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Pope Francis releases document reforming Curial reform

March 21, 2022

On March 19, Pope Francis promulgated the Italian text of Praedicate Evangelium [Preach the Gospel], his long-awaited apostolic constitution restructuring the offices of the Roman Curia.

The new structure of Vatican leadership will underline the primary importance of evangelization in the mission of the Church, and the function of the Roman Curia as offices dedicated to helping local churches to serve that mission. Praedicate Evangelium calls for “transparency and coordinated action” among the agencies of the Holy See.

The apostolic constitution allows for lay Catholics to play a greater role in Vatican affairs, stipulating that “any member of the faithful can preside over” an office of the Roman Curia. That policy marks a major change from the existing system, which requires that every major Vatican congregation be headed by a ranking prelate. Praedicate Evangelium explains that governance in the Church—as opposed to sacramental ministry—does not require Holy Orders. (Many media reports on the new document said that Pope Francis had opened up Vatican leadership roles to women. But the new approach allows for lay men to serve in leadership roles as well.) This policy will allow lay Catholics to serve not only as heads of the various Vatican offices, but also as members of the dicasteries that set Church policies.

The new structure preserves the Secretariat of State as the most important Vatican office, coordinating the work of the Curia. The other major offices, now known as “congregations,” will be called “dicasteries” in the new scheme, and given equal status. The document streamlines the existing lines of authority, merging various existing offices into these dicasteries. Praedicate also creates a new top-level office, the Dicastery for the Service of Charity, to supervise the charitable works of the Holy See.

A 9-year process

Praedicate Evangelium represents the culmination of a 9-year process, beginning shortly after the election of Pope Francis, to reform the Roman Curia. In discussions before the papal conclave, the College of Cardinals had reached a consensus on the need for a reform, to address complaints about the bureaucratic approach of some Vatican offices, as well as more serious problems of careerism and corruption.

Pope Francis appointed a Council of Cardinals to advise him on the plans for reform, and the Council met 40 times to draft and refine the apostolic constitution. A final draft was completed in April 2019 and circulated among the world’s bishops for comments. As early as 2020, Vatican insiders had said that publication of the new document was imminent.

The apostolic constitution represents the fourth major curial reform since Pope Sixtus V gave structure to the Roman Curia in 1588. St. Pius X (1908), St. Paul VI (1967), and St. John Paul II (1988) previously made significant changes to the structure of the Curia.

The new dicasteries

The Dicastery for Evangelization takes a special prominence in the new organizational scheme—underlined by the fact that the Pope himself will serve as its head. This dicastery will combine the old Congregation for Evangelization with the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization.

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the other hand, will have a somewhat diminished role. While the existing Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has had the final say on all doctrinal statements, the dicastery will now be charged with collaborating with other Vatican offices and with local churches on questions of doctrine. This dicastery will have two sections: one handling doctrinal matters, the other disciplinary issues. The latter office will be charged with handling serious canonical matters, notably including sex-abuse cases.

Several existing congregations—the Congregations for Bishops, for Clergy, for Divine Worship, for the Causes of Saints, for Religious, and for the Eastern Churches—will retain their existing responsibilities, but will now be known as dicasteries. The Congregation for Education will absorb the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Council for Culture, and become the Dicastery for Culture and Education.

The three new dicasteries created by Pope Francis—for Integral Human Development; for Laity, Family, and Life; and for Communication—will also continue in their current form.

Finally, three offices that currently have the status of pontifical councils—for Christian Unity, for Inter-Religious Dialogue, and for Legislative Texts—will be raised to the status of dicasteries.

Personnel and policy

Another office established by Pope Francis, the Secretariat for the Economy, will continue to supervise the financial dealings of the Vatican. However this office, which has clashed frequently with the Secretariat of State, will see its powers still limited in that regard; the Secretariat of State has “exclusive competence” over matters that include diplomacy and international accords.

Praedicate also sets up a Commission for Reserved Matters to handle questions that involve state secrecy. This commission will be headed by the camerlengo—currently Cardinal Kevin Farrell—who to date has been responsible for administering the temporal affairs of the Holy See during a papal interregnum.

The apostolic constitution takes effect on June 5, and the practical effects of the new organizational scheme will be determined in large part by the leaders who are chosen to head the dicasteries. One important question, for example, will be the status of Cardinal Luis Tagle, the current prefect of the powerful Congregation for Evangelization, who will be replaced by Pope Francis as head of the new dicastery with that name.

Loose ends

As with many documents issued during the current pontificate, Praedicate is marred by a lack of attention to details. For instance:

  • Although the apostolic constitution was completed months ago, it is available only in Italian. An English translation is not yet available. Nor, more importantly, is a Latin version that will be the definitive form of the document.
  • The document says that lay people may take roles in Church governance, but the Code of Canon Law reserves the authority of governance to the ordained clergy, saying that lay people “can cooperate in the exercise of that same power.” Of course the Pope, as the supreme legislator of the Church, can amend canon law to resolve that apparent contradiction. But no such amendment has yet been suggested.
  • The document says that the Dicastery for Divine Worship is responsible for (among other things) “the regulation and discipline of the sacred liturgy as regards the extraordinary form of the Roman rite.” But in Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis insisted that there is only one form of the Roman rite. At a March 21 press conference introducing the apostolic constitution, Bishop Marco Mellino explained that the document had been completed before Traditionis Custodes was released, and in the eight months since that papal document appeared, no one had updated the text of the apostolic constitution.

 


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  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Mar. 22, 2022 2:49 PM ET USA

    The exaltation Vatican Sec of State by Pope Francis magnifies the mistake Paul VI made removing the Holy Office as the Supreme Congregation. Cardinal Ottaviani pointed out the change was a dark day for the Church. The reason the HO was supreme because the principle of governance of the Pope was revealed truth. He feared the new governing-principle would be political-diplomatic and great damage would come on the Church. Pope Francis “demotes” the HO, aka SCDF further. The damage is manifest.