Pope Francis has reorganized the Diocese of Rome. A complete rehearsal of the changes would run to considerable length and likely induce somnolence before it effected understanding. “Let me ’splain,” said Inigo Montoya to Wesley in The Princess Bride before thinking better and changing tack, “– No, there is too much, let me sum up.”
So, let me sum up.
By “reorganized” one means that he has discombobulated pretty much everything and reduced the government of his diocesan territory to little more than personal rule with straw offices and rump councils as window dressing.
Pope Francis has even created a new watchdog for the Vicariate. Styled an “Independent Oversight Committee”, the outfit is independent of everyone except the pope, who approves its bylaws, sets its agenda, names its members for three-year terms, and receives its reports.
Pope Francis himself will preside over the meetings of the diocesan leadership, take all decisions beyond those related to ordinary administration, police the treasury and the seminaries and basically everything else. Even the auxiliary bishops for each of Rome’s seven territorial divisions will report to Pope Francis, as well.
The Cardinal Vicar will now be an auxiliary of the pope, juridically equal to the other auxiliaries of the diocese and essentially a vicar in name only. He “shall not undertake important initiatives or any initiatives exceeding the ordinary administration [of the diocese] without referring to me.”
The document is striking for its personal language and tone: “I” and “me” are found throughout, rather than the technical legislative dictions like “the Roman Pontiff” or “the Ordinary” or some other such third person referent.
Pope Francis has done all this in the name of “synodality” – a word that comes up several times in some form or another throughout the long and cumbersome document outlining the new governing structure – but does not ever say what synodality is or what the “synodal style” of governance for which he calls in the document should be.
It’s pretty clear that some sort of shakeup to Rome’s diocesan governing apparatus has been in the offing for a while. Still, both the specific form the Apostolic Constitution In Ecclesiarum communione took, and the optics created by its promulgation, are terrible.
The moves from Pope Francis came in the wake of an unfortunate statement from the Cardinal Vicar regarding l’Affaire Rupnik – a radioactive global scandal of abuse and coverup that reaches far into the Apostolic Palace – and seem to have torn an already strained relationship into tatters.
It looks like Pope Francis is kneecapping Cardinal Angelo De Donatis – the guy Francis chose to be his right hand man in Rome and groomed for an even more prominent role on the curial stage – after De Donatis committed the one unforgivable sin of giving the pope a bad day in the press.
Is that what happened?
Sic et non, the Romans say – “Yes and No” – though in this case one may say, “No, and also Yes.”
Basically, Cardinal De Donatis picked a fight with Pope Francis when he passed the buck on Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ, the disgraced Jesuit priest who is accused of sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse of nine women over several years. Rupnik’s Jesuit superiors and senior Churchmen in Rome through three pontificates either turned a blind eye to Rupnik’s predatory proclivities or else actively worked to discredit his accusers. Under Francis, Rupnik received some highly unusual – not to say “very special” – treatment from the Vatican’s official organs of justice.
Just before Christmas, De Donatis issued a statement explaining why Rupnik still had ministry and held offices within the Rome Vicariate, basically saying that it was the pope’s decision and not up to the Cardinal Vicar. It was all couched in exquisite curialese, but the message was clear: Pope Francis was calling the shots on Rupnik. It’s a safe bet that didn’t fly well in the Apostolic Palace.
Truth be told, there’s been bad blood brewing between the pope and his vicar for some time.
In March of 2020, at the start of the corona virus pandemic, when no one really knew what was happening and hospitals were overrun and death tolls were climbing exponentially day by day and everyone was scared, Cardinal De Donatis decided to close Rome’s churches.
De Donatis took the decision after consulting with Pope Francis. The very next day, Cardinal De Donatis opened parish and mission churches. He took the second decision after “further discussion” with Pope Francis. Between the decision to shutter the churches and the decision to keep parishes and missions open, there was significant pushback from several quarters, including the pope’s own almoner.
That episode certainly put a strain on relations between the pope and his man for the city, which a 2021 financial audit likely did not help to ease. Suffice it to say that the rift has been several years coming.
Whether it was Cardinal De Donatis’s statement as led to the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution in the precise form it took (and so quickly after the Christmastide contretemps), or whether Cardinal De Donatis knew that something like Inter Ecclesiarum was on its way and so decided to get off a shot while he could, is largely beside the point. Pope Francis has made it clear that he is in charge of everything.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!