The priority of evangelization and the role of the laity are the primary ideas that connect the new Apostolic Constitution governing the Roman Curia with the Second Vatican Council.
The Apostolic Constitution Praedicate evangelium, which will govern the Roman Curia, was published on Saturday, 19 March. The new Apostolic Constitution has been in effect since yesterday, Sunday, June 5, and replaces the previous one by John Paul II, “Pastor Bonus” promulgated in 1988. In turn, Pope Wojtyla had replaced with this the previous apostolic constitution “Universi regimini Eccleasiae”, promulgated by Paul VI in 1967.
The text puts into a systematic form the path of reform that originated in the discussions prior to the 2013 conclave, and which have already largely been implemented over the last nine years.
It must be remembered that the new constitution comes at the end of a process almost totally already implemented during Francis’ pontificate. In fact, “Praedicate Evangelium” institutionalizes changes that for the most part have already taken place.
ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL REFORMS
The first of these was the establishment in 2014 of the Council for the Economy, with the task of overseeing economic management and supervising the administrative and financial structures and activities of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia. The Council for the Economy is composed of fifteen members, eight of whom are chosen from among cardinals and bishops to reflect the universality of the Church, and seven are experts of various nationalities with financial expertise and recognized professionalism. The Council has its own office to coordinate activities.
At the same time, Francis established the Secretariat for the Economy, which is the Dicastery of the Roman Curia entrusted with the coordination of the economic and administrative affairs of the Holy See and Vatican City State. It is a controlling and guiding body that oversees all the activities of the Roman Curia and approves the budgets of the individual dicasteries. Taking into account what is established by the Council for the Economy, the Secretariat for the Economy is responsible for the economic control and supervision of the Entities of the Holy See and Vatican City State and for the implementation of policies and procedures relating to purchases and the appropriate allocation of human resources.
The Secretariat for the Economy will now also be transferred competence over personnel, which until now was the responsibility of the Secretariat of State.
I recall some innovations in financial matters introduced by the “Praedicate Evangelium”, such as the fact that financial transactions in investments must go through the IOR or that the same investments, if over 500 thousand euros, must be approved by the Secretariat for the Economy (with the pandemic the threshold was lowered to 100 thousand euros).
And a mention should also be made of the nature and mission of the Commission for Confidential Matters, established in September 2020 as required by the so-called “Code for Procurement”, a new legislation that regulates all purchases and aprovisioning and services that serve the Holy See. A necessary clarification because the very name “reserved matters” could instill doubt that there are secret funds or financial actions that escape scrutiny. “No, there is no secrecy about the economy”, explained father Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, prefect of the SPE. “Transparency” remains one of the guiding principles, but “in cases of security of the state, of the Pope or to preserve other Church assets, it is necessary that some activity or contract is subject to the control of the competent bodies and the Commission’s authorization is sought”.
Pope Francis, also in 2014, entrusted the Auditor General with the task of carrying out the review (audit) of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Institutions linked to or referring to the Holy See and the Administrations of the Governorate of Vatican City State. With the issuance of the new Statute on January 21, 2019, Pope Francis indicated the functions and competencies of the Office of the Auditor General. In addition to carrying out autonomous and independent audits of all the Entities of the Holy See and Vatican City State, the Office of the Auditor General fulfills the role of Anti-Corruption Authority under the Mérida Convention.
A second important step came in 2015, of the Secretariat for Communication, later to become the Dicastery for Communication, which merged as many as 9 different entities (from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications to the different media outputs of the Holy See, from the printing press to the Vatican Publishing Library).
The new Dicastery, headed from 2015 to 2018 by a priest, was then entrusted to a lay prefect. The unification of so many realities has allowed significant savings (in the order of several millions) and a reduction in personnel (by about 70, people who retired and were not replaced), but it has produced a multiplication of the offer, which has grown: today the Vatican media write and broadcast in 51 languages (including two sign languages) with journalists coming from 69 different countries of the world. The new Vatican News portal, composed of 35 language portals, totals millions of views, and Vatican Radio, thanks to agreements with a thousand radio stations around the world, reaches every part of the globe. The dicastery for communication provides broadcast-quality images of papal ceremonies and speeches to all broadcasters around the world.
Another step in the reform of the curia was the establishment in 2016 of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, which unified the competencies and functions that had belonged to the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family. The Dicastery is competent in those matters pertaining to the Apostolic See for the promotion of the life and apostolate of the lay faithful, for the pastoral care of youth, the family and its mission, according to God’s plan, and for the protection and support of human life. In relation to these issues, the Dicastery promotes and organizes international conferences and other initiatives that consider both the ecclesial and broader societal spheres.
Also in 2016, the Pope established The Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development. The competencies of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (for the Pastoral Care of Health) were merged into it. The Dicastery is competent with regard to Caritas Internationalis.
In November 2017, the Pope also made changes in the Secretariat of State, which until then consisted of two Sections, the General Affairs Section (headed by the Substitute) and the Relations with States Section (headed by the Secretary for Relations with States). Francis in fact established a third section. with the name Section for the Holy See’s Diplomatic Staff, strengthening the current office of the Delegate for Papal Representations.
The Section, which reports to the Secretary of State, with a Secretary of his own, is intended to demonstrate the attention and closeness of the Pope to the diplomatic staff. It deals with exclusively with matters pertaining to persons working in or preparing for the Holy See’s diplomatic service – such as selection, initial and ongoing training, living and service conditions, advancement, leave, etc.
