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July 15, 2019 (L'Espresso) — Last July 8 Pope Francis previewed another fragment of what will be the future Vatican curia, once its new configuration definitively goes into effect.

He appointed six nuns, all superiors general of their respective orders, among the members of the congregation for religious, breaking with the practice that did not allow women to be part of the curial congregations, until now made up only of bishops and cardinals, or at the most of male superiors general.

Properly speaking, Francis had already made an initial rift in 2014, when he appointed as a member of the congregation “De Propaganda Fide” Sister Irma Luzia Premoli, superior general of the Comboni missionaries. But what was an exception then is now becoming the rule, and it is to be expected that other similar appointments of women will follow in droves.

The cardinals of the “C9” who assist the pope in the governance of the universal Church — in reality now reduced to six — toiled for years over this reform of the curia, to arrive at last in recent months at the composition of a draft that has been shown to a certain number of churchmen at various levels.

Rewritten on the basis of ongoing consultations, the new constitution — which now has the temporary title of “Praedicate Evangelium” — will reportedly “be by September or at the latest before the end of the year in the hands of the pope, who will then take his time for the final approval.”

But to go by the comments published after the draft started making the rounds, it must be radically revised in order to satisfy the critiques that have torn it to shreds. On both the right and the left of ecclesiastical affiliation, practically no one has appreciated the structure of the reform. Suffice it to say that after reading it the Jesuit Thomas Reese, former editor of the magazine of the New York Jesuits “America” and a prominent representative of progressive Catholicism, judged it as “a disaster.”

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If one wishes to say briefly what are the main new developments in the draft, it is good to start from the general index, which in effect highlights innovations with respect to the previous arrangement of the Vatican curia.

In the draft, what were previously the congregations and — on a lower level — the pontifical councils are equated under the same title of “dicasteries.” And while until now each of them had to be headed “by the cardinal prefect or by an archbishop president,” the draft speaks only of “prefects” without specifying if they should be cardinals or archbishops, and on the contrary establishes that they could also be laymen, as in fact has already happened in the newly created dicastery for communication, which has as its prefect Paolo Ruffini.

Only for the secretariat of state does the draft establish that the head is to be a cardinal, as also for the new council for the economy, the coordinator of which — who is currently German cardinal Reinhard Marx — also takes on the duty of cardinal “camerlengo” between one pontificate and the next.

It is the secretariat of state, in effect, that is the dominant element of the new curia. But already in the general index of the drafts one can also note another substantial change: the downgrading of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith from the top spot among the congregations to the second place on the list of the new dicasteries.

So here is the general index, outlined according to the various chapters of the draft.

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– for evangelization,
– for the doctrine of faith,
– for the charity of the pope (apostolic almoner),
– for the Oriental Churches,
– for divine worship and the discipline of the sacraments,
– for the causes of saints,
– for the bishops,
– for the clergy,
– for institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life,
– for education and culture,
– for the laity, family and life,
– for promoting integral human development,
– for promoting Christian unity,
– for interreligious dialogue,
– for communication.


– Apostolic Penitentiary,
– Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura,
– Tribunal of the Roman Rota,
– Office for legislative texts.


– Council for the economy,
– Secretariat for the economy,
– Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church,
– Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See,
– Office of the auditor general.


– Prefecture of the Papal Household,
– Office of liturgical celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff,
– Legal department of the Roman Curia.


– Vatican Secret Archive,
– Vatican Apostolic Library,
– Pontifical academies,
– Agency for the evaluation and promotion of the quality of universities and ecclesiastical faculties,
– Financial Information Authority,
– Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors,
– Fabbrica di San Pietro.

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As can be noted, this index does not include either the “C9” or the general secretariat of the synod of bishops, which are therefore considered realities external to the Vatican curia.

Moreover, the prefecture of the pontifical household does not turn out to have been abolished, as was rumored some time back. In the pertinent articles of the draft, it specifies however that the prefect — currently Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who is also the personal secretary of Benedict XVI — will assist the pope “only on the occasion of meetings and visits on Vatican territory,” while as of now he is appointed to assist him “both in the apostolic palace and when he travels in Rome or in Italy.”

Another piece of evidence from the index is the marginal place assigned to the secretariat for the economy, which instead in the initial phase of Francis's pontificate, when its head was Australian cardinal George Pell, seemed to be rising to equal importance with the secretariat of state, before being stripped of much of its power in part because of the legal misfortune of its manager.

In any case, the real big development in the new curia sketched out in the draft is the preponderant role assigned to the secretariat of state, with a centralization in it of powers that has no equal in the past.

