Reform of the Roman Curia: the revolution of Pope Francis

It was one of the major projects of Pope Francis, requested by the cardinals before his election, here he is now on the verge of taking a decisive step. The Vatican published the new constitution of the Curia on Saturday March 19. Sign of the importance of the text, the pope signed the constitution on the day when the Catholic Church celebrates Saint Joseph, who has a very special importance for him.

This new apostolic constitution “on the Curia and its service to the Church and to the world”, entitled “Praedicate Evangelium”, is due to come into force on June 5. Followed personally by Francis, with 250 articles, it will replace the current Constitution, Pastor Bonus, promulgated in June 1988 by John Paul II. But if the publication of this text, which has so far only been published by the Vatican in Italian, is an event, it is also because it profoundly changes the very conception of the role of the Curia. . Here are the main points of this fifth apostolic constitution since the birth of the Curia in 1588.

The reform of the Curia, the result of wide consultation

A Curia at the service of the universal Church

Currently conceived as a tool at the service of the pope, the Roman Curia is experiencing a very significant evolution in its definition. Praedicate Evangelium indeed defines, from its subtitle, the Roman Curia as an apparatus of government “at the service of the Church and the world”. “The Roman Curia is not situated between the pope and the bishops. It puts itself at the service of both, according to methods specific to the nature of each., can we read in the preamble. Throughout the text, it is specified that the work of the various dicasteries must benefit the bishops of the whole world, and not only the pope. A direct consequence of the “synodality”a working method dear to Pope Francis and omnipresent in the Constitution.

Episcopal conferences appear in Predicate Evangelium as full partners of the Roman See, and no longer just as structures over which Rome would have hierarchical authority. The expression episcopal conference is also used there 60 times. Also the text specifies that “documents of major importance” must now be “prepared taking into account the opinion of the episcopal conferences”. A major development.

What the constitution identifies as a “healthy decentralization” is allied to a strengthening of papal power. The expression “Roman Pontiff” is present 87 times, against 19 in the current constitution. The pope must henceforth approve a large part of the texts emanating from the organs of the Curia.

Evangelization as a guideline

“The reform is not an end in itself, but a means of giving a strong Christian witness, of favoring a more effective evangelization”, can we read from the first lines of the new constitution. The 250 articles make it clear that the goal of the Curia should not be to be an administrative apparatus, but to contribute to active evangelization.

It is in the name of this objective that Francis decided to create a Department for Evangelization, which will be presided over by the pope himself. He will be assisted by two pro-prefects, each placed at the head of a section of this new dicastery: one in charge of evangelization – heiress of the Pontifical Council for the promotion of the new evangelization –, and the other in charge of the administration of Catholics in the countries of the South, which today depends on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Another sign that evangelization is considered a fundamental axis of the work of the Roman Curia: this new department is presented as the first of the departments, at the very top of the organization chart of the Curia, where it replaces the Congregation for the doctrine of faith. A way of indicating that evangelism is more important than doctrine.

Lay people and limited mandates: a new way of defining responsibilities

For the very first time, such a text admits that it is quite possible for “all faithful”, man or woman, to be appointed prefect of a dicastery or an organism of the Curia. An appointment that must be decided by the pope, depending on “competence, governance power and function” of the chosen person. Here again, this is a very profound change, since today the overwhelming majority of Roman dicasteries are now presided over by priests, a large majority of whom are cardinals. Until then, the only lay prefect was Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the dicastery for communication, appointed in 2018. What was an exception therefore becomes the rule.

This decision is revealing of the conception of the role of the members of the Curia as they are depicted by this text. Also, the men and women who work there must be chosen for their skills, insists the text on several occasions.

Moreover, and as was already the case, the superiors of the Curia, like the prefects and the secretaries, are appointed for five years, renewable by decision of the pope. But, novelty, this deadline also applies to priests, men and women religious working in the dicasteries, and who will have to return to their dioceses or institutes once their mission has been accomplished.

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16 departments: a total overhaul of the organization chart

Praedicate Evangelium is marked by the desire of its author to considerably clarify the organization chart of the Curia. While in Pastor Bonus, John Paul II had 12 Pontifical Councils and 9 congregations, Francis eliminates the very notion of “congregations” and sets out 16 dicasteries, to which are nevertheless always added various thematic pontifical commissions.

Among these dicasteries, several are the result of the merger of pre-existing bodies, such as the dicastery for Culture and Education or that for Evangelization. The new constitution also enacts the reorganization of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (which becomes the “Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith”) into two sections, doctrinal and disciplinary.

A new dicastery of charity

In this text, the pope also records the creation of a brand new dicastery for the service of charity. This constitutes a de facto reinforcement of a pre-existing body: the apostolic chaplaincy. “The dicastery is competent to receive, seek and solicit free donations intended for works”can we read in the text.

This new service is “a particular expression of mercy and, starting from the option for the poor, the vulnerable and the excluded, it carries out works of assistance and help in their favor in any part of the world in the name of Roman pontiff who, in case of special need or other necessity, personally takes care of the help to be given. »

A strengthened fight against pedophilia

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, established in 2014 by the Pope, has seen its role considerably strengthened. The commission is also attached to the dicastery for the doctrine of the faith, which has the task of investigating the files of priests and religious accused of sexual violence on minors or vulnerable people.

According to the new constitution, the pontifical commission assists “the bishops”, “Bishops’ Conferences”, but also religious institutes in their fight against abuse. In particular, it must provide “an appropriate response to such behavior on the part of clergy and members of institutes of consecrated life and apostolic life, according to canonical norms and taking into account the requirements of civil law”. Until then, the commission mainly had an awareness-raising role, but its advisory role was not clearly established.

The role of the Secretariat of State redefined

The Secretariat of State is defined as the “papal secretariat”, in order to help him accomplish his mission. So Francis would like the Secretariat of State to concentrate in particular on the elaboration of the major texts of the magisterium, as well as the report of the pontificate. But it is also up to the Secretariat of State, from now on, to play a greater role in supporting work between the dicasteries.

Thus, it is she who must summon “the periodical meetings of the heads of the organisms of the Curia”. This dimension of transversality is very present in the Constitution. After having been relieved, in recent years, of the management of the budget, the Secretariat of State sees itself withdrawing the management of the personnel.

Finances under tight control

The pope confirms the tight control of the finances of the Curia by the Secretariat for the Economy. This service, which is not presented as a department but as a separate body, has the task of exercising “control and vigilance in administrative, economic and financial matters over curial institutions, offices and institutions linked to the Holy See or referring to it”including the denarius of Saint-Pierre.

Important novelty: it is the Secretariat for the Economy which will henceforth be in charge of the employees of the Curia, and no longer the Secretariat of State. It is within this department that a brand new “Directorate of Human Resources of the Holy See”. Another point to note: the organization that manages the real estate of the Holy See and their resources is now attached to the Vatican Bank. A direct consequence of the financial scandals of recent years.


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