A further step occurred last February. Pope Francis modified with a Motu proprio the internal structure of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by clearly separating, with the establishment of two distinct sections, the doctrinal and disciplinary competencies, and assigning a secretary to each. The cardinal prefect of the Dicastery will thus have two deputies. The purpose of the reform is to give due importance also to the doctrinal section and its fundamental role in promoting the faith, without letting disciplinary activity go by the wayside, after decades in which much effort and human resources have been expended in examining cases of abuse. In this way, with its own secretary, each section will have more strength and more autonomy. The Pope then appointed the two new secretaries, replacing the one archbishop secretary, who was transferred to lead the diocese of Reggio Emilia. Neither of the two new secretaries was appointed bishop.
REFORMS THAT WILL BE IMPLEMENTED IN THE COMING WEEKS
This brings us to the latest news, namely that part of the reform of the Roman Curia that the new Apostolic Constitution establishes and which had not yet been put into practice.
The most important novelty is the fact that now the first dicastery of the Curia is the one for evangelization that unifies the old congregation of Propaganda Fide and the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. The peculiarity is that the prefect of this dicastery becomes the Pope himself, who considers the issue of evangelization crucial. Concretely, the dicastery will be governed by two pro-prefects (one for the section for Fundamental Issues in World Evangelization; and one for the section for First Evangelization and New Particular Churches).
The second novelty concerns the unification in the new Dicastery of Culture of the old Congregation for Catholic Education and the old Pontifical Council for Culture. It will have a single prefect.
A third novelty of the Constitution is the transformation of the Apostolic Elemosinery, until now a simple Office, which now becomes the third Dicastery of the Roman Curia called “Dicastery for the Service of Charity”.
A fourth novelty is the definition by which a body that is not part of the Roman Curia is referred to: what until now was called the “General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops” now becomes simply the “General Secretariat of the Synod”, because in the current synodal process – and in future ones – it is intended to involve the whole Church.
A fifth novelty of the Constitution is the “disappearance” of cardinals in the leadership of curial institutions. Whereas in the previous constitution, Pastor Bonus, there were supposed to be cardinals at the head of the congregations, this is no longer the case. Not even the Secretary of State is said to have to be a cardinal. So the number of curial red hats is destined to decrease over time, and the election of the new pope will increasingly be entrusted to cardinals who in the world lead a diocese. The only 3 cardinals mentioned in the “Praedicate Evangelium” are the Camerlengo, the Prefect of the tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and the coordinator of the Council for the Economy.
Some final but important considerations:
“Praedicate Evangelium” is a document that deepens and makes effective the guidelines of the Second Vatican Council, which had as its original aim precisely the answer to the great question of how to proclaim the Gospel in a time of change that would ultimately prove to be – as Pope Francis often stresses – a change of era.
The unification into a single dicastery, led directly by the Pope, of the ancient and highly-structured Congregation Propaganda Fide (also known as the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples) and the relatively-new Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation indicates the priority given to evangelization expressed in the document right from the title.
How can we bear witness to the beauty of the Christian faith to the new generations that do not speak or understand the old languages? How can we ensure that the yeast of the Gospel returns to leaven the dough both of societies that were once Christian and of those that do not yet know Jesus Christ?
The Church that engages in dialogue in order to evangelize has been the leitmotif of recent pontificates, and now this aspect is also being further emphasized in the structure of the Roman Curia.
The Curia is not an organism that acts in its own name, a “power” of government over the local Churches, but rather a structure at the service of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, which acts in his name, on his instructions, exercising a “vicarious” power with regard to that of the Vicar of Christ.
Another significant element of the new constitution is the development of a desire expressed in the conciliar texts regarding the role of the laity.
Pope Francis recalls in the Preamble that “The Pope, the bishops and other ordained ministers are not the only evangelizers in the Church… Every Christian, by virtue of Baptism, is a missionary disciple to the extent that he or she has encountered God’s love in Christ Jesus.” Hence the involvement of laymen and laywomen in the roles of governance and responsibility. If “any member of the faithful” can preside over a Dicastery or a curial body, “given their particular competence, power of governance, and particular function”, it is because every institution of the Curia acts in virtue of the power entrusted to it by the Pope.
This passage, which is already being acted on, is rooted in the conciliar theology of the laity. The affirmation contained in the new Apostolic Constitution makes it clear that a prefect or a secretary of a Dicastery who happens to be a bishop does not have authority as such, but only insofar as they exercise the authority conferred on them by the Bishop of Rome.
And this authority, within the Roman Curia, is the same whether it is received by a bishop, a priest, a religious, or a layman or a laywoman. This removes the specification contained in Article 7 of the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus – the previous structural reform of the Roman Curia, carried out during the pontificate of St John Paul II – which states that “matters requiring the exercise of the power of governance be reserved to those in holy orders”.
In this way, what was established by the Council is fully realized and has already been incorporated into canon law, which recognizes that, by virtue of baptism, “there exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality regarding dignity and action”.
Obviously, explained Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a Jesuit canonist who will be created cardinal in the next consistory, “it does not make sense to think as head of a dicastery for bishops or for the clergy or for the Doctrine of the Faith a layman or a laywoman. But certainly the presence of laity at the dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life or the dicastery for Integral Development or for Interreligious Dialogue could be judged the opportunity. Because the mentality is that at the head of a dicastery there should be a competent person”.
Finally, Pope Francis is keen to counter the careerist mentality, which is why he has stipulated that appointments for priests and religious in the Roman Curia last five years, renewable for another five, and then they return to their dioceses or religious institutes.