, Faggioli’s is offered. Faggioli claims that some persons deny reform because they deny HISTORY! That is like saying that some people deny the dawning of new days! To what depths has the darkened intellect succumbed? Is not history defined as changes through time?*

      What has NOT CHANGED IS the Holy Spirit IN THE CHURCH. The Pope is not the Church.
      The Pope no more has Mary as his mother than any other brother or sister of Jesus in Christ. The Church has as its HEAD OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. All other brothers and sisters of Christ comprise the Mystical Body of Christ. The Pope is one of many. He is not singularly endowed; the CHURCH is endowed.

      The Body of Christ is perpetually renewed by the Eucharistic Body of Christ which always remains the same.

      To date, neither the Spirit nor the Head of the Church has reformed Himself.

      *The Dictionary is a friend.

    • All the machinations on the state of Church affairs are a trifle compared to the machinations of Francis. True, Chris Altieri offers valuable insight into the Byzantine politics of who might be elected. A future interest, real, though remote to the reality of crisis of faith and reason. That is, of the members of a Church that are rapidly leaving Catholicism pay it minimal respect.
      +Some convinced Francis is a living saint renewing an obsolete Church toward relevancy. Others, a demonically inspired radical. Still many others caught betwixt. If a saint even saints make terrible mistakes of judgment.
      +Whether to be a Catholic and suffer the slings and arrows of faithful papists [here a flourish of Shakespearean irony] and be a man of God. Or not to be. Papist I am insofar as Magisterial pronouncement papist I’m not regarding suggestion and fantasy off the Magisterial record. Fools convince themselves every utterance of a Roman Pontiff is sacred, as if Christ were admonishing, correcting, guiding. How can it be, they may ask? Although the long legacy of infidelity has brought by all manifest sign retribution in the form of divine accession to the imposter. Perhaps, ironically, a morally demented saint [who knows the mind of God?]. So we don’t judge the soul. A world of obsequious Faggioli’s amounts to no more than the testimony of a hill of beans. Fools who convince themselves of the efficacy of mere utterance from a pontiff must give account for the moral devastation of its effect at judgment.
      +Who then brothers are we called to follow? If follow means distance from the narrow, rugged path preached by Christ. The way of the Cross. Repentance. Penance for the forgiveness of sins. Whose voice do we recognize? He alone is the gateway to pasture or to the safety of the sheepfold. Listen to Christ’s. And be saved.

      • It seems that all who think differently from you are fools. “Fools convince themselves every utterance of a Roman Pontiff is sacred.” Nobody that I know of has claimed that every utterance of a Pope is sacred or even correct. If you are aware of such fools, let us know. So Faggioli is also a fool.
        Pope Francis always reminds us that Jesus should always be our focus. “He gives all and he asks all; he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart,” the Pope said. “Even today he gives himself to us as the living bread; can we give him crumbs in exchange?” Jesus, he said, “is not content with a ‘percentage of love.’ We cannot love him 20 or 50 or 60 percent. It is either all or nothing” because “our heart is like a magnet – it lets itself be attracted by love, but it can cling to one master only and it must choose: either it will love God or it will love the world’s treasure; either it will live for love or it will live for itself.”
        And what are the world-s treasures? Our wealth, our knowledge, our beloved rituals, our status, puffed up egos —.

