Just one month into his pontificate, Pope Francis on Saturday gave the first tangible indication of forthcoming radical change by appointing a group of eight cardinals to help him govern the Catholic Church.
The eight are not due to meet as a group until next October, and their powers remain those of an advisory board, but this Vatican-style “privy council” still represents a significant move from the vertical to the horizontal, in terms of church governance.
Call for 'collegiality'
Throughout the "general congregations" which preceded the conclave that elected Francis last month, many cardinals expressed concern about the current nature of church administration, calling for a greater "collegiality" and more attention to the needs and priorities of local churches worldwide.
Many cardinals expressed alarm at the extent to which the Holy See, as evidenced by the Vatileaks and papal butler scandals, appeared to be consumed with careerism, rivalry, in-fighting and corruption.
The fact that there is only one curia cardinal – Italian Giuseppe Bertello, Governor of Vatican City State – on the eight-man panel would suggest that Francis has listened to this criticism.
Otherwise, the panel is made up of two cardinals from Latin America, one from North America, one from Australia, one from India, one from Germany and one from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This is perhaps the most significant move yet made by the new pope.
His easygoing manner, his decision to wash the feet of women and Muslims on Maundy Thursday and his choice not to move into the Apostolic Palace, preferring instead to live in the Domus Santa Marta, all indicate a radically different pontifical style.
This new group of cardinals, however, may represent something much more concrete. Men like Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston and Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich have played prominent roles in the church's response to the clerical sex abuse crisis.
Furthermore, the group will be co-ordinated by the Honduran cardinal, Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, the current head of the Catholic charity, Caritas. He is seen as very much on the same page as Pope Francis with regard to the need for “a church of the poor”, a church willing to shift the focus of its concerns from the developed north to the developing south.
Yesterday evening, Pope Francis completed his series of “homage” visits to the four great basilicas of Rome, saying Mass at St Paul Without the Walls.