Kurt Vorndran makes a very interesting suggestion in the comments section of a dotCommonweal blog post on reforming the Curia:
…service in the Curia should be recognized as a diaconal ministry (which is what it is) and that those serving there be in the office of deacon, save a few who entered other offices because of pastoral duties prior to their curial service. It would change the dynamics of the way the Curia relates with local bishops when the curial official no longer is a bishop, archbishop or cardinal himself, but a deacon in the Pope’s service.
Or, I might rephrase, “a deacon in the service of the Bishop of Rome.”
Still extremely clerical (what about laypeople?), but a very interesting suggestion. Diaconal is the adjectival form of deacon, and both come from the Greek word diakonia meaning service. Although we perceive the three clerical states of bishop/priest/deacon as hierarchical, I was surprised to learn in my studies that the relationship is not bishop:priest :: priest:deacon. Rather, deacons have a direct relationship to the bishop, even though they are often generally assigned to a parish and perform their diaconal ministry there, effectively as an assistant to the priests, which is where (and how) most Catholics see them.
If the Curia were re-ordered as a diaconal ministry, then those who aspire to institutional service would have a different career path than those who aspire to pastoral service as priest or bishop. This could be a very good thing.
There really isn’t an ecclesiological grounding for the Curia; I’ve heard it suggested that where Vatican I treated the papacy, and Vatican II treated the college (and office) of bishops, Vatican III should treat the Curia, and clarify its relationship to the universal church, the bishop of Rome, and the bishops: individual bishops, national/regional conferences of bishops, and the college of bishops as a whole.
I’d like to see the Curia re-imagined as something similar to the institutional infrastructure that each local church (diocese) has (or should have), that aids the bishop in pastoring, teaching, and governing the local church. And maybe these local institutional structures could be revitalized as well, emphasizing the inclusion of lay experts and leadership as appropriate (as per the vision set out on the Vatican 2 documents) at all levels. Such a model would place the Curia more clearly as a structure that serves the Bishop of Rome, and through him, the universal church.
This would reflect an ecclesiology that emphasizes the Pope as bishop of Rome and thereby the head of the college of bishops. And, as one traditional title for the Pope is “Servant of the Servants of God”, it is through his service to the universal church that the Curia would exercise its service.