These filing-cabinets were made by St Joseph the carpenter.
However, popes come and go, while the Curia endureth for ever. When a new pope is elected, he often arrives with new and exciting ideas about how the Catholic Church should be reformed. It is the duty of the Curia to make sure that God's business is carried on as usual, and nothing changes.
Cardinal Humphrey Appleby explains.
Says Cardinal Appleby, the Permanent Secretary to the College of Cardinals: "When Pope Francis came on the scene, he was full of new ideas that would have been disastrous to implement. For example, he wanted the Swiss Guard to invade the Falkland Islands, he wanted to introduce the tango as a compulsory part of the Mass, and he wanted the cardinals to dress like the Argentine football team. We dealt with these ideas by our standard method, saying 'Yes, Holy Father. What an interesting idea. We must set up a committee to look into these plans.' We also manage to divert the pope by giving him long documents in Latin to read: since he he failed his Latin Certificado General de Educación Secundaria we knew he would never get through them."
A group of cardinals poses in their proposed new vestments.
Of course, the Curia's blocking tactics are not always successful. When Pope John XXIII came up with his own modest wish-list of changes, the Permanent Secretary of the time, Cardinal Arnold Robinson, made the mistake of persuading him to convene the Second Vatican Council. For three years the politicians of the Catholic Church quarrelled with each other - during which time John himself left his Ministerial post, being promoted to a new position in Heaven - and it looked at first as though this time-wasting device would have the desired effect. Numerous reports and memoranda were produced - dignified by the name of constitutions, declarations and decrees - and in the end they were filed away unread, as intended. However, the Church still managed to change in bizarre ways unforeseen by Cardinal Robinson, who was forced to resign in disgrace.
"Yes, Holy Father." The Curia humours a new pope.
Cardinal Appleby continues: "The last two years have been very difficult for us. Normally I get to vet all papal speeches, to make sure that the Holy Father doesn't commit himself to any significant new policies. However, the present incumbent has become very adept at making off-the-cuff statements, usually in aeroplanes, causing severe embarrassment to us." Although this has not been publicly admitted, it seems that Cardinal Bernard Woolley, the Pope's Principal Private Secretary, is looking into the possibility of lacing Francis's in-flight gin and tonic with a powerful sleeping drug, so that he sleeps during flights, rather than re-inventing Catholicism.
"No new doctrine today, guys. Must... lie... down..."
Which brings us finally to the Extraordinary Synod of 2014, and the General Synod of 2015. This is part of Cardinal Appleby's high-risk strategy for blocking the pope's ideas for reform. Everyone - except, apparently Vincent Nichols - remembers those confusing votes which decided (or not) the statement to be issued by the Extraordinary Synod under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The crusading idealism of Cardinal Kasper came head-to-head with the more conventional orthodoxy of Cardinal Burke and his allies in the Resistance. Appleby himself is proposing that Cardinal Kasper be sent on a round-the-world fact-finding mission, from which he will probably never return.
"Listen very carefully, Cardinal Burke, I shall say this only once."
Still, Pope Francis remains unreformed, and all Catholics must pray that the Curia manages to keep him on-message. His predecessor, Pope Benedict, now in retirement, admits that he "never managed to get round Appleby," and perhaps in the end Francis will be similarly thwarted.