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Vatican seeks to temper expectations of big reform

Published on -5/1/2013, 3:40 PM

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VATICAN CITY (AP) -- A top Vatican official sought Tuesday to temper expectations of an imminent reform of the Holy See's dysfunctional bureaucracy, even though Pope Francis has made clear it's a key priority.

Monsignor Angelo Becciu, under-secretary of the Vatican secretariat of state, said it was "absolutely premature to put forward any hypothesis" about the reform and that Francis was still in a "listening" and discerning phase.

Cardinals who elected Francis pope in March insisted that fixing the Curia, as the Vatican bureaucracy is known, was a top concern. They want the Vatican, which is known for its slow pace and aloof attitude, to be more efficient and responsive to the needs of church leaders in the field.

Leaks of papal documents last year exposed the Curia as a dysfunctional Italian family business full of petty turf battles, political intrigues and corrupt business practices.

In his first major act as pope, Francis on April 13 named eight cardinals from around the globe to advise him on running the church and carrying out the reform, which includes a rewriting of the main Vatican legislation outlining the work of the various Vatican departments and offices. They aren't due to meet until October, though Francis is in touch with them.

The appointment of the "Group of Eight," as the cardinals have been dubbed, was a major initiative that showed that Francis was responding both to the calls for reform and for a greater voice in Vatican decision-making from church leaders on the ground.

Becciu acknowledged in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that Francis' decision to appoint the advisers was enormously significant.

"Let's not forget that their primary job is to help the pontiff govern the universal church," Becciu said. "I don't want the curiosity over the Roman Curia to put in second place the profoundness of the pope's gesture."

Becciu also quashed speculation about an imminent reform or even closure of the Vatican bank, which has long been a source of scandal for the Holy See. Italian prosecutors opened an investigation in 2010 into a routine Vatican bank transaction that violated Italy's anti-money laundering laws, but they haven't charged the two officials placed under investigation and returned the 23 million euros ($33 million) initially seized.

Amid all the talk about Vatican reform, the Institute for Religious Works -- the official name of the Vatican bank -- has become a primary target for calls for reform, particularly in the Italian media.

Francis last week mentioned the IOR for the first time in public during a morning Mass celebrated for bank employees. His comments were read as a slight criticism of the IOR when he said that the church loses its essential nature of love when it becomes overly bureaucratic or like an NGO. Then remembering that bank employees were in the pews, Francis joked that "offices are necessary, OK. But they're only necessary up to a point."

Becciu stressed that Francis wasn't making any specific reference to the IOR much less any suggestion that it would be overhauled or closed.

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