As Curial reform is very much in the air, let us start from basics. Is this true?
"Most of the bishops, instead of being the strong characters presently needed, dynamic and active personalities, even if indeed pious and religious men are in effect at the same time mediocre, or even below mediocrity. Some are apathetic, timid, indolent or vain; others are conformists, bureaucrats or introverts; many are ignorant and clumsy administrators.
Sometimes the whole episcopate of a country looks like a bunch of cripples".Cardinals
"As for the cardinals, the senate of the Church and the electors of the pope, here the situation is even worse, particularly in the case of those attached to the Roman curia. The sacred college contains too many non-entities who have reached their rank by never asking awkward questions. The merit of many eminences is not their excellent pastoral experience or learning, but that of having staffed a Vatican desk for a very long time. Without any real knowledge of the world or the life of the universal Church, they are nevertheless automatically promoted and placed in executive jobs far above their modest talents."Italians
"Almost half of the cardinals and the great majority of the curial ones are Italians, as if the Holy Ghost had a distinct preference for the Italian nation.
This only aggravates the matter, for even if Italians may have many talents, they are certainly not noted for their organizational skills. For the universal Church, this is at the same time both an insult and an injustice. The few excellent foreign prelates present in the curia are examples of what the alternative might look like."These aren't my words, they weren't even written recently, neither are the the criticism of someone on an extreme of the Church but by Willem Marinus van Rossum, a Dutch Redemptorist Cardinal who was Prefect of “Propaganda Fide" with Benedict XV and Pius XI.
In fact His Eminence actually is pretty damning about mediocre Popes too! Read more here.
Van Rossum's solution is "Collegiality", which seems to be the solution that VII and Pope Francis put forward, and practically everyone else. It probably is the answer but then Collegiality also brings problems - "too many cooks spoiling the broth", springs to mind, especially if the cooks are not too competent. What the Franciscan Papacy will bring, if anything, is too early to tell. So far it has brought about a fair degree of confusion, organs like the Tablet, America and NCR seem to think that everything including doctrine is up for grabs. The German Bishops have reversed rulings by Rome over abortiofacients. Other Episcopal Conferences seem to see the new Papacy as a time for continue to do their own thing, to appoint their own men, to build up their nationally distinct churches.
A Papal transition has always been a time for the worse of clerical activities; score settling and jockeying for position, power grabbing, intimidation, factionalism and gossip. The worse excesses of this happened before Benedict's election, during JPII's long death. The continuation between him and his successor who knew an awful lot about the different types of filth and a great deal about the problems of various Episcopal Conferences meant that apart from the press and getting Cardinal Sodano out of the Secretary of States office and apartments the transition was reasonable smooth. Pope Francis on the other hand is a complete outsider, who will take months at least, if not years, to "learn the job", if he is actually interested in doing so, whereas Benedict had twenty years plus understudying JPII at the CDF.
As far as E&W is concerned Benedict seemed to have deep understanding of both the history of modern Catholicism here, as well as, so I am told, by those who have discussed it with him, an understanding of our present problems too. As a polyglot I understand he was a regular, if critical, Tablet reader. I can't imagine that Pope Francis is, or has bothered to find out more than he was told by Archbishop Nichols on his recent visit with our Bishops to the Holy See, which probably means we will be left to go our own sweet way. As with England and Wales, so with the US and so many parts of the world.
Allowing that to happen is probably the easiest option but strongly local or national Churches growing in independence of Rome have historically always ended up in schism. That is the story of the Reformation, of Jansenism, of the rise of the Old Catholics and as Pope Bergoglio is only too aware of Liberation theology. Whilst guarding against Ultramontanism and excessive centralisation a weakened Papacy will bring about weakened sense of unity, and therefore of the faith.
The great weakness of the Papacy is the Pope himself, as Van Rossum said it is a superhuman task, placed on the shoulders of a rather frail mediocre human being. A serious question is can it continue to exist in its present form.