Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Pope Francis reorganizes the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Thursday, February 17, 2022

This week Pope Francis released his letter “Fidem Servare” (“Preserving the Faith”), by which he reorganized the internal structure of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. There will now be two separate sections: doctrine and disciple, each with its own secretary. (Up to now, there has been one secretary responsible for the CDF.)

The doctrinal section

The Holy Father notes that the doctrinal section is to maintain its traditional charge of examining documents to be published by other Roman dicasteries, as well as writings and opinions of others “that appear problematic for the correct faith, encouraging dialogue with their authors and proposing suitable remedies.” This section is also responsible for studying questions concerning the personal ordinariates of former Anglicans and the management of the Matrimonial Office, which examines cases related to the dissolution of marriages between two non-baptized persons or between a baptized person and a non-baptized person. But the work of the doctrinal section is not only to be retrospective in protecting the faith, but also prospective in promoting it. It will do this by overseeing “studies aimed at increasing the understanding and transmission of the faith at the service of evangelization, so that its light may be a criterion for understanding the meaning of existence, especially in the face of the questions posed by the progress of the sciences and the development of society.”

It is important to recognize that, particularly since the Second Vatican Council, the CDF has not only protected but also promoted the faith in this prospective way. This has been achieved particularly through the work of the International Theological Commission and the Pontifical Biblical Commission. For instance, in 2018, the Theological Commission published the document: “Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church.” This important resource now serves as a key point of reference as the universal church responds to the Holy Father’s invitation to participate in the synodal process. It provides us with a clear understanding of synodality as defining the very nature of the church and recognizing the connection between the life of the Trinity and action of the Spirit in the life of the church. The Spirit gives the church the same love and life found in the Trinity, the document notes. As such, the gift of the Holy Spirit we receive in baptism means that we each share an equal dignity and call to participate “in the priestly, prophetic and royal office of Jesus Christ, the richness of hierarchical and charismatic gifts, and the life and mission of each local church.”

The doctrine section will also continue to oversee the work of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, which has served the church well in these years since Vatican II. For instance, in 1993, the commission issued “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.” This important work warns Christians against the dangers of a fundamentalist approach to reading the Bible, which “attracts people who are looking for biblical answers to their life problems.” It is important to keep in mind, the commission observes, that “the Bible does not necessarily contain an immediate answer to each of these problems.” As a result, a fundamentalist approach to reading Scripture is nothing less than intellectual suicide, offering a false sense of certainty about life.

By clearly specifying how the doctrinal section is to both protect and promote the faith, the Holy Father is signaling that these two tasks are to be given equal weight.

The disciplinary section

The CDF has also had responsibility for examining certain canonical crimes, including the sexual abuse of minors, but now this work will be the sole competence of the disciplinary section. And again, in addition to a retrospective task of “preparing and implementing the procedures … for the correct administration of justice,” there is also a prospective charge given to this section. Specifically, the disciplinary section is now responsible for promoting “appropriate formation initiatives,” to be offered to bishops and legal practitioners, “in order to foster a correct understanding and application of the canonical norms related to its area of competence.” This is a significant development, particularly in view of the release of recent documents related to how bishops and bishops’ conferences are to work to protect minors and vulnerable adults. The church cannot take for granted that all in the church will have the resources or capacity to implement new procedures and therefore training and formation cannot be overlooked. It seems now that the disciplinary section of the CDF now will be charged with overseeing the formation of church personnel in this regard.

This separation of powers and clear delineation of responsibilities is a much welcome development. It means that equal weight will be given to both doctrinal and disciplinary issues, as well as the retrospective and prospective aspects of each office. The Holy Father’s letter also signals that more is yet to come, particularly as we keep in mind that he and his advisers have been preparing a reorganization of the Roman Curia, something that has concerned him since he was elected in 2013.