WASHINGTON — Since becoming the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has made it clear that his papacy will be different from the previous ones. From touching the faithful while riding in an open vehicle, to emphasizing humility and service rather than dogma, the new pope has signaled that significant changes lie ahead for the Church. On Tuesday, the pontiff begins three days of consultations with eight cardinals he has appointed to advise him on what many consider to be desperately needed reforms for the Vatican.
The pope's first meeting with the newly appointed council of eight cardinals will take place behind closed doors. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi on Monday mentioned improving the governance of the Church through reform of the Curia as one of the main purposes of the summit, but that other issues will be discussed as well.
"There are two principle aims; to help the government of the Universal Church and to examine a project of revision on the Apostolic Constitution 'Pastor Bonus' of the Roman Curia. So, the reform of the Curia is one part of the summit but it is not all. There are also the problems of the government of the Universal Church that are also subject to consultation at the meeting, and for the pope these issues are also very important, some of them perhaps even more important,” said Lombardi.
The 1988 apostolic constitution was used by Pope John Paul II to institute the last major changes in the Vatican, but since then the Church has been undermined by revelations of a history of sexual abuse, allegations of corruption in the management of the Vatican state and reports of internal conflict within the Vatican bureaucracy. In addition, many Catholics have protested the Church's unbending opposition to abortion, gay relationships and women serving in clerical roles. As a result, calls for reform have become increasingly vocal in recent years.
Pope Francis has acknowledged that the Church is in crisis, and has signaled that a major overhaul is on the way.
Iacopo Scaramuzzi, a Vatican correspondent for Italian news agency TimNews, noted that the pope was elected with a mandate to reform the Vatican curia.
"The pope has a strong mandate, the majority of the cardinals who elected him in the Conclave did want to choose a strong pope, a pope who would change many things, reform the Vatican curia, and that would relaunch the Catholic Church. He is very willing to do so, the Catholic people love him very much. That said, inside the Vatican and outside the Vatican there are those who resist this reform. As in every institution, there are those who prefer to keep things the way they are," said Scaramuzzi.
Change can be especially slowly in a 2,000-year-old institution. Lombardi warned that the three-day summit will not result in a comprehensive reform plan.
"It's going to be a long-term job, let's not think that the reform of the curia and of the government of the universal church is something that can be dealt with in terms of specific operational conclusions in three days," cautioned Lombardi.
The eight-member council meeting with the pope is a diverse group of cardinals from the Americas, Africa, Australia and Europe. They will discuss suggestions for reform based on the polls from Catholics around the world.