Academic journal article Theological Studies

The Roman Curia at and after Vatican II: Legal-Rational or Theological Reform?

Academic journal article Theological Studies

The Roman Curia at and after Vatican II: Legal-Rational or Theological Reform?

Article excerpt

The Vatican is a state government and a church government, a cluster of churches, a monastery, a bureaucracy, a bank, a tourist site, a museum, a post office, a fire department, and even a jail. Looking at all these many agencies together, we still have only bits and pieces of its complex and very long history. The Roman Curia is indeed more criticized than understood. There are good studies on its structure in a particular century or during a single pontificate, but there is still no comprehensive examination of its development as a historical-theological constituency in the Catholic Church, or as a juridical institution, a communion, or a culture.

Our ignorance about the big picture in the long sequence of facts about the Roman Curia and about many factors in this history is just one of the causes of the anti-Curia sentiment--part of the antirdmische Affekt Hans Urs von Balthasar talked about--that has always been strong in Catholicism (especially in the city of Rome, paradoxically one of the most secular in the Western world). (1) This sentiment cannot be reduced to a simplistic, populist dismissal of the need for some kind of church government. Nor is this sentiment peculiar to theologians. The history of literature is full of anti-Curia topoi. The Roman Curia remains, however, an interesting object of study: the development of social sciences in the 20th century owes something to a Roman Curia that is often characterized through stereotypes. (2)

There are theological reasons for criticizing the very existence of the Curia, given the questionable foundations for its existence and power. Because we lack a plausible "theology of the Curia," (3) it is no wonder that the anti-Curia literature is one of the most resilient literary genres in the Church. The Curia has survived every reform of the central government of the Catholic Church: the Gregorian reform of the eleventh century; the reshaping at the beginning of the Tridentine era; the loss of the Papal States in 1870; and finally the reforms during the "brief 20th century," (4) from Pope Pius X's Sapienti consilio (1908) to Pope Paul VI's Regimini ecclesiae universae (1967) and Pope John Paul IPs Pastor bonus (1988).

The first 50 years after Vatican II are a significant period of time for assessing the reception of the council, (5) which includes the way the Church itself as an institution has received the council. The Curia is a primary way to understand the relationship between theology and church in recent times. Now that a new reform of the Curia is under way in the Church of Pope Francis, it is time to address the history of the Roman Curia in order to make an informed judgment that is not completely overshadowed by the scandals of the last decade. Even if it is true methodologically that the history of the Curia does not completely overlap with the history of pontificates, nevertheless, in these last 50 years three different pontificates have had a distinctive impact on the structure of that institution. But what still has to be investigated is the impact of the ecclesiological shift of Vatican II on the Roman Curia. My first step in this investigation is an analysis of the pontificates of Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, with an open window on the recent developments in the Church of Pope Francis.

"Senate of the Pope," "Central Board of Bishops," or Bishops' Synod? Paul VI Curbs Vatican II

The context in which the Second Vatican Council discussed the papacy and the Roman Curia is formed by a complex of issues surrounding the problem of church government in the late 20th century, after the "long 19th century," the shock of nationalisms, the two world wars, and the Cold War. John O'Malley has properly identified the relationship between the center and periphery of the Chinch as one of the key underlying issues of Vatican II, in a church that had become a global church. (6)

After the Church had tackled the problem of nepotism with Innocent XII's bull Romanum decet Pontificem of 1692, Pius X put order into the overlapping responsibilities of various curial departments with the reform of 1908, which "had applied, at least to some extent, the principle of separation of powers. …

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