Will the reforms of Pope Francis survive his own pontificate? The summer of 2016 brought much activity on the curial reform front, with the Holy Father changing course on the two most important files. Whether that is a strategic advance or represents a setback remains to be seen.

Governance of the Roman Curia is no small matter. In his recently released interview book, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI confesses that it was a weakness of his, grave enough that it was among the factors which provoked his abdication.

On the two files in question – financial reform and sexual abuse – there is a contrast between the approaches of Benedict and Francis. The former favoured a step-by-step approach that proceeded with a working consensus. The latter favours sweeping initiatives, deliberately kept secret until announced, without the relevant parties being consulted.

Benedict’s approach had the disadvantage of being slower and less far-reaching; Francis’s approach advances quickly but without securing a firm foundation. The relative merits of the two approaches will determine the success of the reform agenda that figured so prominently in the abdication and conclave of 2013.

On July 4, Pope Francis signed I beni temporali, the motu proprio which removed authority over most financial administration from the Secretariat for the Economy (SPE) and returned it to the department where it formerly belonged, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (Apsa). The SPE continues to exercise an oversight role.

To review the history, in February 2014, with Fidelis dispensator et prudens, issued motu proprio, the Holy Father established the Secretariat for the Economy, giving it wide powers over all financial matters, previously exercised by the Secretariat of State and Apsa. In July 2014, another motu proprio, Conferma una tradizione, transferred the ordinary activities of Apsa to the new economic secretariat. In February 2015, control over real estate holdings, which had been given to the SPE the previous year, were returned to Apsa. Now, with the latest shift of July 2016, asset management, procurement and administrative services such as IT go back to Apsa.

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