Draft of Vatican’s New Curial Constitution Would Reform Lines of Authority

According to the most current version of Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel), the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would be reduced.

Pope Francis walks towards the St. Peter’s Basilica in  St. Peter’s Square during the Wednesday general audience on April 24.
Pope Francis walks towards the St. Peter’s Basilica in St. Peter’s Square during the Wednesday general audience on April 24. (photo: Vatican Media/National Catholic Register)

VATICAN CITY — According to a draft of a new constitution for the Roman Curia, almost all Vatican departments will become known as “dicasteries,” and the newly named Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith will shift from being the second- to the third-most important Vatican department.

The draft places new and significant emphasis on mission and charitable works as the Vatican’s key duties. It also reveals a shift toward greater authority for episcopal conferences, one which modifies the relationship between Curial officials, bishops and the Pope as part of a push toward decentralization.

The Roman Curia, based on the “ecclesiology of Vatican II,” exercises its service to the bishops “in respect to collegiality, synodality and subsidiarity due to the successors of the apostles,” the draft states.

According to the draft text obtained by the Register, no longer will there be a visible distinction between congregations and pontifical councils, the former having executive power and the latter having advisory, consultative roles. The text is currently being distributed to bishops for consultation and will need to pass scrutiny before being implemented.

Entitled Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel), the draft constitution is the fruit of six years’ work by the “council of cardinals” and Pope Francis and is an answer to requests for Curial reform that emanated from the last conclave. The document, which will eventually replace Pope St. John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus, is expected to be published this year, but not June 29 according to Bishop Marcello Semeraro, secretary of the council of cardinals.

According to the preliminary text, the ancient Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, otherwise known as Propaganda Fide, responsible for missionary work and related activities, would be absorbed into a larger dicastery. Founded by Pope Gregory XV in 1622, the congregation is not mentioned in the draft, and neither is the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, set up by Benedict XVI in 2010 to help reinvigorate the spread of the Gospel to once-Christian-but-now-secularized countries.

Instead, the proposal is for both departments to be absorbed into a new Dicastery for Evangelization, second only to the Secretariat of State, which remains the most important Vatican department. Until the pontificate of Pope St. Paul VI, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) used to enjoy that status, known as la suprema, the first among equals, in the Curial power structure. Since then, the CDF has been the second-most important Curial office, a status that it would surrender to the new Dicastery for Evangelization, although all dicasteries are “legally equal.”

The new body for evangelization will be divided into two sections: one dealing with “fundamental questions about evangelization in today’s world” and the second offering “accompaniment and support” of “new particular churches” that are not within the competence of the Dicastery (former Congregation) for the Oriental Churches.

A further agglomeration will concern the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Council for Culture, which will combine to become a new Dicastery for Education and Culture.

All the other dicasteries will remain essentially the same in structure and purpose, but with some subtle modifications and changes of emphasis.

These are some of the most significant reform proposals and highlights of the draft, some of which we reported on in April. It remains to be seen how much of it makes it past the scrutiny of bishops, selected academics, and Curial heads.


Emphasis on Mission Over Faith

The prologue underlines a close link between the Church’s mission and communion and the purpose of the mission in “bringing to life” a new “communion” that entered into history with the coming of Christ. “This life of communion gives the Church the face of synodality,” the text says, adding that “communion is in itself missionary.”

“The renewal of the Church and, in it, also of the Roman Curia, must reflect this fundamental reciprocity,” the text continues, “and must ensure that the Church can come as close as possible to the experience of missionary communion lived by the apostles with the Lord during his earthly life and, after Pentecost, under the action of the Holy Spirit, by the first community in Jerusalem.”


Focus on the Laity

The prologue also makes a point of underscoring how reform of the Roman Curia must “involve laypeople and laypeople in roles of leadership and responsibility.” It adds later that because of its “vicarious and ministerial nature,” a “priest or layperson” can head a dicastery (Chapter 2, E).


Modified Relationship Between Curial Officials and Bishops

Each dicastery is to fulfill its mission “by virtue of the power it has received from the Supreme Pontiff and the College of Bishops, who, according to the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council, lead the Church together with the successor of Peter” (Chapter 2, E).


Praise of Bishops’ Conferences

“Episcopal conferences, including their continental associations, are currently one of the most significant ways of expressing and serving ecclesial communion in different regions together with the Roman Pontiff, guarantor of unity” (“Prologue”).


Priorities and Roles of Curial Officials

The document introduces an amended role for Curial officials who should now see themselves at the service of bishops as well as of the Pope: “In accordance with the Second Vatican Council, because of this service to the Petrine ministry, the Curia is also at the service of the bishops, of the episcopal conferences, of their regional and continental associations, of the particular Churches and of the other ecclesial communities” (Chapter 2, A).