        • No. I don’t believe you’re a fool Mal. I implied we make foolish decisions as I believe you have in not recognizing where there is error. Examples: Amoris Laetitia two errors: 1 Conscience. 2 Justice.
          +1 Conscience. Francis says that the D&R living in manifest sin nevertheless might offer God the best they can in concrete situations and that is acceptable to God [Francis’ presumption]. That living a life of abstention is impractical. Consequently FN 351 suggests communion be offered. What is absent in Pope Francis’ scenario is the doctrine of grace. Grace is sufficient [to Paul struggling, My grace is sufficient].
          +2 Justice. Francis quotes Aquinas in ST 1a2ae 94, 4. “Although there is necessity in general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail the more frequently we encounter defects”. Here Francis’ alludes to marriage with the suggestion that in a marriage we’ll always find defects which [may] render it invalid. However, that’s why we have tribunals [evidence for declaration of nullity must exist prior to the marriage contract]. The day following publication of Amoris Pope Francis made a public statement heard worldwide that “Most marriages are invalid”. That of course is untrue and a misrepresentation of the truth.
          +For example, ST 1a2ae 94, Quaestio 4 is Whether the Natural Law is the Same in All Men? Aquinas is not examining a particular instance of the natural law in the section quoted by Francis. He’s instead demonstrating that it differs in reference to all men, that the further we examine the understanding and relevant circumstances of the natural law as it relates to all men throughout the world we’re bound to find defects. Defects in the application of a universal principle to all men. Not in respect to each individual case. That I submit is an attempt at deception.
          Now we examine the effects of this policy. Malta, Sicily, the Philippines, Germany [most dioceses] and elsewhere bishops conferences have a policy of leaving the decisions for divorced and remarried outside the Church to follow their conscience regarding reception of the Holy Eucharist.

          • Thank you for your response, Fr. Peter. As a conservative Catholic all my life, I am not comfortable with that view about the divorced and remarried. But this is not about my feelings.
            If I had been there when Jesus told an adulteress that he did not condemn her for something that my religion had condemned, I would not have been comfortable with that. The Apostles were concerned when they saw Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman at the well, an act that was contrary to the Rabbinic precepts. We know that Jesus did things that the Law said was not allowed on the Sabbath. But Jesus told them something that would have been thoroughly condemned by the Pharisees. He told them that man was not made for the law. In other words, to be slaves to the law but, no doubt, to be clearly guided by it.
            You and I know that some influential, or not so influential people, have had their marriages annulled and then married again. But what about the women, say, in the ghettos and slums, whose husbands gave them children and then did the dirty on them? Vanished from their sight for good and living in big cities or in other countries leaving their wives penniless and with no means to support themselves and their children? It happens quite often in Argentina, in Chile, in the Philippines and so on. What if a man accepts such a deserted woman into his home and looks after her and the children – and they live quite happily “married” to each other? If this Catholic woman entered the Church and went up to receive the Lord into her soul should the priest deny her communion? Or, should he let the Lord decide whether he would embrace her or not? The Law governing annulments may be in black and white, but relationships are not. Furthermore, father, they are not accessible to some people.
            I am not suggesting that we should just let people do whatever they want, and I am sure that this is not what Pope Francis wants.

          • Mal there are the exceptions and priests through the centuries have responded in an exceptional manner to persons like the woman you describe.
            Prior to Christ establishing marriage as an inviolable sacrament polygamy was practiced by the Patriarch Abraham, David et al. This was not a violation since it conformed to a secondary principle of natural law relations between a man and woman [one of the differences in the Summa question, Whether the Natural Law is the Same in All Men]. The primary natural law principle was restored by Christ as it was, In the beginning.
            I wouldn’t take issue with His Holiness if he hadn’t addressed this matter arguing on the basis of inviolability of conscience, as if conscience determined right and wrong not God, and the doctrine of mitigation, which cannot be applied as a theological category that absolves intrinsic sin. Except in due instances when extreme mitigating circumstances reduces free will.
            As the Pontiff’s teaching stands it leaves the presbyter little choice than to offer the penitent communion, since the benefit of the doubt weighs in his favor. This is why the majority of bishops realize the issue for the Church, marriage as a sacrament, and preservation of its essential permanent nature for the integrity of the family, and good of Church and society.
            Our difference centers on whether the Pontiff is propagating a universal doctrine. That some bishops’ conferences realize that due to the principles laid out in amoris laetitia they cannot implement a determinate median between distinguishing those worthy and those not, they decided to leave it to the conscience of the individual. The result has been as noted a breakdown in the permanent nature of marriage. Pope Francis must intervene and correct this as evidence of a limited policy, and as we know he has not.

