Indian cardinal says Curia reform will have ‘Francis effect’

By Inés San Martín
July 06, 2019

In a file photo, Pope Francis walks next to Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias as he leaves the morning session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 9, 2014.
Photo by Paul Haring

ROME - Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, India, is one of Pope Francis’s closest advisers. He’s a member of the council of cardinals re-writing the Vatican’s constitution, and he was also tapped to be one of the four coordinators of a recent Church summit on the protection of minors.

Gracias told Crux said that the reorganization of the Roman Curia - the central government of the Catholic Church - will have a “Francis effect,” and have evangelization, service and charity as its three key pillars.

Crux spoke with Gracias on July 3 about the Vatican’s new constitution, a possible papal visit to India, and other issues. What follows are excerpts of that conversation.

Crux: You were in Rome last week for the meeting of the council of cardinals that advises the pope, and now you’re back. What brought you to the Eternal City this time?

Gracias: Several things, meetings … I’m participating in the anglophone meeting for the protection of minors that brings together English-speaking bishops from around the world. I also had a meeting at the Secretariat of State to follow up on the February meeting [the summit on sexual abuse.]

The pope recently issued two motu proprios that are connected to that meeting, which focused on the protection of minors. When will we see the next follow-up to that meeting?

We’ve had a few meetings already, and I hope that by the end of the year we’re going to have formalized our contributions. Some changes in canon law might still follow, and we also want to put more flesh on the pope’s motu proprio.

There’s one area in the protection of minors that is to make sure that the perpetrators don’t do it again. But there’s also the promotion of good practices to create safe environments, through the training of priests, laity, family - prevention. And that is something that we need to take care of. There are a lot of challenges still, but a lot is being done.

The new constitution is clearly no longer coming out “before the summer.” What is its new due date?

It was wishful thinking to think that it would come out in June. The draft is ready, but we asked for feedback from all over the world and the Curia. And there have been a lot of comments that we haven’t been able to see yet. But there’s a group working on it, and tomorrow I will have a Skype conference to follow up. But my hope is that either by September - or December at the latest - the constitution will be public.

Is it true that there are some sections that are still being written, like the role of the spokesperson or that of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors?

The draft is ready; but some issues have come up, and we’re reviewing them. Like the whole question of how much should these be linked to the Curia or be more independent. For instance, the spokesperson. Is it that they are the spokesman for the pope, or the Curia? Because one is more concrete, the other gives them more access.

What will be some of the new elements of the constitution, Praedicate Evangelium?

One key element is that the Curia has to be at the service of the pope but also the bishops’ conferences. The Curia is appointed by the pope, but it has to help everyone.

It will eventually require changes in canon law, because the Curia has always been at the service of the pope, but now it will be at the service of the pope and other bishops, of the universal Church. This is a major change.

Another major change is that we have given episcopal conferences a central place, even if there’s still some doubts about what their juridical validity is. But they are effective and a present situation in the world, so there’s a section on them.

Synodality and collegiality have also come out, but the principal things are being at the service of the pope and the bishops.

What does it mean that the Curia will be at the service of the bishops’ conferences?

This is Pope Francis’s idea that we want to be at the service for bishops’ conferences to know that the Curia serves, is accompanying them, helping them. The Curia is doing tremendous work, dioceses wouldn’t work without them. The mentality is changing, but it has to be strengthened by the law. Once upon a time, you could only reach the Curia when you came every five years, now it’s easier, with phones, emails, etc.

And also, preaching the Gospel. It’s is the central element of the Church, so the first priority is going to be preaching the Gospel. Then the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and then the social service of the Church, reaching out to those in the peripheries.

We hope that the office of the papal almoner will become a dicastery. The message is to focus on evangelization, service, charity. These are the “Francis effects” in the Curia.

Some of the proposals of the constitution will require changes in canon law. Will you go through the canon afterwards?

In some cases we will have to, because you can’t have the constitution contradicting canon law.

Shouldn’t that have been done before?

That’s too cumbersome. But the Holy Father can simply say, we’re changing these Codes, and it will have to be done. It’s taking a lot of time, but this will be done. One of the reasons we took a lot of time is because before we began drafting, we met with all the dicasteries. I thought there wouldn’t be so much feedback seeing that we consulted with them before, but it seems people kept thinking about it!

Changing gears. Is the pope going to India?

We hope so. He wants to go. I’ve also been negotiating with the government, because since the pope is a head of state, he needs the invitation from the government. Now that the election is done, we have to talk about when he might come and where. Before the elections, the prime minister told me it was possible, but that the right slot of time had to be found.

A lot of people seeing India from outside fear that the fact that the government was reelected means there’s going to be an increase in radicalization, with a growth of hatred towards religious minorities. Are you afraid for the Christian community?

I would not say I’m afraid, no. Ultimately, it’s our government, and we have to work with it. My only hesitation, anxiety, is that there’s no opposition practically for the government, and this is not good for any country. You need the checks and balances, and the Church is only 2 percent, and obviously, we can’t be that opposition.

We are in touch with the government, and hopefully we will be able to work together. It’s a Hindu-majority country, and we have to accept that.

But everyone should be safe, no matter their religion?

Yes, this is true. And the government also has to be inclusive. And I hope for that.

On July 1, a court ruled that the police had to stop investigating the claim that you had covered up a case of abuse, saying that you’d done what you had to do. Did you, at any time, think the result could be different? That there was more you could have done?

We’re absolutely certain that we did what we should have done. Even in the previous judgement, the judge said that there was no allegation over the way it was handled for over five years, and that suddenly they were reaching out. But there’s sufficient documentary evidence: I met with the survivor in the afternoon, and left for the airport shortly thereafter, telling my auxiliary to go to the police, which he did the very next day. I worry about the image that the Church might have, of having covered up; and absolutely not.

What has been the impact of the February meeting in India?

I think that the bishops are conscious of their responsibility, and we’ve had national guidelines for some years now, even if we don’t have enough personnel in every diocese to address these issues when they arise. For this reason, I’m working on having some dioceses share their resources when it comes to this, have a commission that can work for more than one. We haven’t had many cases, but we know that there are, without a doubt. The Church is bleeding with this in every country.

There’s always more to be done, but the Church had a set of guidelines even before the government did in India, even if Rome took some time to approve those guidelines!

Is there any update on the declaration of martyrdom of the victims of Kandamal, perhaps the worst anti-Christian pogrom of the early 21st century, with over 100 people killed in a matter of days, and some 50,000 people finding refuge in a nearby forest?

I offered to help with my own experts from Bombay, to take the first steps, but I confess that I’m not fully up to date. I spoke with people in the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, because there’s no doubt in my mind that they are martyrs, but some here in Rome and in India are conscious that the time has to be right because of the local situation, but we should at least begin the process, have it ready.

I’ve spoken with the victims, relatives, wives and survivors, and I think that there wouldn’t be doubt, from what they said, that they are martyrs. Thank you for reminding me that we need to move this along.

Anything else?

Keep India in your prayers. We have a lot to offer the world, and the Church.


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