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The new law of the Roman Curia: a first reading

Pope Francis has promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Prædicate Evangelium on the Roman Curia and its service to the Church and the world. The document is mainly about organizing the departments that assist the Pope in his mission of governing the universal Church; it replaces the preceding Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus of St John Paul II.

Jesús Miñambres·8 de septiembre de 2022·Tiempo de lectura: 5 minutos
new law Roman Curia

Original Text of the article in Spanish here

Dated March 19, 2022 and scheduled to go into effect on June 5, the feast of Pentecost: Pope Francis has promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Prædicate Evangelium on the Roman Curia and its service to the Church and the world. The document is mainly about organizing the departments that assist the Pope in his mission of governance of the universal Church. It replaces the preceding Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus of St John Paul II (1988).

In general, the reform of the Curia is not an end but a means, to be better witnesses to the Gospel, to foster a more effective evangelization, to promote a profound ecumenical spirit, to encourage a productive dialogue with everyone (cf. n. 12). For this reason, the Pope has entrusted the results of the reform to the Holy Spirit, the true guide of the Church, and counts on time and on the commitment and collaboration of all.

Any reading of the new law on the Roman Curia should avoid the error of confusing the reform of the Curia with a reform of the Church, an error perhaps encouraged by the frequent use of the phrase “the Vatican” to refer to what is happening anywhere in Catholicism. From the very beginning of his pontificate, the Pope has been imprinting on the Church a synodal style that can also be seen in this law, which is presented in the Preface as the fruit of the life of communion that gives the Church a synodal “face”; that is, that characterizes her as a listening Church. In this sense, the Church always listens to her faithful and to her institutions—but she also listens to the voices that speak to her from outside, to the problems of the world, to the hopes of humanity. For this reason, although the reform of the Curia is not a reform of the Church, it does help to move towards a greater understanding of the communion and mission that the Church has received and is trying to fulfill in this historical period.

In this synodal proposal—to listen—an important role is played by the relationship that exists in the Church between the primacy of the Roman Pontiff and the episcopal college (based on the relationship established between St Peter and the apostolic college). This relationship is structured on certain bodies, such as patriarchal churches or episcopal conferences. Prædicate Evangelium underlines the fact that the service of the Curia to the Roman Pontiff also puts it in contact with and at the service of the College of Bishops, so that it is not “between” the Pope and the bishops, but at the service of both the Pope and the bishops.

On several occasions, in response to questions from journalists, the Pope declared that the new law “will have nothing new in it, different from what can be seen now.” The reform process, which seeks to make it easier for the curial structures to serve better the purposes for which they were designed, requires time and perseverance: it is one of those slow and ongoing processes needed to redirect and guide institutions. The Pope is persistently trying to promote a change of mentality, so that the Roman Curia allows itself to be consumed by its mission of service; the same one that is consuming the Pope. It is this mission of service that constitutes the polestar of the Curia’s activity and is the reason behind a separate section of the document, a series of twelve “criteria” for service that precede the articles of the law itself.

In 2013, when the Pope entrusted the now-Cardinal Krajevski with the Office of Papal Charities, the body that manages the Pope’s most direct charitable activities, he told him: “Now my arms are short, if we lengthen them with yours I will succeed in touching the poor of Rome and Italy; I cannot go out, but you can.” The Roman Curia acts as the eyes and arms of the Pope in his mission of unity and care of the Catholic Church. Since the 16th century it has been organized in a manner analogous to the way a state government is organized, with its ministries (or dicasteries) and a multiplicity of agencies that fulfill the pastoral functions. From now on, the departments of the Curia will be called Dicasteries, Organisms or Offices; the Pontifical Councils have disappeared. The dicasteries and the organisms, together with the Secretariat of State, are called “institutions” (art. 12).

Already from the title of the Apostolic Constitution, the new Roman Curia is outlined in harmony with the pulsating heart of Pope Francis, as he expressed it in Evangelii Gaudium of 2013: “I dream of a ‘missionary option’… capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world” (n. 27).

The first institution dealt with by the law is the Dicastery for Evangelization, presided over directly by the Roman Pontiff (art. 34), which takes upon itself the function of dealing with questions related to the missions—Propaganda Fide—and also assumes competence over the fundamental questions of the evangelization of the world, becoming the spearhead of the Church “going forth” so dear to Pope Francis.

The Office of Papal Charities is transformed into a Dicastery for the Service of Charity and is placed in third place after Evangelization and the Doctrine of the Faith; the latter includes within it—although it has its own autonomy—the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

In describing the competence of the Dicastery for Bishops in the matter of appointments, express reference is made to the need to receive the opinion of members of the People of God of the dioceses concerned (art. 105).

The competencies previously divided between two bodies, one for culture and the other for Catholic education, are unified in a single Dicastery for Culture and Education, although articulated in two different sections.

Several Pontifical Councils are transformed into dicasteries with substantially identical competencies to those they already had, although important modifications are made in some cases: for example, the Dicastery for Legislative Texts acquires a greater competence for the promotion of canon law and its study.

The bodies created in recent years are confirmed: the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, born in 2017, the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, created in 2018. A Dicastery for Communication is added, inheriting the competencies of the current Secretariat for Communication.

The group of institutions that judge on behalf of the Pope is brought together under the title of “Organisms of Justice”, although neither the name nor the competencies change: the Penitentiary, the Signatura and the Roman Rota.

The profiles of the dicasteries and bodies dealing with the internal economy of the Holy See, which have been the object of the Pope’s attention since the beginning of the pontificate, are substantially confirmed: the Council for the Economy, the Secretariat for the Economy, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See and the Office of the Revisor General, to which are added a Commission for Reserved Matters and a Committee for Investments, which were set up in the last reorganization of economic affairs in the Curia, with the disappearance of the Administrative Office that previously existed in the Secretariat of State.

The traditional Camera Apostolica, which had competencies in times of vacancy of the Holy See, disappears from the group of bodies with economic functions: its competencies are now attributed to a new Office of the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church (art. 235-237).

These are the main changes brought about by the new law of the Curia with respect to what was still in force until June 5; there are many more. From this first reading, the law seems to offer new perspectives and more dynamism; it focuses more on what is to be done, without dwelling too much on what the offices are. And when it is a question of organizing an instrument of service, it is appropriate to think more about action than about being, since to be is to do, to serve.

El autorJesús Miñambres

Decano de la Facultad de Derecho Canónico de la Pontificia Universidad de la Santa Cruz. Roma.

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