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Vatican reform aims for a Church that serves the world

Aug. 18, 2013

A world Church needs a world perspective and Pope Francis knows it, Cardinal Oswald Gracias told The Catholic Register on a visit to Toronto Aug. 9. Gracias is one of eight cardinals chosen to advise Pope Francis on reforming the Vatican administration. Representing each continent, the special commission includes only one Italian and no true Vatican insiders. The commission will meet with Francis the first three days of October, but the cardinals have already been talking to each other informally and are planning to meet as a group before their deliberations with the Pope, Gracias said. Each of the eight have met individually with Pope Francis to discuss the commission’s mandate, and Pope Francis has urged the commission to reread Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Evangelii nuntiandi and reflect on the new evangelization.

“There’s got to be some reflection on this whole topic of the Vatican, how to make it more effective, to make it of more assistance to the Holy Father and to make it of more assistance to the Church. That’s really the way I would see it,” said the Indian cardinal, who is archbishop of Bombay, India, (though the city has changed its name to Mumbai, the archdiocese still prefers Bombay) and a canon lawyer. The days of Italian dominance over the inner workings of the Vatican may be coming to an end.

“We were speaking of Italian predominance and that has been one of the criticisms,” Gracias said. “The Church is a universal Church.” A Vatican bureaucracy which more closely resembles the Church it serves doesn’t mean a kind of political balancing act requiring just the right numbers of Germans, Brazilians, Chinese and Nigerians. “I’m not overly sensitive or overly concerned about national representation,” Gracias said. “The Church has got to remain above nationalities and narrow parochialism. It’s got to have a world view.” In the cardinal’s view, the Vatican won’t acquire a world view through osmosis from its selection of foreigners to work in Rome or by stumbling upon a perfect administrative structure. Gracias believes the Church is evolving back into a more synodal form of government that marked the first 1,300 years of Church history and the continuing tradition of the Orthodox Church. But reform will also require a renewed sense of purpose.

“Gaudium et Spes (the Vatican II Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) spoke of the Church as open to the world. Pope Francis’ perspective is that the Church has got to be of service to the world,” Gracias said. “If you want to be of service to the world you must be out there where the world is. Out where the world is, the centre of gravity is always moving. The Church should be available.” Right now, that means paying more attention to Asia, where 60 per cent of the world lives, where the economy is expanding and culture is changing rapidly and unpredictably.

“Twenty years ago, we said India is a developing country; China is there and we don’t know what’s happening. That’s changed. The Church cannot be indifferent any more,” said Gracias. More consultation, more understanding of the different situations faced by the Church in different parts of the world, may also mean greater responsibility for national conferences of bishops. “They (bishops’ conferences) should take greater responsibility,” said the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. “But it’s both ways. If we are going to take more responsibility... we’ve got to be more responsible, more accountable, more conscious. Right now it’s very comfortable because we know that everything has got to be double checked. So we’re not that serious. If you know that you have more responsibility then you know that more responsibility comes with that, more consciousness, more care, more involvement in problems. That’s simple. That’s good for the Church.”

Gracias also cautions against inflated expectations for what any reform of administrative offices and duties can accomplish. There’s nothing timeless or eternal about the work of deciding which offices to merge or deciding who reports to whom, he said. “There’s got to be continuous change. What we recommend today will probably be irrelevant 10 years from now or five years from now, perhaps,” said Gracias. “What was good for the past need not necessarily be good today. I’m happy the Holy Father has appointed us. I hope it will help.” The April 13 appointment of the commission wasn’t something pre-ordained by the cardinal electors in meetings before the last conclave, according to Gracias. Rather it represents the Pope’s original thinking about how to tackle the problem of Vatican reform.

“It’s something new. It certainly was the Holy Father’s decision,” he said. “It’s not something we all knew was going to come, no.” Nor does Gracias see the commission turning the Vatican upside down in the search for a new system. “I’m against dismantling any system unless you’re sure about what you’re putting in its place. On the other hand, every system must be evaluated constantly,” he said.

Source: The Catholic Register

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