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Permanent commissions of cardinals established in Rome for handling the business of the Church. The competence of the various congregations is determined by their administrative responsibilities, although there is not in the Roman Curia a real distinction between legislation and administration. They came into existence as the work of the Apostolic Chancery grew in complexity and the Pope needed stable brances of government immediately subject to his jurisdiction. The first such commission with permanent character was the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition, set up by Pope Paul III in 1542.
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.