And this, in effect, is the development most in the crosshairs of the critiques. Exemplary among these is that of Ed Condon on Catholic News Agency July 2:

> Analysis: New Vatican constitution to centralize power in state secretariat

But the critiques are not limited to the canonical aspect alone. Cardinal Gerhard Müller, interviewed by Edward Pentin for the National Catholic Register of July 5, also disputed them on the theological level: “They're converting the institution of the Curia into simply a bureaucracy, into only functionalism and not an ecclesiastical institute.”

Getting down to the details of the new role assigned in the draft to the secretariat of state, it can however be observed that in at least one specific area its powers have been curtailed.

It is the area of communication. While so far the secretariat of state has had the power to “supervise the newspaper named 'L'Osservatore Romano,' Vatican Radio, and the Vatican Television Center,” now its power is in practice reduced to only the official bulletins, meaning — according to article 42.2 of the draft — “to direct the dicastery for communications about official communications regarding both the acts of the Supreme Pontiff and the activity of the Holy See.”

As for the other prominent development of the draft on reforming the curia, namely the downgrading of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the article that has raised the most reservations is 69.1, which recognizes that the episcopal conferences, in protecting the faith from error, have a “primary responsibility” that “also includes a certain authentic doctrinal authority,” as Pope Francis affirmed previously in “Evangelii Gaudium” 32.



The following are the two sections of the draft on reform — from the English version submitted for consultation — concerning the secretariat of state and the dicastery for the doctrine of the faith.

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Art. 44.
The Secretariat of State closely assists the Supreme Pontiff in the exercise of his supreme mission.

Art. 45
1. It is governed by the Cardinal Secretary of State.

2. It includes three sections, which are the Section for General Affairs under the direction of the Substitute, with the help of the Assessor; the Section for Relations with States and International Organization, under the direction of its own Secretary, with the help of the Undersecretary and of an undersecretary added for the multilateral sector and the International Organizations; this Section is assisted by a Council; the Section for the Diplomatic Staff of the Holy See, under the direction of the Secretary for Pontifical Representatives.

First Section – General Affairs

Art. 46
In the first Section belongs in a particular way the dispatching of the affairs regarding the daily service of the Supreme Pontiff, of examining those affairs concerned with things outside the ordinary competence of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia and of the other structures of the Apostolic See; and of fostering coordination among the same Dicasteries and Entities. (It belongs to this Section to carry out all that regards the representatives of States before the Holy See.

Art. 47
Moreover, it belongs to this Section:

1. To draw up and send out Apostolic Constitutions, Letters of decree, Apostolic Letters, Epistles, and other documents the Supreme Pontiff entrusts to it;

2. To dispatch all the acts regarding nominations that in the Roman Curia and in the other structures depending on the Holy See must be completed and approved by the Supreme Pontiff;

3. To keep the lead seal and the ring of the Fisherman.

Art. 48
Likewise it belongs to this Section:

1. To attend to the publication of the acts and the public documents of the Holy See in the bulletin entitled “Acta Apostolicae Sedis”;

2. To direct the Dicastery for Communications about official communications regarding both the acts of the Supreme Pontiff and the activity of the Holy See.

Art. 49
Through the office of statistics, this Section collects, coordinates, and publishes all the data, elaborated according to statistical norms, that concern the life of the Church in the whole world.

Second Section – Relations with States and International Organizations

Art. 50
The proper task of the second Section, that is of relations with States and International Organizations, is attending to the affairs that must be dealt with by the respective authorities.

It belong to this section:

1. To foster the diplomatic and political relationships of the Holy See with States and other subjects of international right and to handle general affairs for the promotion of the good of the Church and of civil society, also through the stipulation of concordats and other international agreements, keeping in mind the opinion of interested episcopal structures;

2. To represent the Holy See before intergovernmental international Organizations as well as multilateral intergovernmental Conferences, availing itself, where appropriate, of the collaboration of the competent Dicasteries of the Roman Curia;

3. To express an opinion whenever a Department of the Roman Curia intends to publish a declaration or a document relating to international relations or representatives of the civil Authorities.

Art. 51
1. In particular circumstances, by appointment of the Supreme Pontiff, this section, having consulted the competent dicasteries of the Roman Curia, carries out everything that concerns the provision of particular Churches, as well as the constitution and changes of these and of their structures.

2. In other cases, especially where there is a concordat regime, it belongs to this section to attend to those affairs that concern civil governments.

Art. 52
In this Section, where necessary, stable Commissions may be opportunely constituted to deal with specific matters or general issues relating to the different Continents and particular geographical regions.

Third Section — For the Diplomatic Staff of the Holy See

Art. 53
1. The Section for the Diplomatic Staff of the Holy See takes care of questions related to persons that carry out their work in the diplomatic service of the Holy See, in particular of their conditions of life and work and of their permanent formation. In order to fulfill this task, the Secretariat makes a visit to the offices of the Pontifical Representatives. He calls together and presides at the ad hoc meetings for the provision of these representatives.

