Must the Roman Curia be Italian?

Although he’s not very well known in the U.S., save among members of the Sant’Egidio community (of which he’s the founding father), Andrea Riccardi is a major figure in the Catholic Church in Italy: a historian of the papacy, a commentator on all things Catholic, and a player in various ecclesiastical dramas.

Most recently, according to Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, Riccardi has taken to defending the Italian character of the Roman Curia, which, after a period of internationalization, has become more pronounced over the past decade. Magister quotes Riccardi as arguing that “the Curia cannot become a kind of U.N., because it is part of the Roman Church and must maintain a particular ecclesial, human and cultural connection with it.”

Permit me to disagree.

The pope is the Bishop of Rome; Rome is an Italian see; the pope governs the diocese of Rome through a cardinal vicar. It is entirely appropriate that the cardinal vicar be Italian and that the personnel of the Vicariate of Rome be predominantly Italian; they are, after all, at the service of the local Roman Church.

Because he is the Bishop of Rome, the pope is also “the universal pastor of the Church” (a title used by the Vatican’s official yearbook in noting the beginning of the pope’s solemn initiation of his Petrine ministry). The more traditional title, “supreme pontiff of the universal Church,” denotes the same reality. In this Petrine service as supreme pastor of the Church throughout the world, the pope employs the Roman Curia. Curial history is complex and need not detain us here; the crucial point is that the Curia today exists to inform and give effect to the pope’s ministry as pastor of the universal Church. The Vicariate of Rome attends to the pope’s mission as a local bishop; the Curia attends to the pope’s ministry as supreme pontiff of the universal Church.

Andrea Riccardi is quite right that “the Curia cannot become a kind of U.N.,” but probably not for the reason he intends. The Curia ought not be “a kind of “U.N.” because the U.N. is a self-serving, bloated and often corrupt bureaucracy. But it makes no sense, today, to argue that the Curia is “part of the Roman Church,” save in the obvious sense that it is located in Rome and therefore takes part in the life of the local Roman Church. The Curia’s purpose, however, is not local but universal: and that is why it is counterintuitive to suggest that any one national culture has a particular aptitude for staffing the Roman Curia, or that the Roman Curia as a 21st century institution has a unique connection to the local Roman Church.

It is true that the Curia’s modus operandi remains largely Italianate and that Italian language competence is a sine qua non of effective service in the Curia today. But the former is not without its difficulties, as the Banco Ambrosiano scandal of the early 1980s, the oft-remarked languid Curial pace, and persisting patterns of Curial cronyism and nepotism ought to demonstrate. And while the Roman Curia may well be the last holdout against English as the primary working language of international centers across the globe, it will almost certainly succumb at some point.

In his service as universal pastor of the Church, the pope must be able to draw on talent from all over the world Church; Italy will surely contribute some of that talent, but it has no monopoly on it. Curialists often speak of “the way we do things here.” Yet those ways, some impressive, some not, were formed in a distinctive epoch of Catholic history—Counter-Reformation Catholicism—that is coming to an end. The universal ministry of the pope in the Evangelical Catholicism to which Vatican II and the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI are giving birth is going to require a different kind of central administration, a different kind of Roman Curia.

It certainly shouldn’t be “a kind of U.N.” But there is no reason for it to be dominantly Italian, either.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash