VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis released a document on Monday restructuring the powerful Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). He announced the changes ahead of the release of his long-awaited plan for the reform of the entire Roman curia.
The Pope unveiled the new structure of the CDF in a text published motu proprio, or “of his own impulse”. It was the 48th motu owner since his election in 2013, confirming that this is Pope Francis’ preferred mode of instituting change.
Shortly after his election, he established a Council of Cardinals to assist him in the government of the Church and to help him draft a new apostolic constitution redefining the tasks and functions of the curial offices.
The Curia currently operates under the 1988 Act apostolic constitution Minister’s premium (“The Good Shepherd”). The document issued by Pope John Paul II remains in effect although much of it has been overtaken by events and Pope Francis’ decisions.
Several departments mentioned in the 1988 text have now disappeared or exist in a different form. In practice, Pope Francis personally implemented the reform of the Curia, before the publication of a comprehensive document and often without even waiting for the meetings of the Council of Cardinals.
Today, the Roman Curia includes the Secretariat for the Economy, the Council for the Economy, the Dicastery for Communication, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. Corn Minister’s premium predate these entities and are therefore not yet based on an apostolic constitution.
It is widely believed that Pope Francis will continue to introduce reforms in his personal capacity, issuing only a new constitution, called predicate evangelium (“Preach the Gospel”), once all the changes have already been made.
Pope Francis had indicated at the start of his pontificate that he was considering modifying the CDF.
In his first interviewgranted to the Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica in 2013, Pope Francis said, “It’s amazing to see the denunciations for lack of orthodoxy coming to Rome. I think the cases should be examined by the local episcopal conferences, which can get valuable help from Rome. These cases, in fact, are much better dealt with locally. The Roman congregations are mediators; they are not intermediaries or managers.
In the same interview, he remarked: “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are not all equivalent. The pastoral ministry of the Church cannot be obsessed with transmitting a multitude of disjointed doctrines to be insistently imposed.
“The announcement in a missionary style focuses on the essential, on the necessary: it is also what fascinates and attracts the most, what burns the heart, as for the disciples of Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise, even the moral edifice of the Church risks falling like a house of cards, losing the freshness and the fragrance of the Gospel. The Gospel proposal must be simpler, deeper, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
In Evangelii gaudiumthe apostolic exhortation that Pope Francis himself considers the program of his pontificate, he underlined that “the Second Vatican Council declared that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, the episcopal conferences are able to ‘contribute in numerous and fruitful ways to the realization concrete expression of the collegial spirit”.
He added: “Yet this desire has not been fully realized, for a legal status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including true doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently worked out. . Excessive centralization, rather than being useful, complicates the life of the Church and its missionary influence.
From the beginning, he therefore thought of reforming the CDF. However, none of the 39 communiqués published at the end of the meetings of the Council of Cardinals ever spoke of a reform of the Congregation.
Moreover, the question was not broached during the briefings that the directors of the Press Office of the Holy See (Father Federico Lombardi then Greg Burke) first held with the journalists on the work of the Council.
The reform of the CDF, in short, comes without notice and at the end of a gradual process of change.
From four offices to two sections
The Congregation previously consisted of four offices: one was disciplinary, another doctrinal and a third matrimonial. There was also a fourth section, which, we read in the 2021 Pontifical Yearbook, had “the task of following the question of relations with the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X [SSPX]the application of the motu proprio Sommerum Pontificumthe life of the institutes already submitted to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and, in general, matters relating to celebrations according to the ancient liturgy, defined as the “extraordinary form of the Roman rite”.
The fourth section was no longer necessary after the publication of the 2021 edition motu owner Traditional custodians (“Guardians of Tradition”), which repealed Benedict XVI’s provisions on the use of the old rite and redefined the concessions as biritualism, that is, the use of a double rite. In practice, the Old Rite was no longer considered an “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite, but rather another rite.
The fourth section was created after Pope Francis firm the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei in 2019. The commission was created within the Congregation precisely to deal with relations with the SSPX. The closure of the commission also took place via a motu proprio.
