Pope Francis’s reforms as seen by a priest in China
by Luo Wen

A priest in the Diocese of Mindong posts on his blog comments about the Apostolic Constitution “Praedicare Evangelium”.  The pope will head the new Dicastery for Evangelisation, which will help the Church in China. The priest is grateful to Benedict XVI whose humility made these changes possible.

Catholics in China are closely vetting the reform of the Roman Curia contained in the Apostolic Constitution Praedicare Evangelium promulgated last Saturday by Pope Francis. In his blog, Father Luo Wen, a priest in the diocese of Mindong (Fujian province), praises the pope’s courage to introduce changes, which will also help the Church in China. Translated by AsiaNews.

I have just read the article by Father Han Qingping, titled "Pope Francis announces the last Apostolic Constitution, vigorously renewing the Holy See’s entire structure”. On 19 March (St Joseph's Day), the pontiff promulgated the new apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium, whose text will be officially released by the Vatican Press Office on 21 March.

Father Han only cited five highlights already reported by various media outlets. Of these five points, I believe the first, second, third and fifth are important and valuable today.

The first point refers to the unification of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples (ex-Propaganda fide) with the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation, which become the Dicastery for Evangelisation. The Roman pontiff will directly lead it.

This decision points to the "simplification" of the Apostolic See. On the one hand, it underlines the usual importance of the mission of evangelisation; on the other, it centralises and distributes power more coherently.

Traditionally, the prefect of Propaganda Fide was known as the “Red Pope” or the “Half Pope” because he was responsible for the mission outside Europe, often even bigger than in Europe. Therefore, Propaganda Fide was often considered as an “independent brigade”.

Too much power inevitably leads to inconsistency between the policies of the Holy See and those of the Propaganda Fide in mission areas. This is evident in our suffering Diocese of Mindong. With the unified dicastery announced today, I believe this problem can be avoided.

The second point is the establishment of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity, the de facto promotion of the Office of Papal Charities, a decision that puts charitable service on the same level as missionary activity.

When Jesus brought together the apostles, he stressed the importance of charity work. He sent the apostles to preach the Gospel, and gave them the ability to heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons (cf. Mt 10: 8).

The Apostle James emphasised the same point: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? (James 2:14-16).

Although the Church has never neglected charity work in its 2,000 years, the creation of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity undoubtedly highlights the Church’s increased focus on this aspect.

According to the third point, lay people can now run a Holy See office or a dicastery. This includes two major breakthroughs and improvements.

Traditionally, the head of an office or dicastery had to be a bishop, usually an archbishop or cardinal. By associating leadership and service with the post of a high prelate, the talents of the laity were bound to the Church, which is precisely a limitation of the "clericalism" of the past.

Now lay believers can serve as heads of offices or dicasteries. Firstly, this breaks the limits of clericalism, favouring talented lay people who can serve the Church; secondly, it opens the door to women.

On the theological level, the Church has always refused to ordain women, but sometimes it has also denied them a role in its administration, which is not very reasonable. The pope’s decision breaks down the walls of clericalism and male domination. I think it is an opportunity for the Church to open up to everyone. It is truly a grace!

Fourth point. Priests and religious who serve in the Holy See will normally serve for a five-year term, renewable once. After that they must return to their own diocese or religious community. This will make the dicasteries of the Holy See extremely dynamic and flexible.

Under the old rules, as soon as they joined the curia, Holy See officials became “Roman” or “curial” for life. The downside is obvious. The Vatican has a small territory and positions are limited. What should be done with people who eventually show that they are not up to the job?

Unless they quit, they will occupy a post until their death or retirement. As new officials arrive, the entire bureaucracy will inevitably grow with established officials and their mediocrity remaining.

While I am pleased with Francis’s wisdom and audacity, at this moment I cannot but feel nostalgic about Benedict XVI. Honestly, I love his writings. He is a great contemporary theologian, but during his ministry, I was not so sure about him.

I viewed him as a good scholar rather than a leader heading the Church. Now I think the greatest gift he gave us was his example of humility. If he hadn't retired a few years ago, the reforms brought in by Pope Francis would not have occurred.

One, Benedict, is a very serious German, while the other, Francis, is a Jesuit from South America. South Americans are known for their openness, while Jesuits are famous for their boldness. The personalities of these two popes are very different.

Of course, many people miss Benedict XVI, and assume that he has criticised some of Francis’s decisions. Some have used Benedict’s comments to create obstacles for Pope Francis.

Over the years however, we have seen Benedict XVI fully uphold his declaration of voluntary abdication and dedicate himself to a life of monastic prayer without interfering.

When he retired, he surely expected his successor's ideas to be different, but once he left, he did not look back. This is why he never asks his successor to follow his own ideas; instead, he “kept all these things, reflecting on them in” his “heart” (Luke 2:19).