The year 2021 may see a reshuffle as profound as it is strategic within the Roman Curia: At the end of February, six cardinal prefects of congregations have reached the age limit of 75 years, fixed by canon law, and evoked by the Pope himself.
An unusual statement from the Holy See press room, published on February 19, 2021, struck a chord at the top of the Roman Curia.
It revealed that the Sovereign Pontiff had just accepted the resignations, for age reasons, of two high prelates: that of Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and that of Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Archpriest of the Vatican basilica and President of the Fabric of St. Peter.
In the eyes of the Vaticanists, this should be seen as the signal to kick off a broader restructuring of the Curia.
In fact, six other prefects of congregations—the equivalent of ministries—have reached the age of canonical retirement and have already presented their resignations to the successor of Peter. For them to take effect, they must be “accepted by the Pope, who will decide by evaluating existing circumstances,” as explained in the motu proprio “Learn to take leave,” promulgated in 2018.
Here are the names of the porporati who are expected to leave their posts soon:
1) Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches;
2) Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America;
3) Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy;
4) Giuseppe Versaldi, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Gregorian University;
5) Luis Ladaria Ferrer, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith;
6) Mauro Piacenza, major penitentiary;
To this list are added two other cardinals who are not prefects of congregations:
7) Giuseppe Bertello, President of the Pontifical Commission for the State of Vatican City and President of the Governorate of Vatican City State: a key position in the management of the property of the Holy See;
8) Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture and of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology.
For the record, according to the current Constitution Pastor Bonus, there are nine Roman congregations.
The legal basis for the new structures created under the pontificate of Pope Francis, such as the Secretariat for the Economy, the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, and that of Communication at the present time is a motu proprio.
Indicative of the tightened mode of governance which is proper to him, the Argentine pontiff is in the habit of governing by decree. While Benedict XVI promulgated 13 motu proprio in a little over seven years, John Paul II signed 30 in almost 26 years. Francis, however, has signed 41 in just eight years.
A definitive and more stable form of Church government is expected to emerge with the future Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium, still under development to this day.
The reshuffle that is looming at the top of the Church should be an opportunity for Pope Francis to imprint his mark on a Curia with which he has had contrasting relations with since the beginning of his pontificate.