A reformed Roman Curia and a new batch of cardinals

Strange as it sounds, there's word the new constitution is signed and the rings have been ordered

It is perhaps the most ambitious project of the current pontificate: attempting to truly reform the mentality and structures of the Catholic Church's central – and, up until Francis arrived, centralizing– bureaucracy known as the Roman Curia.

Exactly one month after his election in March 2013, the Argentine pope established the "Council of Cardinals".

Originally made up of eight and then nine senior churchman from different parts of the world, the members of this C-9 were given the task of helping Francis in his governance of the Universal Church.

They were also given the very specific project of drawing up a plan to reform the curia by revising the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus, which currently regulates this Vatican structure.

A draft of the new constitution was completed over a year ago, but the pope wanted to give national episcopal conferences, select heads of religious orders and certain theologians the opportunity to offer more suggestions.

Early in the year there was talk that the final document would be released on the Feast of the Chair of St Peter in February or, at latest, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul at the end of June.

Praedicate Evangelium has already been signed

But then the pandemic hit and the remnant of the C-9, now reduced to just six cardinal-members, cancelled its last three meetings.

So is the project on hold? Not according to a source at the Vatican who claimed the new constitution, Praedicate Evangelium, is done and Pope Francis has already signed it.

It appears the text is currently being carefully translated into the major languages. And once that is done, it will be officially published.

Naturally, this would be extremely out of the ordinary. The middle of Roman summer is not usually the time for launching major Vatican documents or important events. But this is not an ordinary pontificate.

No matter when the new text is unveiled, the ramifications will be manifold and likely historic.

One of the first and most visible of these will be a massive personnel shake-up.

It will take months and even years to implement the changes the new constitution mandates and Francis will have to find the people he can trust and who are on the some page as him to oversee the implementation of the constitution.

Heads will roll

The reformed Roman Curia will require new leadership, as more than two-dozen Rome-based cardinals are sent into retirement.

Pope Francis will name a new prefect at the Congregation for Bishops to replace Cardinal Marc Ouellet. The 76-year-old Ratzinger protégé has held this extremely important post the past ten years.

One of the consequences of the French-Canadian's retirement is that it will significantly diminish his candidacy in a future conclave.

In the post-Vatican II era, when it became normal for bishops to retire at or shortly after 75 years of age, all the men who have been elected pope were still in office at the time of the conclave.

Francis will also be replacing Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, 75, who has exceeded his five-year term as head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. John Paul II brought the then-rather inconspicuous Sarah to Rome in 2001 to be the No. 2 (archbishop-secretary) at Propaganda Fide.

Once Benedict XVI promoted him and gave him the red hat in 2010, the cardinal has increasingly become one of the Vatican's leading traditionalists and social conservatives.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, a 76-year-old Argentine who spent his whole ecclesiastical career in service of the Holy See, will be replaced at the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

A key figure in John Paul II's pontificate, he has been in his current job since 2007. But Sandri will be staying in Rome since he was recently elected vice-dean of the College of Cardinals.

The Congregation for Catholic Education will be getting a new prefect, too.

The present office-holder, Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, has already completed his quinquennium and will be 77 at the end of this month. After spending five years as a diocesan bishop in northern Italy, he came to the Vatican in 2011 during Benedict XVI's pontificate.

Pope Francis will also have to replace Cardinal Beniamino Stella, who has been prefect at the Congregation for the Clergy since the beginning of the pontificate.

A native of Italy's Veneto region, the life-long Vatican diplomat with extensive experience in Latin America, turns 79 in August.

The No. 2 official in Cardinal Stella's office, Archbishop Joel Mercier, is also likely to be replaced.

The Frenchman turned 75 at the beginning of the year, just a few days before completing his five-year term as the congregation's secretary.

The pope is expected to accept the resignation of the secretary at Congregation for the Causes of Saints, as well. Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci has been in that job a bit more than ten years. And the Assisi native recently turned 76 years of age.

There had been rumors that Francis was going to fill the No. 2 position at Saints with Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the personal secretary and housemate of Benedict XVI.

But that was before the pope relieved the German prelate, who turns 64 on July 30, from his day-to-day duties as prefect of the Papal Household.

