Pope promulgates Curia reform, emphasizing missionary nature of Church

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is seen in the Vatican in this 2020 file photo. On March 19, 2022, Pope Francis signed into law the long-awaited constitution reorganizing the Roman Curia. (CNS photo/Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters)

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Nine years after taking office, Pope Francis has promulgated his constitution reforming the Roman Curia, a project he launched with his International College of Cardinals shortly after taking office in 2013.

“Praedicate Evangelium” (“Preach the Gospel”), which was published only in Italian by the Vatican on March 19, will come into effect on June 5, the feast of Pentecost.

Merging some congregations and pontifical councils and elevating the status of others — particularly the charitable office of the papal chaplain — Pope Francis said he hoped the constitution would ensure Vatican offices fulfill their mission by helping to promote the church as a community of missionaries. disciples, sharing the Gospel and caring for all in need.

Part of that effort, he wrote, requires including more lay people in leadership positions in the Curia.

“This new apostolic constitution proposes to better harmonize the current exercise of the service of the Curia with the path of evangelization that the Church is living, especially in this season,” the pope writes in the document.

To emphasize the importance of the missionary nature of the Church, in the new constitution, Pope Francis clarified that he is the prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization; he will be assisted by a “pro-prefect” for “the fundamental questions concerning evangelization in the world” and by a “pro-prefect” for “the first evangelization and the new particular churches”, those previously supported by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Likewise, until 1968, popes were prefects of what became the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“Pastor Bonus” began his description of the responsibility of the doctrinal congregation by saying, “The proper duty of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard doctrine on faith and morals throughout the Catholic world. ; therefore, he has jurisdiction in matters that affect this matter in any way.

The new constitution begins its description by saying: “The task of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is to assist the Roman Pontiff and the bishop-eparchies in the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world, promoting and safeguarding the integrity of Catholic doctrine. on faith and morals, drawing from the deposit of faith and also seeking to understand it ever more deeply in the face of new questions”.

The new constitution removes previous distinctions between “congregations” and “pontifical councils,” labeling them all simply as “dicasteries.”

In addition to creating the Dicastery for the Service of Charity in place of the chaplaincy, the constitution merges the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization into the new Dicastery for Evangelization , and merges the Congregation for the Catholic Church for Education and the Pontifical Council for Culture into the new Dicastery for Culture and Education.

“Praedicate Evangelium” supersedes the 1988 constitution of Saint John Paul II, “Pastor Bonus”, but, unlike it, does not reserve the leadership of certain offices only to cardinals and bishops, although the individual statutes of these offices can make such a specification.

However, Pope Francis wrote in the document that offices that have “their own statutes and laws will observe them only insofar as they do not oppose the present apostolic constitution and will propose their adaptation for the approval of the pontiff. Roman as soon as possible. ”

Insisting that every Christian is “a missionary disciple,” according to the constitution, the curial reform was also to “provide for the involvement of lay people and women, including in roles of governance and leadership.”

The participation of the laity “is indispensable, because they cooperate for the good of the whole Church and, because of their family life, their knowledge of social realities and their faith which leads them to discover the ways of God in the world, they can make valuable contributions, especially in the promotion of the family and respect for the values ​​of life and of creation, the Gospel as leaven of temporal realities and the discernment of the signs of the times”.

Describing the staffing of the offices, the constitution stated that the leadership, “as far as possible, shall come from the different parts of the world so that the Roman curia may reflect the universality of the church.”

They may be clergy, religious or laity “distinguished by appropriate experience, knowledge confirmed by appropriate qualifications, virtue and prudence. They must be chosen according to objective and transparent criteria and have a sufficient number of years of experience in pastoral activities.

Pope Francis described the reform of the Curia as part of the Church’s “missionary conversion”, a movement of renewal aimed at making it reflect more “the image of Christ’s own mission of love”.

He also linked it to the ongoing process of promoting “synodalism,” a sense of shared responsibility of all baptized Catholics for the life and mission of the Church.

True communion among all Catholics, he said, “gives the Church the face of synodality; a church, that is to say of mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn: the faithful people, the College of Bishops (and) the Bishop of Rome listening to the other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, spirit of truth.”

Responding to one of the main concerns expressed by bishops around the world in the past, the constitution stated: “The Roman Curia does not stand between the pope and the bishops, but rather places itself at the service of the two in one manner which is peculiar to the nature of each one.

Pope Francis wrote that in reorganizing the Curia, he wanted to promote a “healthy decentralization” that would at the same time foster “co-responsibility” and communion with bishops and among Vatican offices.

The curia, he said, should support individual bishops in their mission as pastors as well as the work of episcopal conferences and synods of Eastern Catholic bishops.

Because “the face of Christ” is reflected in the faces of his disciples, the document specifies, the members of the Roman Curia must “distinguish themselves by their spiritual life, their good pastoral experience, their sobriety of life and their love of the poor. , their spirit of communion and service, competence in the matters entrusted to them and the ability to discern the signs of the times.

In the organization of the Roman Curia, the Secretariat of State retains its directing and coordinating position, but the new Dicastery for Evangelization is placed above the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The description of the organization of the doctrinal dicastery includes the changes announced by Pope Francis in February, creating separate doctrinal and disciplinary sections, reflecting the growing importance of the office which investigates allegations of clerical sexual abuse and abuse of office by bishops or religious superiors.

The constitution places the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors “within the Dicastery” and specifies that “its task is to provide the Roman Pontiff with advice and consultation and to propose the most appropriate initiatives for the protection of minors and persons vulnerable.

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston, chairman of the commission and member of the Council of Cardinals who drafted the constitution, said: “For the first time, Pope Francis has made the safeguarding and protection of minors a fundamental part of the central government structure of the Church.

“Linking the commission more closely to the work of the new Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith represents a significant step forward in revaluing the place and mandate of the commission, which can only lead to a stronger culture of safeguarding throughout the Curia and throughout the church,” he said in a March 19 statement.

Martha J. Finley