  4. Sean,
    I had much the same reaction to this article – but God bless Mr. Altieri for having the stomach to analyze and report on it!
    But yes, as Joe Pewsitter/usher all of this palace intrigue is both tedious and off-putting and reflects poorly. I harbor no illusion however that Rome even knows or cares about the image presented.

  5. Absolutely nothing interests me less than the Machiavellian lives of the elites of the Vatican pornocracy. That the next pope is likely to come from among these careerist rogues is nauseating.

    • I am sure that is what Satan would also wish for, Timothy. But our Lord knows that millions of Catholics in the Church that is growing outside the west love him. At every NO mass people pray for him.

      • Love him for what?

        The incredible moral confusion he sows from encyclicals – Amoris Laetitia – that the German Church has run with and the Pope has encouraged?

        Does the world ‘love him so much’ because he is becoming ‘of the world’ and especially sexual morality has become so ambiguous under him that people are grateful that they have official cover for sexual vice?

        His absurd and pathetic attack on the Traditional Mass?

        What real Catholic judges a papacy solely on the secular, world’s hollow praise?

        • Ramjet, what makes you think that “millions of Catholics” judges the papacy solely on world’s hollow praise? I spoke about Catholic, not the world. That is just another concoction of yours. I am talking about faithful, Mass-attending Catholics in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Africa, South America and, yes, even in pockets of the USA. Hatred will get you nowhere.

        • His ‘attack’ is not on the Traditional Latin Mass. It is directed at those who claim some sense of superiority over those who prefer the Novus Ordo Mass and, in doing so, sow the seeds of dissent and division I the Church

  6. “They are reconnecting the Church with the wide variety of Catholic experiences throughout the world of today.”

    Except for that evil Traditional Latin Mass which must be suppressed without mercy.

  7. Ah! I have been through the synod process many times! As a teacher the principal would always say, “I want to hear what my teachers want. They know what is needed.” As responsible teachers responding to the classroom our lists were made. At the end the principal always did exactly what he had wanted to do from the start. So if I tell my current archdiocese synod process I desire the Latin mass it will be denied. If I tell I want gay marriage, gay priests and women priests as well, the Vatican will cheer and say “we must respond to the people.” Cynical? why yes I am. Within the Vatican’s synod process, lies the way of the world, not the way of the Spirit.

    • The next conclave? What conclave?

      But I lapse here into hyperbole…Instead, we can point to advance notice on the most likely papabili, published with the intent that the voting cardinals (and others) can be well-informed on the 19 most likely candidates, rather than allegedly manipulated by the St. Gallen mafia or any other tribal loyalty. See Edward Pentin (editor, not author), “The Next Pope: The Leading Cardinal Candidates,” 2020).

      Of Cardinal Tagle (the one most like Pope Francis), for example, it is disclosed that, while he is opposed to abortion and euthanasia: “On the other hand, he holds that some situations exist where universal moral principles do not apply [never denied, but simply suspended], as in the case of Communion for couples who live together conjugally but without sacramental marriage and issues relating to homosexuality […] in short he downplays the gravity of such sins and the public scandal that they give [….] Along with his ambiguous statements about the goodness of all religions, these factors raise questions about what Tagle believes to be the essence of the gospel [!]” (p. 584).

      One hopes that that there will be many adults in the Sistine Chapel, that the conclave cardinals will study in advance the likely menu.

      But then there’s the issue of the free-form synod on synodality. . . Might the synods be called upon, in some inclusive and nuanced way, to influence or even ratify the conclave selection of the next pope? And, if one religion is as good as another, then why not one synod, by such “participation,” being just as good as any another (Germania!)? Just a wild fantasy here, and who am I to judge?

