“An encouraging innovation to enrich the governance of the Church with a new method of consultation”. That was how Fr Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See press office, described the new Council of eight cardinals who represent the Church on the different continents, from Africa and Asia, Europe and Australia, North, Central and South America and finally one cardinal, Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governing body of Vatican City State. Together with the Italian bishop of Albano serving as secretary and Pope Francis himself, this small group will be working for the next three days behind the closed doors of the library inside the Apostolic Palace where most previous popes have lived. All of the cardinals are staying at the nearby Santa Marta guesthouse where Pope Francis has chosen to live and all of them will be travelling with the Holy Father on his pilgrimage to Assisi on Friday at the end of their meeting.
In the formal letter, Pope Francis makes clear he reserves the right to change the number of advisers in his new Council and to seek their advice individually, or as a group, whenever necessary. Fr Lombardi noted that, ahead of this week’s meeting, all the cardinals have already been hard at working, seeking input from bishops conferences in their particular parts of the globe and they’ve already had a couple of informal get-togethers to share ideas and suggestions ahead of the opening session on Tuesday morning. Fr Lombardi also read out the part of the papal letter which spells out the main tasks facing the newly instituted Council:
“ …a Council of Cardinals with the task of assisting me in the governance of the Universal church and drawing up a project for the revision of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus on the Roman Curia”
Reforming the Roman Curia and helping with the governance of the Church are clearly tasks that will take shape slowly over the coming months and years. Though there will be another press briefing on Wednesday at 1, after the first day and a half of talks, Fr Lombardi stressed we are unlikely to see any concluding documents or major decisions emerging from this first step of what aims to be a much less Roman and more widely representative way of governing of the Universal Church.