The Pope’s ‘kitchen cabinet’ of cardinal advisers is taking a cue from the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform process, particularly on the need for the greater involvement of laypeople in Church leadership.

Driving the news

The Council of Cardinals, a body set up by Francis in 2013 to help him with the reform of Vatican bureucracy, had its 32nd meeting this December 2, 3 and 4 in Rome.

According to a Vatican press release, present at the meeting were cardinals Pietro Parolin, Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, Reinhard Marx, Seán Patrick O’Malley, Giuseppe Bertello and Oswald Gracias, as well as Bishop Marcello Semeraro, the Council secretary.

The Pope was present too in the sessions, except when he was in other meetings and in Wednesday’s General Audience.

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According to the Vatican Press Office, the activity of the council in this latest session “was aimed at deepening two aspects of importance pertaining to the draft of the new apostolic constitution” on the Roman Curia, the engine room of the worldwide Church.

Those two aspects were “the relations between the Curia and the episcopal conferences and the presence of the lay faithful, men and women, in decision-making roles in the offices of the Curia and in other bodies of the Church”.

The cardinal attendees, the Vatican explained, devoted themselves these days to the study of “the theological-pastoral basis” of these two questions: the autonomy of national Bishops’ Conferences and greater leadership roles for men and women laypeople.

The cardinals also heard, the Vatican said, from cardinals O’Malley and Michael Czerny on the work of October’s Amazon Synod, and on the challenges of the writing of the Post-Synodal document.

German Bishops’ President Cardinal Reinhard Marx also explained to the Council the process, timing and themes of the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform process that got underway December 1.

Why it matters

The input of cardinals O’Malley, Czerny and Marx into the final draft of the apostolic constitution on the Curia could, if finally accepted, prove decisive for the worldwide Church.

The Amazon Synod, in its final document, insisted on the need “to strengthen and expand the spaces for the participation of the laity, whether in consultation or in decision making, in the life and mission of the Church” (94), among other pro-laity demands.

In the German ‘synodal path’, on the other hand, laypeople have such influence that rank-and-file faithful are co-presidents of each of the four reform discussion groups, on “Power, Participation, and Separation of Powers”, “Sexual Morality”, “Priestly Way of Life” and “Women in the Ministries and Offices of the Church”.

Just last month, the Pope flagged his desire to include more women in Vatican leadership roles, including as heads of dicasteries which at the moment include just one layman among their rank: Paolo Ruffini, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication.

It seems now, however, that after the latest meeting of the Council of Cardinals, the Amazon and German Churches’ models of greater lay involvement could be filtering into Vatican structures.

But the Church will have to wait and see on that at least until after the next scheduled meeting of the Council of Cardinals, which is currently slated for February 2020.

Next on Novena:

Hopeful Germans begin ‘synodal path’: “We have to do something. People are leaving the Church”

German ‘synodal path’ leaders insist on need for “change and renewal” in Church