Francis centralizes in himself all the Vatican properties

With two documents in a few days, Pope Francis centralizes in himself all the Vatican properties and demands a rent from the cardinals. At the same time, in doctrinal and moral matters, he is pushing for "devolution". Exactly the opposite of what the Magisterium has always demanded: subsidiarity must apply to society and politics, but not to the Church.

Two recent speeches of Francis invite us to reflect on the principle of subsidiarity proper to the Social Doctrine of the Church and how it is understood in the Vatican administration in relation to its opposite, centralization.

Last February 20, with the motu proprio "Original Law" Francis established that the goods of the entities and institutions belonging to the Holy See are not to be understood as the private property of these institutions (and therefore managed as such), but as the property of the Holy See. The reason is indicated by the superiority of the principle of the universal destination of goods over that of private property, as attested by the Social Doctrine of the Church. While property in the hands of the various ecclesiastical entities of the Holy See would be based on the primacy of private property, its concentration in the hands of the Holy See would guarantee the primacy of the universal destination of goods.

In recent days, moreover, a new Papal Rescript has been made public, which the Pope endorsed on February 13 in an audience granted to the Secretary for the Economy, Caballero Ledo, in which it is established that the Vatican apartments will be ceded to the cardinals by the proprietary entities upon payment of a rent under market conditions, that is, at "the same prices applicable to those who do not hold office in the Holy See" and any exception will have to be decided by the Pope himself.

These measures are in addition to two others which, although from different spheres, seem to confirm the Pope's current "centralizing" tendency: the reduction of the competence of the bishops to authorize Mass in the ancient rite and the new organizational configuration of the diocese of Rome. What is striking is the contrast of these dispositions with what is happening in the doctrinal area of faith and morals, where the synodal process seems rather to take competencies away from the center to grant them to the periphery, to the point of calling into question the very nature of the Church and its hierarchy of functions.

But let us return to the principle of subsidiarity: the Pope does not seem to want to respect it in certain organizational and economic areas, while he seems determined to apply it in areas of greater relevance to the profound nature of the Church. One wonders: but shouldn't things be going in the opposite direction?

Distinguished canonists in the past have made it clear that the principle of subsidiarity, which since paragraph 80 of Quadragesimo anno (1931) the Church has applied to society and politics, is not applicable to the Church herself, understood in her mystery and profound reality instituted by Christ and animated by the Spirit. The universal Church has primacy over the various articulations of the local Church and of individual Christians. While in civil society the family and the intermediate social and territorial bodies come first, and then comes the central political power, in the Church the opposite is true: it is not the Christians who make the Church, but it is the Church that makes the Christians. It is not the branches that make the vine, joining together, but it is the vine that makes the branches. It is not we who have chosen Christ, but Christ who has chosen us. In contrast to this vision, and in deference to a perhaps ill-conceived principle of subsidiarity, there are plans today to delegate competencies proper to the universal Church and the Supreme Pontiff to continental, national or diocesan synods, to confer tasks of doctrinal definition to episcopal conferences, and in the future to associate with the bishop a permanent synod composed of priests and laity with decision-making tasks. The principle of subsidiarity is intended to change the structure of the Church from "monarchical" to "democratic".

At the same time, the principle of subsidiarity is not applied in ordinary, administrative and economic management, where it could be done, since the Vatican also has its own needs. In these areas, the Social Doctrine of the Church has never looked favorably on centralization. The latest decisions taken by Francis in this regard may have reasons that are unknown to us. For example, they may be due to having to face a difficult economic or financial situation, although they do not seem to be decisive on this front: how can the income from renting apartments to cardinals contribute to this disproportionate purpose? But what is certain is that, at least, it is not necessary to understand private property in the hands of ecclesiastical entities belonging to the Holy See as subsidiary to the universal destination of goods, which would only be guaranteed by the ownership of goods in the hands of the Holy See. The two principles of ownership and universal destination are on the same plane and it is not correct to consider the first subordinate to the second. I am aware that some paragraphs of the social encyclicals can be interpreted in this sense, but others complete the picture by affirming that God has given goods to all to be worked for and not simply used promiscuously. And the concept of work inevitably evokes property, without which no good is a resource.