The decision, announced by Francis today, to set up a sort of “privy council” composed of eight cardinals from all five continents, represents the first concrete step in response to the pre-Conclave congregation discussions. The announcement comes on the day that marks a month since Francis was elected to the papacy. The eight cardinals have been given an open-ended mandate and their tasks will include making proposals for the long-awaited Curia reform and helping the Pope govern the universal Church.
Theirs will not be a “commission”, just a work group with consultational powers. But it's an important sign as it shows that an attempt is being made to involve the group of cardinals, who – with the exception of the President of the Governorate, Giuseppe Bertello – are or were residential archbishops and held important roles in their respective bishops' conferences. Bertello was one of Bergoglio's big electors, he has extensive diplomatic experience, he was among the first to be received by the new Pope and he is one of the men tipped to gain leadership of the Secretariat of State. The other seven are the Archbishop Emeritus of Santiago de Chile, Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa; teh Archbishop of Bombay, Oswald Gracias; the Archbishop of Munich, Reinhard Marx; the Archbishop of Kinshasa, Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya; the Archbishop of Boston, Sean Patrick O'Malley; and the Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell. Finally, the second Latin American and workgroup coordinator, is the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga. The bishop of Albano, Marcello Semeraro, will be the group's secretary.
The work group will collaborate with Francis, “advise him on matetrs to do with the government of the universal church” and “prepare a project for the revision” of the apostolic constitution “Pastor Bonus”, which regulates the Curia's activities. Bergoglio's critics have already pointed out the peculiarity of this move given that a body to assist the Pope govern the Church already exists, in the form of the cardinals' consistory.
It has become clear throughout the years that the consistory – the gathering of all cardinals – is not particularly active because of the number of its members. The Church could have put together a work group made up of Curia cardinals. The Pope, who appears intent on developing a stronger direct relationship with the heads of the Curia dicasteries, has chosen seven prelates out of eight who do not serve Rome, for this “privy council”. The work group is a way to involve local Churches more directly and at the same time have a flexible consultational tool that can meet a number of times a year or be consulted easily on urgent questions if the Pope deems it necessary. Church historian Alberto Melloni had mentioned this proposal a number of times.
The creation of the work group suggests the reform of the Curia will begin as soon as possible as cardinals clearly saw it as a priority in the discussions held before the conclave.