The Vatican

The new law of the Roman Curia. A first reading

Pope Francis has promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium on the Roman Curia and its service to the Church and the world. The document organizes, above all, the departments that assist the Pope in his mission of governing the universal Church and replaces the preceding Apostolic Constitution. Pastor bonus of St. John Paul II.

Jesús Miñambres-March 19, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes
new law Roman Curia

Photo: Meeting of the Council of Cardinals with the Pope in February 2022. ©CNS photo/Vatican Media

Translation of the article into Italian
Translation of the article into English

Dated March 19, 2022 and scheduled to take effect on June 5, the Feast of Pentecost, Pope Francis has promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium on the Roman Curia and its service to the Church and the world. The document organizes above all the departments that assist the Pope in his mission of governing the universal Church and replaces the previous 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 entrusts the results of the reform to the Holy Spirit, the true guide of the Church, and he counts on time and on the commitment and collaboration of all.

The 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, probably fed by the frequent attribution to the "Vatican" of what happens in Catholicism. The Pope is imprinting on the Church, already from the beginning of his pontificate, a synodal impulse that is also manifested in this norm, presented in the Proemium as the fruit of the life of communion that gives the Church the face of the synodalitythat is to say, that characterizes it as a listening Church. In this sense, the Church is always listening to her faithful, to her structures, but also to the voices that speak to her from outside, to the problems of the world, to the expectations of humanity. For this reason, the reform of the Curia is not the reform of the Church, but it helps to take steps towards a greater understanding of the communion and mission that the Church has received and is trying to fulfill in this era.

In this synodal proposal, of listening, the relationship in the Church between the primacy of the Roman Pontiff and the episcopal college (which is based on the one established between St. Peter and the apostolic college) plays an important role. This relationship is structured in some organisms such as the patriarchal churches or the episcopal conferences. Praedicate 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 the Pope and the Bishops.

On several occasions, in response to specific questions from journalists, the Pope has stated that the new law "will have nothing new in it compared to what we are seeing now". The reform process that seeks to facilitate a better service of the curial structures to the purposes for which they have been designed requires time and perseverance, it is one of those slow and persistent processes that redirect and direct the institutions. The Pope is persistent and tries to promote mental changes so that the Roman Curia allows itself to be squeezed by the mission of service; the same one that is squeezing the Pope. This mission of service becomes the North of the curial action and provokes a new part in the document, a series of "criteria" for the service, twelve, that precede the articles of the law.

When in 2013, the Pope entrusted today's Cardinal Krajevski with the body that manages the Pope's most immediate charity, the Elemosineria Apostolica, 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, 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 pastoral functions. Today, the departments of the Curia are now called Dicasteries, Organisms and Offices, and the Pontifical Councils have disappeared. The dicasteries and 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 in tune with the pulsating heart of Pope Francis, who had expressed in the Evangelii Gaudium of 2013: "I dream of a missionary option capable of transforming everything, so that customs, styles, schedules, language and every ecclesial structure become a suitable channel for evangelization" (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 has the function of dealing with questions related to the missions.Propaganda Fide-It also assumes responsibility for the fundamental questions of the evangelization of the world, becoming the spearhead of the Church "going forth" so dear to Pope Francis.

The Elemosineria Apostolica is transformed into a Dicastery for the service of charity and is placed in third place after evangelization and the doctrine of the faith, which assumes in its midst, although with autonomy, the Pontifical Commission for the Guardianship of Minors.

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

The competencies that were 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 organisms 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, which inherits the competencies of the current Secretariat for Communication.

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

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

From the group of bodies with economic functions disappears the traditional Apostolic Chamber, which had competencies in times of vacancy of the See: these 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 by the new Curia law with respect to what was still in force until June 5. There are many more. From this first reading, it seems that the law offers new perspectives, more dynamism. It thinks above all of what is to be done, without dwelling too much on what one is. And when it is a question of organizing an instrument of service, it is appropriate to think more about action than about being, since being is to do, to serve.

The authorJesús Miñambres

Dean of the Faculty of Canon Law of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. Rome.

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