The Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit (“Christ Is Alive”), the result of the recent Synod on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” was published this past Tuesday. In it, Pope Francis states: “This means humbly acknowledging that some things [in the Church] concretely need to change, and if that is to happen, [the Church] must appreciate the vision but also the criticisms of young people.”
But according to the report I have read, the document is lacking in examples of what “things concretely need to change.” So, realizing that the Holy Father is very busy, I offer to help him out by suggesting some areas where changes might be made.
First, last, and always—the Roman Curia must be reformed. Does it need to exist, in fact? The answer is probably a yes—if the Church of Rome is the focal point of unity in and within the churches, there must be a mechanism for its operation. But it need not be so top-heavy with position seekers, career clerics, and the privileged insiders. My suggestion: advance no one to the heads of the Vatican congregations beyond the title of monsignor, and never designate them as cardinals. They will have no role, therefore, other than their actual work. They will have no ability to engage in “insider trading.” They will not vote for the next pope, nor will they likely ever be “in the running.” They will perforce be required to listen to “real” bishops—heads of dioceses. And they will be strictly bound to a 5-year term as head of the congregations (an equivalent of “term limits”). After this, they should be sent back to their home dioceses for pastoral assignments.
Next, give national conferences of bishops (and the regional metropolitan provinces) real authority to make decisions that are in keeping with the needs of their local churches. This is nothing other than the principle of subsidiarity that Vatican II advocated. Let local decision be made locally. The bishops of Texas, for example (or of New Mexico, or Arizona, or California) know far better than Rome what the issues and crises of US/Mexico border control are, from a spiritual point of view. Let them deal with them. We must remember (those of us old enough and not senile enough!) the Baltimore Catechism, which did not emanate from Rome. This includes hearing and acting on accusations of clerical sexual abuse of minors and any subsequent cover-ups.
Third, return nominations of bishops to local churches. People may not realize this, but the idea of Rome’s naming all bishops is an “innovation,” brought about only because of issues which were the result of the unification of Italy in the 1870s (this is a long story). Surely local metropolitan provinces and episcopal conferences know the needs of the dioceses better than bureaucratic officials in the Vatican.
There are a few other ideas I have that I could share, but these will suffice for now. Please note that I have not suggested a single thing that is “dogmatic”—only things that are “process based.” You can feel free to email me with your suggestions, criticisms, anger/outrage… I’ll listen!