New Vatican constitution will resist centralization in Rome: Drafter

Cardinal Oswald Gracias


Inés San Martín

Rome, April 15, 2019: It took 29 meetings, but the pope’s “C-9” council of cardinal advisers, which is now functionally more akin to a “C-6”, has a new constitution for the Vatican in the form of a draft presentable to all the bishops’ conferences around the world, the heads of the various departments of the Holy See, theologians and canonists.

According to a principal drafter of that document, one core aim, reflecting the electoral mandate given Pope Francis six years ago, is to combat centralization of power in Rome.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias from Bombay, India, a member of the council, was responsible for drafting parts of Praedicate evangelium, which will now be reviewed by bishops around the world who have to send their thoughts in late May, before the council’s next meeting in June.

Gracias spoke with Crux last week at the end of a meeting of the prelates, and he said fighting “centralization” was a principal goal of the drafters. The issue was discussed by the cardinals who elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio to succeed Benedict XVI, “so Francis was elected on a mandate to do this,” Gracias said.

Gracias also discussed his plans for a Pan-Asian Synod, and why he thinks Francis is still “enthusiastic” for his job.

Speaking about the Church’s fight against clerical sexual abuse, he delivered strong support for “zero tolerance,” saying that parents have the right to know their children are safe in any Church-ran facility.

RELATED: India cardinal mounts strong defense of ‘zero tolerance’ on abuse

Gracias spoke to Crux in Santa Marta, the residence where Francis has lived since the beginning of his pontificate. What follows are excerpts of Gracias’s conversation with Crux.

Crux: One of the major tasks of the council of cardinals was to re-write the Vatican’s apostolic constitution. The draft is finally done. What can you tell us about it?

Gracias: We have been working on the refounding of the curia. We went dicastery by dicastery, each one of us had a section. I had the judicial section of the Holy See, interreligious dialogue and Oriental Churches. I met with the heads of each of these dicasteries, discussed the changes. We also had our own approach, we call it “the Francis touch.”

One of the things was that we didn’t want centralization in the curia, something that had come out during the pre-conclave talks, so Francis was elected on a mandate to do this. And we also tried to make sure that the curia is at the service of the Holy Father and at the service of the bishops. We consistently tried to do that. This requires a change of mentality. Another thing we thought about is the role of the bishops’ conferences in the Church.

I already met with a group of theologians twice to examine the question of collegiality, bishops’ conferences. It’s a very limited change, but it’s a breakthrough.

When it comes to the dicasteries, the Holy Father has already created the one on Integral Human Development, the one for Laity, Family and Life, one for Communications and Economy at the beginning.

The document is now in the hands of the dicasteries, the bishops’ conferences, the oriental churches and some pontifical universities. We asked for them to send their responses by the end of May, so during the next meeting we’ll go through those.

Did you send the document in Italian, or was it translated?

We had the document in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish, but we made a few technical changes on Tuesday, so everything got delayed a day or so.

You mentioned that each one of you had a section to write, but for the past few meetings, the C9 became a C6 with Cardinals George Pell, Francisco Errazuriz and Laurent Monswengo all being out. Who wrote their parts?

We all offered our resignations to the Holy Father, ready to pack our bags, but he accepted the resignation of three. Their work was done by the time they left.

You’re organizing a pan-Asian bishops’ conference in the spirit of Latin America’s Aparecida. What can you tell us about it?

I’ve been thinking about it for a while, after one of the synods, when the Latin American bishops kept talking about Aparecida. So I asked some of them who are my friends, like Cardinals Claudio Hummes and Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga. I thought, “they’re far ahead from us.”

So the first thing I did was read the documents, sat with several of them again, and once I understood what it was, I spoke about it with the Holy Father, and he asked me to put the idea in writing, which I did and he green-lighted it.

Then, I had to speak to my own colleagues in Asia, and as president of the Asian bishops’ conference, I put it in the agenda, and they said yes. But I don’t think they knew what they were saying yes to! But well, we’ve appointed a committee, and the work has begun.

We had the first few preliminary meetings with theologians. The concept would be to make a master plan for Asia: what is the Church’s role in Asia for a better Asia. The Church is very self-conscious for the fact that in most of Asia it’s a small minority. Some 40 years ago we chose “dialogue” as our theme: dialogue with other cultures, religions, with nature. Let’s see if we should change our focus.

First, the theologian group is preparing a base document, and the next step is of each of the four regions to have a preparatory meeting to discuss our role as a conference, that of the bishops, the priests and the laity. We have not done this in years, so we targeted November 2020 to have a three-week meeting of some 200 bishops in Bangkok.

When Aparecida happened, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI was there. Do you think Francis will want to go too?

I wouldn’t be surprised, because he likes the idea and he likes to visit Asia. I hope that if everything goes well and his program allows it, he’ll come. The invitation has been issued, and the government of Thailand already invited the Holy Father. Everything is in place, so there’s a very good chance.

You’ve worked closely with the pope since the beginning of his pontificate. How does he seem to you? Is he tired, still strong?

I have sympathy for him, and I like to help him. I know he’s the target of much criticism, but something that’s very clear to me from the inside, much of the criticism is unfair, and sometimes, he’s being blamed for things he’s had nothing to do with or for which he doesn’t even know he’s being blamed for.

But he’s enthusiastic still, knows work still needs to be done. And he’s never said this, but I sense he feels that the Lord has put him here to do a task, and when He thinks Francis is done, God will take him away.

People always say these are challenging times, perhaps the most. But ten years ago, people were saying the same, and ten years from now, people will say that those are the most challenging times. I think that at the end of the day, my fear is that it cannot be distracted and hijacked from its mission: spreading the Gospel. Administrative matters cannot make us forget about what we are called to do.

There are those who believe the pope talks too much about migrants and not enough about God. Do you agree?

He has spoken a lot about migrants, he’s upset about that. But I think he sees that as putting the gospel back in the center.

(Crux)

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