Announcing that the Roman Curia will be transformed root-and-branch, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said that “Roman centralism” will come to an end. What Pope Francis’ eight Cardinal-Advisers discussed, said Lombardi, was “subsidiarity.”
Subsidiarity, a cornerstone of Catholic social doctrine for over a century, means that the functions of society, and of government in particular, should be carried out at the most local level possible. In recent years, it’s been used (some would say abused) by conservatives to argue against state welfare programs and regulatory policy.
That note, indeed, is struck in Catechism #1883:
Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”
Now, it seems, Pope Francis will be applying the idea to the church itself.
Under Pastor Bonus (The Good Shepherd), the 1998 Apostolic Constitution regulating the Curia, increased papal centralization became the order of the post-Vatican II day. Under a forthcoming Pastor Melior, the operative principle would appear to be that whatever can be handled at the local ecclesiastical level will be handled there.
What that means remains to be seen, of course. In the early church, bishops were chosen and saints were made by popular acclaim. Those days are, presumably, gone forever. But curial domination of the world-wide church is about to be dialed back in a major way.