It had something to do with Gänswein's role in Benedict co-authoring a controversial book against married priests with Cardinal Sarah…

Pope Francis will have to find new management for Vatican City State, as well.

The current "governor" is Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, a career papal diplomat who has been in the post since 2011 and is just three months shy of his 78th birthday.

And the secretary general (since 2013) is Archbishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, a 75-year-old Spaniard and Legionary of Christ. Both Bertello and Vérgez will be replaced.

Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, one of Benedict's oldest and staunchest Vatican allies, will be relieved of his duties, as well. A priest from Genoa in the mold of the late conservative Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, Piacenza is currently head of the Apostolic Penitentiary.

Francis put him there soon after becoming pope in 2013, removing the Italian from his post as prefect of the Congregation for Clergy just three years into a five-year term.

Other top officials that are 75 years of age or older, and who are going to be replaced or simply retired once the new constitution on the Roman Curia is published, include Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

The popular Italian scripture scholar, who moved from Milan in 2007 to take up this Vatican post, turns 77 in October.

And Cardinal Angelo Comastri, an Italian who became Archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica just a couple of months before John Paul II's death in 2005, will be 76 in September.

Bishop Brian Farrell, who has done outstanding work since 2002 as secretary at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is already 76 years old.

If Francis is thinking of totally revamping the Roman Curia, it is likely he will accept the Legionary of Christ's resignation.

And while the president of this pontifical council, Cardinal Kurt Koch, is only 70, the German-speaking Swiss prelate has been in this job since 2010. Look for him to be moved or given early retirement.

There are a couple of other cardinals who have already reached retirement age and whose future is not certain.

Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, Archpriest of Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major, just turned 75 on July 4. A priest from Krakow, he was brought to the Vatican in 1987 by the man who ordained him presbyter, John Paul II.

As part of the so-called "Polish Mafia", Rylko spent his entire Roman career at the now-defunct Pontifical Council for the Laity, eventually reigning as president from 2003-2016.

That's the office responsible for approving the new ecclesial movements John Paul so favored. It would be unusual for Francis to remove him from his largely ceremonial post at St. Mary Major, but -- again -- he is not your usual pope…

The other man in red who is already beyond retirement age is Cardinal Luis Ladaria, currently prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Spanish Jesuit turned 76 this past April, but he's been head of the "Holy Office" for only three years. Francis seems to trust him, but does he have enough confidence that Ladaria is the right man to implement the reform that the doctrinal office will be slated to undergo?

The fate of Archbishop Rino Fisichella is still unknown.

The 69-year-old Italian theologian has been president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization since 2010 when Benedict XVI created the office.

But Francis is shutting it down and folding its work into what is currently called the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (Propaganda Fide).

But the congregation is also going to be transformed and the pope has recently brought the 63-year-old Filipino Cardinal Luis Tagle to Rome to head up that new enterprise.

Five or six of the eight cardinals that make up the Council for the Economy are also expected to be replaced, namely because they are over 75 and already retired from their primary jobs as diocesan bishops.

They include Cardinals John Tong Hon, former Bishop of Hong Kong, soon to be 81;

Agostino Vallini, 80, former Vicar of Rome;

Wilfrid Napier OFM, 79, soon to retire as Archbishop of Durban;

Norberto Rivera Carrera, 78, former Archbishop of Mexico City;

Juan Luis Cipriani, 76, former Archbishop of Lima;

and Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard,75, former Archbishop of Bordeaux.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, 71, of Galveston-Houston, will likely remain on the Council for the Economy with its 66-year-old coordinator, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, 66, of Munich.

And, naturally, the Council of Cardinals – the body that has helped Francis draw up the curial reform – will also have to be replenished.

It's possible that some of them are not even cardinals yet. But that they could be getting the red hat sooner than anyone could have imagined.

The word is that the Vatican recently ordered 15 rings to be made for an upcoming consistory. Again, it would be highly unusual, especially at a time when even churchgoers have to respect social distancing and wear facemasks.

But there is no Church canon that says the red hat ceremonies must be the elaborate galas that they've turned into over the years.

Making new cardinals in a small, more sober setting, at a time one least expects?

Unusual, yes. But not beyond Pope Francis.

Follow me on Twitter @robinrome

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