Is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Undergoing a General Overhaul?

NEWS ANALYSIS: Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, who had served as secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 2017, as bishop of the Diocese of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla, Italy. Archbishop Morandi’s exit leaves the choice open regarding his successor as No. 2 in the congregation.

Pope Francis meets with diplomats accredited to the Holy See at the Vatican’s Hall of Blessings on Jan. 10.
Pope Francis meets with diplomats accredited to the Holy See at the Vatican’s Hall of Blessings on Jan. 10. (photo: National Catholic Register / Vatican Media)

On Jan. 10, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, who had served as secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 2017, as bishop of the Diocese of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla, Italy.

The move has given rise to various speculations about why the Pope made this decision. However, more than an ideological choice, Pope Francis’ decision should be framed in the context of a generational change in the congregation, in view of the eventual finalization of the reform of the Curia.

According to various speculations, Archbishop Morandi’s transfer was due to his stance against the restrictive application of the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, which effectively nullifies the liberalization granted to the celebration of Mass according to the ancient rite. Other speculations underline that Archbishop Morandi was the author of the document, approved by the Pope, which stressed that priests could not bless homosexual unions. The paper was a responsum, a response from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made public because many questions on the subject had reached the congregation.

However, sources within the congregation deny that Archbishop Morandi has ever shown himself in any way opposing the line of Pope Francis. On the contrary, one of his collaborators called him “humble, silent and doctrinally well-grounded.”

According to a person who worked at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “in the choice to move Archbishop Morandi, some gossip about his conservative positions may have weighed, too. I doubt it, however. Morandi has never been confrontational, and he has always kept a low profile. And he has never been disloyal to the Pope.”

This observation suggests there are other reasons for the transfer.

The first reason: Archbishop Morandi had finished his five-year term as secretary of the congregation, which he had entered seven years ago as undersecretary. He, therefore, went beyond the five-year mandate, and Pope Francis decided not to keep him in the post to give the congregation a new profile. One of the reforms advocated by the Pope is to have no high-profile Vatican officials in office for more than two five-year terms. The Pope has been applying this unwritten norm for some time now. The norm should formally appear in the upcoming Curia reform.

The second reason lies in the very nature of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The congregation was called “the Supreme” and considered the most important of the congregations. Established in 1542 as the “Sacred Universal Congregation of the Holy Inquisition,” it was reorganized in 1908 as the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office by Pius X. Paul VI, in 1965, changed its name to the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Until 1968, the prefect of the congregation was the pope. From that date on, the prefect is the cardinal placed at the head of the congregation.

There is a reasonably widespread rumor in the Vatican that Pope Francis would like to formally resume the leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and that this decision to return to the past will be contained in the draft reform of the Curia now under discussion.

The reform should also contain a reform of the competencies of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Already in Evangelii Gaudium, considered by the Pope to be his programmatic manifesto, Francis made reference to the chaos of transferring some competencies of the congregation to the episcopal conferences.

Pope Francis will change all the names at the top of the dicastery to carry out the reform. Therefore, the appointment of Archbishop Morandi as bishop of Reggio Emilia is only the first in a series of moves. Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the prefect of the congregation, has already passed 75, the age at which a bishop submits his resignation, and he will turn 78 in April. However, he could remain at the helm of the congregation until next June, when the planned mergers of the Vatican dicasteries will be finalized. His departure will coincide with the new structure of the congregation.

Archbishop Morandi’s exit leaves the choice open regarding his successor as No. 2 in the congregation. Until now, the Pope has been conducting internal promotions. Cardinal Ladaria himself was first the secretary of the congregation, and Archbishop Morandi rose in level when he became a prefect.

Currently, the congregation has an adjunct secretary, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who continues to be archbishop of Malta. There also are two undersecretaries: Msgr. Armando Matteo, highly esteemed by Pope Francis, who spoke of him in flattering terms at the end of his greeting speech to the Curia last Dec. 23, and Father Matteo Visioli. Msgr. Matteo first entered as undersecretary in 2021, while Father Visioli replaced Archbishop Morandi as undersecretary in 2017.

If the Pope takes over as the formal head of the congregation, then it is very likely that Archbishop Scicluna will be appointed secretary and called to a full-time job in Rome. But there is also the possibility that Archbishop Scicluna will become president of the congregation. In that case, either Msgr. Matteo and Father Visioli would become the new secretary. A Vatican source, in this regard, underlines that Msgr. Matteo has made it known that he does not favor any promotion.

In any case, the exit of Archbishop Morandi from the Roman Curia is the prelude to a general shake-up of the Curia, which does not only concern the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The conflicting rumors and different narratives on the Pope’s decision somehow testify to the general confusion experienced while awaiting the finalization of the reform of the Curia. Each year, the date of its eventual publication is speculated, but constantly postponed. 

At the same time, Pope Francis has already initiated, in practice, several reforms contained in the draft constitution. These include the merging of the dicasteries and the expiring appointments in the Curia, to be held for no more than two five-year terms to send the bishops back to the dioceses. In the end, Archbishop Morandi was among those who had finished their mandate and therefore eligible to be sent to pastoral work.

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