Pope Francis to restructure Roman Curia with major office for evangelization

By Christopher Lamb | Contributor
Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Pope Francis greets the crowd during his Easter message and blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 21, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — It’s been a long, painstaking process that has taken over five years. But a new apostolic constitution for the Roman Curia is almost ready to be published and looks set to be one of the most radical shakeups of the church’s central administration in a generation.

What Pope Francis and his council of cardinals are proposing is that all activity in the Roman Curia must come under a simple mission: evangelization. The constitution, “Praedicate Evangelium” (“Preach the Gospel”), is expected to set up a new “super dicastery” for evangelization that would give it prominence among all Vatican bodies.

This would mean a lesser role for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly the Holy Office of the Inquisition, the oldest institution in the curia and known as “La Suprema.” For years it policed theologians, set out the boundaries of Catholic doctrine and gave its rubber stamp to all major Vatican documents, but under Francis the congregation has taken a more back-seat role.

According to Vida Nueva, a Spanish Catholic publication, the congregation will no longer hold the number-one spot in the curia, according to the new constitution.

“Pope Francis always emphasizes that the church is missionary. That is why it is logical that in first place we have put the Dicastery for Evangelization and not the Doctrine of the Faith,” Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, the coordinator of the council of cardinals, told Vida Nueva. “In this way the Holy Father has sent a significant message of reform to the people of God.”

The whole thrust of the constitution takes the bold step of placing evangelization at the heart of the Roman Curia’s mission, meaning that every aspect of Catholicism’s civil service must flow from this. This is also aimed at sending a signal to dioceses around the world to follow suit. 

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, another member of the council of cardinals that originally had nine members and now has six members, stressed that the new evangelization department will become the “first dicastery.” He said that while the text may be modified in the future, the aim is to provide the direction for the curia over the next 25 years.

While it is possible that “Praedicate Evangelium” will be promulgated by the pope on June 29, the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, this could be delayed as bishops conferences across the world and the Roman Curia have been asked to offer feedback on the draft of the text. These need to be submitted by the end of May.

Significant changes to the text are not expected, as this is the final round of consultation.

“The pope wanted a long process in which ideas could take off without leaving people behind,” Cardinal Gracias said.

Along with evangelization, the constitution makes clear that the Curia is there to serve both the pope and the local church. This means that diocesan bishops are going to be placed at the same level as prefects in Vatican departments.

Other changes set out by the constitution include the establishment of the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors as part of the Curia, which would give the child-protection body greater authority and make it more effective. One of the difficulties the commission has faced has been a lack of any legal status in the Vatican.

Meanwhile, it is also predicted that the constitution will set up a new dicastery that carries out charitable works in the name of the pope.

“After evangelization, has to come charity,” Cardinal Maradiaga said.

The new constitution also envisages putting more laity into positions of leadership — something long talked about — and merging the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Congregation for Catholic Education into one body. There will no longer be distinctions between councils and congregations, which will be known as dicasteries.

But Cardinal Maradiaga made clear the reform has not just been about merging congregations.

“The main objective is to underline the importance of laypeople in the church and for the church,” he said.

The new constitution makes clear that not only clerics need to be in charge of departments (currently there is one layman in charge of a Vatican dicastery — Paolo Ruffini, the prefect of the communications department). 

The cardinal said that the council of cardinals will continue. Next up is an update of canon law and a focus on the role of women and financial management. There is even talk of a synod of bishops looking at how to apply the new ecclesiology envisaged by the constitution.

“The Holy Spirit continues to blow,” Cardinal Maradiaga said. “It does not take a siesta or go on holiday.”


  • pope francis
  • evangelization

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