The new Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia enters into force and gives solid form to innovations that have already been largely implemented. The Curia becomes a body which supports the Pope in his service to the universal Church.
Finish and start at the same time. Or rather: aim and restart. With the entry into force of the new Apostolic Constitution “The Gospel of the Praedicate” on June 5, the Solemnity of Pentecost, the road of reform that lasted almost a decade was completed. The journey that accompanies the pontificate of Pope Francis to this day and which began in the debates of the General Congregations before the 2013 conclave.
The reform is a consequence of the reform introduced by John Paul II (Pastor Bonus, 1988), which in turn is a consequence of the reform introduced by Paul VI. reform set in motion (Universi regimini Ecclesiae, 1967). The priority of evangelization and the important role of the laity – these are the main ideas that link the new Apostolic Constitution of Pope Francis with the Second Vatican Council.
First of all, a look at the distance traveled. The reforms began – more out of a legal necessity than a deliberate decision – with the economic and financial institutions of the Holy See. In 2014, Pope Francis established an Economic Council whose task was to oversee economic management and oversee the administrative and financial structures and activities of the Roman Curia Dicastery. At the same time, Francis established the Secretariat for Economic Affairs, which, as the controlling and managing body of the Roman Curia, is responsible for coordinating the economic and administrative affairs of the Holy See and the Vatican City State. Responsibility for personnel that previously rested with the Secretariat of State has now also been transferred to the Economic Secretariat. Also in 2014, the Pope commissioned the Auditor General to audit the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, institutions related to or referring to the Holy See, and the administration of the Vatican City Governorate.
The second step took place in 2015 with the creation of the Secretariat for Social Communication, later transformed into a Department for Social Communication and nine different bodies (from the Pontifical Council for Social Communication to various papers of the Holy See, from the Printing House to the Vatican Publishing Library). The new dicastery has been entrusted with the leadership of the secular prefect since 2018.
In 2016, the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life was established, combining the powers and functions of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family. The department is responsible for promoting the life and apostolate of lay people, youth ministry, the family and its mission, and the protection and promotion of human life.
Also in 2016, the Pope established the Department for the Service of Integral Human Development. It combines the tasks of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Pontifical Council Cor unum, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants and the Pontifical Council for Healthcare Workers. The department is also responsible for Caritas Internationalis.
In November 2017, the Pope also introduced changes to the Secretariat of State, which until now consisted of two departments: General Affairs (headed by the so-called Deputy) and Relations with States (headed by the so-called Secretary for Relations with States). ). Francis created a third department, the Holy See’s Diplomatic Staff Department, which strengthens the office of delegate for papal missions. The section, which reports to the Secretariat of State and has its own secretary, wants to show the Pope’s interest and closeness to the diplomatic staff. It only deals with the affairs of those working or preparing for the diplomatic service of the Holy See.
The next step took place in February 2022. Motu proprio Francis changed the internal structure of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, clearly separating doctrinal and disciplinary duties, establishing two different faculties and appointing each one a secretary. The Cardinal Prefect of the Dicastery will therefore have two alternates. The reform also aims to give due weight to doctrine and its fundamental role in promoting faith, without neglecting disciplinary action, after decades of effort and a workforce devoted to investigating fraud cases. By the way, neither of the two new secretaries has yet been appointed bishop.
This brings us to March 19, 2022: the publication of the new Constitution, which includes all the innovations outlined so far and introduces others to complete the reform. The most important change: the first Dicastery of the Curia is the Dicastery for Evangelization, which brings together the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. A choice that shows the fundamental concern of proclaiming the Gospel. The peculiarity is that the Pope himself is the prefect of this dicastery – he considers the key issue of evangelization. It is supported by two so-called pro-prefects (one for the Section of Fundamental Problems of Evangelization in the World, the other for the Section of the First Evangelization and Young Local Churches).
The second innovation concerns the merger of the former Congregation for Catholic Education and the former Pontifical Council for Culture in the new Dicastery for Culture. He will have one prefect. The third innovation of the Constitution is the transformation of the Office of Almsgiving, which was previously a simple office, into the third Dicastery of the Roman Curia, the “Dicastery for the Service of Mercy”. The fourth innovation is the new definition of an organ that does not belong to the Roman Curia: what was previously called the “General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops” is now simply called the “General Secretariat of the Synod”.
Another innovation of the Constitution is that the leaders of the dicasteries – including the old congregations – no longer have to be cardinals. The only two cardinals mentioned in the Gospel of Predicates are the Prefect of the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and the Coordinator of the Economic Council. The Pope also stipulated that nominations of clergy and religious to the Curia would be valid for five years, with the possibility of extension for a second five-year period, in order to improve mobility and exchange between Rome and local Churches.
Finally, there is an element of the new constitution which aims at the concrete life of local churches and their structures. Pope Francis recalls in the preamble to the Constitution that “every Christian by baptism is a missionary disciple because he has met God’s love in Jesus Christ.” Hence the inclusion of lay people and women in managerial and responsible positions. If “every believer” can preside over a dicastery or a curial organ “by virtue of his special powers, governing power and particular function,” it is because each organ of the Curia acts under the authority vested in him by the Pope.