Maike Hickson

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Cardinals kept in dark about Pope Francis’ plans to put evangelization ahead of doctrine

Maike Hickson Maike Hickson Follow Maike

April 29, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – In the recent days, reports have come out about the soon-to-be-published Vatican document that will specify the curial reform that aims at emphasizing evangelization over doctrine as it has been planned for years by Pope Francis and his Council of Nine Cardinals (but now consisting of six cardinals). As LifeSiteNews was able to find out, the Pope has now sent a draft of his document to national bishops' conferences, some superiors of religious orders, and to certain experts, but not to all of his own cardinals who are properly called upon to help him in governing the Catholic Church.

Crux and other English media outlets had reported over Easter that, according to a Spanish article in the weekly Vida Nueva, there now exists a draft document circulating – called Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel) – which plans to restructure the Roman Curia. The Vida Nueva report is based also on interviews with two members of Francis' C9 Council, Cardinals Oscar Maradiaga and Oswald Gracias, thus giving it much credibility.

In the new draft-document, it is foreseen that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the former Holy Office that was always either the first or the second most important section in the hierarchy of the Vatican, right after the Holy Father – would be, as it were, “downgraded” (in the words of papal biographer Austen Ivereigh) and superseded by a new dicastery for Evangelization.

Ivereigh commented in his own report on the curial matter, saying: “The 'downgrading' of the CDF in the new constitution reflects the new role that has developed for the congregation over the past six years: no longer a policeman ensuring 'orthodoxy,' under its new prefect, Cardinal Ladaria, its doctrine section has instead offered theological reflection on the pope’s teaching and a resource for commissions such as the one exploring women deacons.”

Cardinal Maradiaga is quoted by Crux as saying: “Pope Francis always underlines that the Church is missionary. For this reason, it’s logical that we put in the first place the dicastery for Evangelization and not the one for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Also, the role of the Roman Curia as a whole will be revised. As Crux writes: “Once the text is approved – which will be on a 25-year “trial period” – the Vatican dicasteries will no longer be instruments for the pope to supervise local churches, but will actually be there to serve bishops from around the world. They will no longer be a 'body' in between the pontiff and the college of bishops, but an institution that serves both.”

Such changes would indeed be revolutionary. 

This piece of news has made many informed Catholics raise their eyebrows, inasmuch as it is feared that Pope Francis' own ideas of the Church's new mission – away from doctrine and and in favor of social topics such as immigration and various dialogues with other religions – will replace the CDF's major mission to help preserve the uniqueness of the Catholic Faith whole and entire, as passed down to us from Apostolic times, and as further deepened by Sacred Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. Many ask how one could really separate Evangelization from Doctrine. 

As one Catholic commented on Twitter with a wink of irony: “Evangelization meaning of course more emphasis on environmentalism, immigration and UN development goals. Less emphasis in doctrine meaning of course more attacks on Church Tradition.”

Several sources who spoke to LifeSiteNews with a request for anonymity about these planned reforms – which also include the idea that the Roman Curia will turn into a body serving the local bishops and being on an equal hierarchical level with them – are very troubled by these plans. They ask whether this reform will also further weaken the Church's unified doctrinal teaching and whether it will further lead to a decentralization conducive to a doctrinal and moral “anarchy.” Others look at possible effects upon the world's episcopacy and fear for a further weakening of the local bishops' independence, and thus wonder how new bishops will be chosen.

“This could turn out to be something very grave,” one source in Rome told LifeSiteNews.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former CDF prefect, told LifeSiteNews that the cardinals themselves – the highest in rank in the Catholic Church and called to advise the Pope and collaborate with him in the governance of the Church – have not even received a copy of the draft document so that they may then comment on it and make proposals for any possible correction.

LifeSiteNews reached out to Mr. Alessandro Gisotti – the interim director of the Holy See Press Office – asking for confirmation of this information. The Holy See Press Office responded and said: “We received your email. We suggest you to read the press release on the Briefing of the 'ad interim' Director of the Holy See Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, on the 28th Meeting of the Council of Cardinals with the Holy Father Francis, 20.02.2019 where you can find the list of who would have received the “Praedicate Evangelium.'” The attached link gives the following confirmatory information:

“The members of the Council of Cardinals indicated how to proceed with the consultation of the draft that the Holy Father, in the name of synodality, intends to promote. It was decided that the national Episcopal Conferences, the Synods of the Oriental Churches, the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Conferences of the major superiors and some Pontifical Universities will be consulted.”

As can be seen here, except for the cardinals who are heading up the dicasteries in the Vatican (and those who are in the Council of Nine Cardinals) most of the more than 220 cardinals of the Catholic Church are being excluded from proper counseling of the Pope in the matter of a major reform of the Roman Curia.

Yet, the cardinals' very mission is to assist the Pope in governing the Church – also by way of dialogue.

For years, Pope Francis seems to avoid their counsel as a group, since he has avoided for quite a while a meeting (called extraordinary consistory) with the College of Cardinals on the occasion of elevating new prelates to the cardinalate. The two times he did meet with the College of Cardinals were in 2014 – when they discussed Cardinal Walter Kasper's proposal to admit “remarried” divorcees to Holy Communion – and then again in 2015.

It remains to be seen if Pope Francis will send to the cardinals for their counsel the draft-document of his curial reform. It would be important that his cardinals be included in a reform that could lead to a sort of inversion of the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church, as it has been established over time and, most fundamentally, going back to Apostolic times.

There is still time. As it is reported, the current plan is to promulgate Praedicate Evangelium on June 29, 2019, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. As CNA reports, there are speculations that Pope Francis might, just before 29 June, convoke an extraordinary consistory on the curial reform, the first time since 2015. For such a possible meeting, the cardinals will also need to have the draft-document ahead of time.

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.