The separate marriage office is also now closed, while the Congregation is restored to two separate sections, with two different secretaries. Everything suggests that one of the secretaries will be the current undersecretary, Father Matteo Visioli, who deserves a promotion since Bishop Giacomo Morandi, who held the position of CDF secretary since 2017, was appointed bishop of Reggio Emilia in January.
The other secretary is probably the theologian Mgr. Armando Matteo, who is highly esteemed by Pope Francis. The pope had words of great praise for him at the end of his pre-Christmas address to the Roman Curia. For Matteo, Pope Francis had created the new position of Deputy Undersecretary at the CDF.
It should be noted that Matteo was received in private audience by the pope on January 21, just before the pope gave a speech to participants in the CDF plenary meeting.
Doctrine and Discipline
With two sections, the management profile of the Congregation seems reinforced, with a more hierarchical structure and a clearer distribution of competences. But it is also true that the four offices, working in synchrony, have shown real collegiality in their choices and have created specialists on specific subjects.
Above all, the doctrinal question has never been neglected in the decisions. There is a risk that the disciplinary element will henceforth prevail over the doctrinal element because it will be a section in its own right, with decision-making autonomy and therefore not necessarily called upon to share choices in a wide discussion.
However, this is currently only a risk, and we have to wait to see how the Congregation operates under the motu proprio.
Public opinion wanted an answer on the disciplinary question. Reactions to this change have been positive. Many commentators have noted that the Pope has, with the reform, strengthened the canonical treatment of clerical sexual abuse by creating the disciplinary section.
As we have seen, the disciplinary office already existed. With the reforms desired first by John Paul II and then by Benedict XVI, the CDF has become an essential reference for dealing with abuses. The novelty, therefore, is that the disciplinary body is now a section, and no longer just an office.
When it comes to delicta graviora – the most serious crimes, including clerical sexual abuse – there was mostly a case management problem. In 2014, Pope Francis had established a college within the CDF for the examination of ecclesiastical appeals involving serious offences. College regulations were clarified in 2018.
The college has 11 members and is presided over by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, the CDF’s Assistant Secretary. It was created precisely to handle appeals. In 2001, John Paul II had established that appeals should rather be discussed during the ordinary session of the Congregation, the so-called Feria IV (because meetings are on Wednesdays.)
In 2019, Msgr. John Kennedy, head of the disciplinary section of the Congregation, told the Associated press that that year, the Congregation received a record 1,000 reports of abuse from around the world.
The disciplinary section will now have greater autonomy, probably in terms of budget. This perhaps suggests that, to deal with the mass of cases, the section will turn to ad hoc commissions, with external and internal members, moving away from the collegial work that has always characterized the Congregation.
With Monday’s motu proprio, the CDF acquires centrality and autonomy. But the result is that he will need help with case management. For this, he is likely to seek the help of local Churches or external commissions, practically putting into practice the principle of decentralization that Pope Francis has been talking about since 2013.
Changing the Mentality of the Roman Curia
In a previous incarnation, the CDF was known as “La Suprema”, or primary department of the Vatican, because it concerned faith. Until Paul VI, the Congregation was so important that the pope himself was its prefect, and at one point it was rumored that Pope Francis wanted to return to this custom.
But the curial reform bill is expected to give prominence to what will be the Dicastery for Evangelization, meaning the CDF will no longer be first on the list of Roman Curia departments.
It also appears that Bishop Scicluna, who has so far retained his post as Archbishop of Malta, will in due course be appointed as the new CDF Prefect, replacing the 77-year-old Cardinal Ladaria. Dominican American Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, currently assistant secretary of the CDF, will retire. He is already 78 years old and has passed the retirement age by three years.
In the end, the administrative changes at the CDF indicate a structural change that aims to change the mentality of the Curia. Their precise shape is surprising, as is the case with Pope Francis. And they could be a prelude to other similar decisions.