      As for the workings of the Holy Spirit: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

      • I do not recall Pope Francis saying that one religion is as good as another. He did say that religions do exist because God’s will allows it. Noah, whatever his religion or concept of God, was judged by God to be righteous. And so was Abraham. What do you say about Moses, the lawgiver, did he not desert his family? Perhaps, according to his conscience, it was okay to do so, and Paul does justify acting in accordance with conscience. What was Joseph’s religion? Elizabeth and her son, John the Baptist?
        Religion existed in the Garden of Eden. Love God and the world was the instruction given by God to Adam. And this is basically what was spread around the world by Noah’s grandsons. Jesus taught and lived that religion as a Jew, the religion that had its beginning in Eden.

        • I did not say that Pope Francis holds that “one religion is as good as another,” so there is no need to respond to your overreach. I did make reference to ambiguity. But your own comment reads as if Christ was just another prophet in the long line of Old Testament prophets. As if natural religion and Old Testament prophecies are equivalent to the self-disclosure (!) of the Triune God in the fullness of time.

          You are correct, of course, in noting that Pope Francis does is not actually “saying that one religion is as good as another.” Instead, in an agnostic and secularist world, he hopes to convene in fraternity all of the religious, by affirming what is good in natural religion. But, unlike John Paul II and Benedict, he then understates the uniqueness of the salvific and once-only Incarnation.

          It’s a judgement call on how best to handle our eroding and polyglot moment in history, but to many observers to classify Christianity largely as one “tradition” among others is too ambiguous. (Especially when Islam, for example, regards itself as the primordial religion prior to all others—a confusion, possibly, with what the Judeo-Christian school, with its recognition of both faith and reason—clarifies as the universal and baked-in Natural Law). The original Islam, then, with all other religions then being historical perversions of itself—Judaism having blasphemed with the golden calf, and Christianity having reverted back to polytheism by affirming the divinity of Christ, the second-to-last prophet prior to the final Muhammad).

          So, there are the ambiguities of asserting the “pluralism” of religions (willed, or only permitted, see below?), and the unwitting symbolism of placing Pachamama in a niche in St. Peter’s Basilica (now a pantheon?) and switching of the papal crosier for a Wiccan stang at the Synod on Youth, and expressing both “concern” and encouragement toward the German “synodal way”—with its looseness toward intercommunion, etc.(!).

          Some see in all this a tendency more toward globalist cosmopolitanism than toward evangelization of the Truth in its (His) real unity.

          To conclude, in the Abu Dhabi Declaration (Feb. 2019) Pope Francis in fact did characterize the pluralism of religions as “willed” by God, not merely permitted as you have misremembered: “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed [!] by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”

          • In 2019, there was an excellent article on this very site written by Dr. Randall Smith. In it, he explained very well what Pope Francis meant by permissive will. You should know because you responded to that piece. I must say that I particularly liked the post by Jim the Scott.
            Peter, to understand this better, we need to separate our Catholic religion from the Catholic Church. They are two different entities – if I may use that term.
            Adam had a religion: love God and His creation were it6s fundamental tenets. When Adam disobeyed God and decided to go his own way, he ushered in death and destruction. Man’s relationship with God was damaged, the link that united them was broken. Though man still had his religion (sacrifices to God were being offered) but this religion could not reunite man to God. In fact, no religion, even the Mosaic one, could unite us. If religion had the capacity to reunite us with God, then our Father would no doubt have used it and so, spared His Son much pain and suffering.
            However, we know that the Son of God assumed human nature in Mary’s womb. He was a new Adam, we are told, and so not a descendant of the earthly Adam. This meant that our Lord was not affected by the consequences of the original sin, and so when he died, sinless and obedient all the way to the Father’s plan, there was no barrier to prevent Jesus from returning to his Father. This human soul, in Jesus, was now reconciled to God. And all who are born again – baptized – into union with Jesus have, in our Lord, the Way to heaven. All those who are baptized belong to our Lord’s family – the Church. Only members of this Church are redeemed. As the catechism (845) says: “To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. the Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. the Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood.
            Outside the Church there is no salvation”
            A few lines later, we read: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.” The thief who died alongside Jesus might not have know the Gospels or the Catholic religion but because of his acceptance of Jesus at that last moment, was with the Lord in Paradise that day.
            I believe that Pope Francis has a very good understanding of this.

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