Their service should encourage “pastoral conversion” in “solidarity with their preferential pastoral option for the poor and with every contribution to unity and peace” (Chapter 2, C).

Quoting Pope Paul VI, the text also asks that officials have “the spark of divine charity” in their work (Paul VI, “Homily for the Closing of the Second Vatican Council,” Dec. 8, 1965)” (Chapter 2, L).


Merging Dicasteries

“It was necessary to reduce the number of dicasteries, combining among them those whose purposes were very similar or complementary, and rationalize their functions with the aim of avoiding repetition of skills and to make the work more effective and save unnecessary expense” (Chapter 2, K).


Work Carried Out According to Synodality

“Within each dicastery, each according to its own nature and opportunities, and among each dicastery, the work is to be carried out according to the principles of synodality, making habitual and faithful use of the bodies provided for by this Apostolic Constitution, such as the Congress, the Ordinary and Plenary Sessions, as well as the meetings of the heads of departments and the interdicasterial ones” (Article 10).


Structure of Dicasteries

“The Roman Curia is composed of dicasteries and other bodies, all of which are legally equal” (Article 12). “Each dicastery is composed of a prefect” (Article 13).


Dicastery for Evangelization

The dicastery will be “at the service of the work of evangelization so that Christ, the light of the nations, may be known and witnessed to in words and deeds, and that His Body, the Church, may be built up” (Article 54.1).

The dicastery’s first section, dedicated to studying evangelization in the contemporary world, is to collaborate with bishops’ conferences and institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life on the “fundamental questions of evangelization and the development of a new evangelization by identifying appropriate forms, instruments and language” (Article 55.1).

The dicastery will have responsibility for international shrines and promote religious freedom through “discernment” of the “signs of the times.” It will also study “socioeconomic and environmental conditions for the achievement of the common good and the protection of creation as ‘common home’” (Article 57.1). And it will encourage the study of the history of mission, in particular, the “complex phenomenon of colonialism and its consequences on evangelization” (Article 55.2).

A further study it will carry out is on “the potential of the Gospel for the renewal of cultures, human liberation and a dignified and just balance between different interests” (Article 57.2).

Other duties will include supporting other works of evangelization, catechesis and “specific courses for bishops” at the beginning of their mission and as an “accompaniment to their service” (Article 57.3).

Many of the duties currently held by Propaganda Fide will be transferred to the second section of the dicastery dealing with missionary institutions.


Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith

The dicastery will continue many of the same roles it had before to “promote and protect the integrity of Catholic doctrine on faith and morals,” but with some changes.

Article 68.1 states that the dicastery is to “encourage and support the study and reflection on the understanding of the faith and on the development of theology in different cultures, in the life of challenges of the signs of the times, in such a way as provide an answer to the questions that arise from the progress of science and the evolution of civilizations.”

The following article (69.1) says the dicastery will work “in close contact” with bishops and bishops’ conferences “who have the first responsibility in the particular Churches and are also subjects of concrete attributions, also including some authentic doctrinal authority.”

Such cooperation between the dicastery and the bishops “applies above all to the granting of permission to teach in the Church, where the dicastery will be active in the sense of subsidiarity.”

On safeguarding the truth, the text says the dicastery “examines writings and opinions that appear contrary to the right faith or dangerous; seeks dialogue with their authors, and presents appropriate remedies to be provided.” Article 70 (A) says it must works to ensure that dangerous errors and doctrines, which may have been spread among the Christian people, are not spread without adequate refutation.”


Dicastery for Services to Charity

This new dicastery is essentially a new name for the apostolic elemosineria (papal almoner), who gives aid to the poor, but the office is now elevated in status and will be led by a prefect.


Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

Unlike in Pastor Bonus, the draft makes it clear in the first line that the dicastery is to be dedicated “in the first place to promoting the sacred liturgy according to the renewal desired by the Second Vatican Council” (Article 85). It is also to “confirm” translations “legitimately prepared by the episcopal conferences” (Article 87.3).


Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life

According to the “principles of collegiality, synodality and subsidiarity,” the dicastery is to maintain relations with “episcopal conferences, local Churches, Institutes of Consecrated Life and other ecclesial bodies” (Article 132.2). Its responsibilities will also include collecting and proposing “models of pastoral accompaniment, formation of conscience and integration for remarried divorcees,” also in cultures where polygamy is prevalent (Article 140.3).


Dicastery for Integral Human Development

The dicastery “promotes the fight against poverty and corruption and supports good governance” in order to “serve the public interest” and achieve “the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” (Article 152).

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.