Pope Francis Changes Structure of Vatican Doctrinal Office

The reorganization is a further step in Pope Francis’ gradual overhaul of the Roman Curia, which has included in recent months the replacement of several top personnel.

The Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio, the seat of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio, the seat of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (photo: Jim McIntosh / (CC BY 2.0))

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Monday reorganized the internal structure of the Vatican’s doctrine office into two sections — the latest step in his ongoing reform of the Roman Curia. 

In a letter issued motu proprio (of his own accord), Pope Francis centralized the tasks of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) into a doctrinal section and a disciplinary section.

The department previously had a third section, which dealt with marriage cases. With the motu proprio, titled Fidem Servare, the responsibilities of the marriage office will be moved under the doctrinal section.

The restructuring goes into effect immediately.

In his apostolic letter, Pope Francis stated that the changes to the CDF’s organization have been made “in view of the experience gained during this time by the Congregation in various areas of work, and the need to give it an approach more suited to the fulfillment of the functions proper to it.”

The reorganization is a further step in Pope Francis’ gradual overhaul of the Roman Curia, which has included in recent months the replacement of several top personnel. 

CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria, who will turn 78 in April, is also expected to be replaced within the year. 

The folding of the CDF into two sections is in line with Pope Francis’ earlier decision to end the pontifical commission Ecclesia Dei.

In January 2019, the tasks of the Ecclesia Dei commission, which facilitated dialogue between the Church and traditionalist communities, especially those linked to Marcel Lefebvre, were moved under the doctrinal section of the CDF. The commission had been its own department within the CDF since 2009. 

“‘Keeping the faith’ (2 Timothy 4:7) is the principal task, as well as the ultimate criterion, to be followed in the life of the Church,” Francis wrote in his Feb. 14 motu proprio.

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith takes on this important task, assuming both doctrinal and disciplinary competencies, as attributed to it by my Venerable Predecessors.”

The Pope noted that Pope St. Paul VI gave the congregation the title, “Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” changing it from it's previous name as "Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office."

Pope St. John Paul II later specified the CDF’s competencies in his 1988 apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus.

Pastor Bonus still governs the Roman Curia, though Pope Francis’ council of cardinal advisers has been drafting a new constitution for years.

In his motu proprio, Pope Francis said the CDF’s two sections will each be coordinated by a secretary whose job is to assist the prefect. Each section will also have an undersecretary who collaborates with the secretary and other heads of office.

The Doctrinal Section is responsible for matters “having to do with the promotion and protection of the doctrine of faith and morals.”

This includes promoting studies related to the transmission of the faith “at the service of evangelization, so that its light may be a criterion for understanding the meaning of life, especially in the face of questions posed by the progress of the sciences and the development of society,” Pope Francis said.

The Doctrinal Section examines Curial documents before their publication to assure they are doctrinally sound. Pope Francis said it will also examine “writings and opinions which appear problematic for the correct faith, encouraging dialogue with their authors and proposing the appropriate suitable remedies to be applied.”

The section will also be responsible for issues regarding Anglican personal ordinariates

The Disciplinary Section, instead, deals with certain serious canonical crimes.

Editor's note: A correction was made regarding the change Paul VI made to the congregation's title from "Sacred Congregation of the Holy See" to the "Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith." The article erroneously stated Paul VI elevated the congregation from a dicastery. 

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