2. The Section collaborates with the President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, with regard to the selection and formation of candidates for diplomatic service to the Holy See. It maintains contact with all retired diplomatic staff.

3. The Section exercises its function in close collaboration with the Section for General Affairs and with the Section for Relations with States, all of which, according to the specific area of their activities, take care of what concerns the Pontifical Representatives.



Art. 67
The specific task of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is that conforming to the Gospel as the norma normans non normata—of supporting the Pope and the Bishops, both as individuals and in their associations, in announcing the Gospel throughout the whole world and of promoting and protecting the integrity of Catholic doctrine on faith and morals.

Art. 68
1. The Dicastery favours and supports study and reflection on the understanding of faith and on the development of theology in different cultures, in the light of the challenges and the signs of the times, so as to offer an answer, in the light of faith, to the questions and arguments arising from the progress of the sciences and the evolution of civilizations.

2. This unites faithfulness to traditional doctrine with the courage to seek new answers to new questions.

Art. 69
1. On the measures to be adopted for the protection of the faith, for the purpose of preserving the integrity of the truth from damage caused by errors in any way disclosed, the Dicastery works in close contact with the Bishops and the Episcopal Conferences, which have primary responsibility in the particular Churches and are also subject to specific attributions, also including some genuine doctrinal authority.

2. The cooperation indicated above is valid above all to the issue of authorization for teaching in the Church, where the Dicastery will apply the principal of subsidiary.

3. The Dicastery, by virtue of its duty to ensure that no damage is done to faith and morals with regard to all the people of God, may require that the publications of the faithful concerning faith and morals, in writing or using other tools and forms of communication, be subject to the prior judgment of the competent authority.

Art. 70
The Dicastery is engaged in safeguarding the truth of the faith and the integrity of  morals. In this regard:

a) It examines the writings and the opinions that appear contrary or dangerous to right faith; it seeks dialogue with their authors and presents appropriate remedies to pursue, following the norms of the Agendi ratio in doctrinarum examine;

b) It works so that errors and dangerous doctrines, which have become diffused among the Christian people, are not imparted without a clear and adequate statement of what is correct and true.

Art. 71
1. After having heard the local bishop in the case or the respective Episcopal Conference, the Dicastery judged delicts against the faith and the gravest delicts committed against morals or in the celebration of the sacraments and, if applicable, proceeds to declare or impose canonical sanctions according to the norm of law, whether communal or individual, without prejudice to the competency of the Apostolic Penitentiary and closely following the Agendi ratio in doctrinarum examine.

2. It examines delicts against the faith, the sacraments, and morals reserved to the Dicastery for judgment in accordance with the provisions of canon law and the Proper Norms.

3. The Dicastery will examines these delicts referred to in § 2 in accordance with its own procedural regulations, and has jurisdiction over the lesser tribunals mentioned in the aforementioned Norms, including the interdiocesan tribunals erected for this purpose.

4. With regard to reserved delicts referred to in $ 2, the Dicastery can judge, by mandate from the Roman Pontiff, the Cardinal Fathers, the Patriarchs, the Legates of the Apostolic See, the Bishops, as well as other physical persons in accordance with the provisions of Canon law.

5. With regard to delicts of abuse of ecclesiastical power or function, the Dicastery may judge, by mandate of the Roman Pontiff, the same persons named in $ 4 every time the delict is committed in relation to the gravest delicts listed in the Proper Norms.

6. The Dicastery assists diocesan Bishops, major religious superiors, and their conferences in developing local policies and procedures in order to provide an adequate response to cases of sexual abuse of minors on the part of clerics, according to the norms of Canon Law and the requirements of civil law. In assisting the Bishops and Major Superiors with their local guidelines to promote the safeguarding of minors and of vulnerable adults from abuse, the Dicastery works in collaboration with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Art. 72
It is the responsibility of the Dicastery to examine and judge, both in law and in fact, everything that regards the “privilegium fidei”.

Art. 73
The documents that must be published by other dicasteries, offices and entities of the Roman Curia, in so far as these regard doctrines of faith and morals, are to be submitted to the prior judgment of the Dicastery. The decision on the matter is to be reached through exchange and agreement.

Art. 74
The Dicastery erects Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans who enter into full communion with the Catholic Church within the territorial confines of a specific Episcopal Conference, after having consulted the same Conference. Each Ordinariate depends on the Dicastery, which maintains close relationships with the other Roman Dicasteries according to their competence.

Art. 75
The Pontifical Biblical Commission and the International Theological Commission are instituted by the Dicastery, operate according to their own approved norms, and are both chaired by the Prefect of this Dicastery.

Published with permission from L'Espresso.