A Lutheran curia?
6th May 2022
The reform of the Curia has always been a top priority for the Catholic Church. Pope Francis has now enacted an extraordinary reform which will revolutionize the Catholic Church in manner reminiscent of the reforms enacted in France by king Louis XIV (1643-1715). The Apostolic Constitution, Praedicate Evangelium, will come into force on the 5th May 2022. At that moment, each department of church government will no longer be headed necessarily by an ordained man, but it may be headed by a lay man or lay woman. This may be welcome news for many, but it removes an important geographic element and replaces it with lobby pressure groups.
The first open and official gathering of the Christians at the Council of Nicaea (325) in the Roman Empire was clear that each city could have one bishop. It meant that each bishop has always had a geographic constituency. In the Catholic church, even cardinals had a link with a diocese or a geographic area, and therefore each leader in the curia as well. If a layperson heads a ministry, there is no accountability at the level of the congregations, but only from superiors in Rome.
Louis XIV improved the efficiency of the ruling class of France, by diminishing the role of the aristocracy, which had allegiance to geographic constituencies (their lands), bringing them to Versailles and putting the power into the hands of bureaucrats. Within two generations the bureaucratic class had eliminated the monarchy and the aristocracy with the French Revolution (1789).
The idea pursued by Pope Francis is that being ordained should no longer give a privileged path to power. Each catholic faithful is equal before the eyes of God. That was exactly what Martin Luther (1483-1546) argued when he proposed that each believer is like a priest without being ordained. “It is pure invention that pope, bishops, priests and monks are to be called the "spiritual estate"; princes, lords, artisans, and farmers the "temporal estate." (Martin Luther, Letter to the Christian Nobility, 1520).
Francis is the first Pope to have quoted Luther in the Sistine chapel. He prayed with Lutherans in Lund, Sweden on 31st October 2016. The Vatican issued a Stamp to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and which depicted Luther and Melanchthon. Moreover, the importance of the Laity is also central to the Orthodox world, where monks are technically laymen (and not ordained priests).
If the laity becomes a class of bureaucrats, what is the potential career path for an ordained priest? It may be a better choice not to become a member of the priesthood. The (in)famous Talleyrand was ordained in 1780 and became bishop of Autun in 1788. With the revolution he left the priesthood, married, and pursued a successful political and diplomatic career. Will the ordained be tempted to become laypersons to pursue their ambitions?