VATICAN CITY — Nine years after taking office, Pope Francis promulgated his constitution reforming the Roman Curia, a project he began with his international Council of Cardinals shortly after taking office in 2013.
“Praedicate Evangelium” (“Preach the Gospel”), which was published only in Italian by the Vatican March 19, will go into effect June 5, the feast of Pentecost.
Merging some congregations and pontifical councils and raising the status of others — particularly the charitable office of the papal almoner — Pope Francis said he hoped the constitution would ensure that the offices of the Vatican fulfill their mission in helping promote the Church as a community of missionary disciples, sharing the Gospel and caring for all those in need.
Part of that effort, he wrote, requires including more laypeople in Curia leadership positions.
“This new apostolic constitution proposes to better harmonize the present exercise of the Curia’s service with the path of evangelization that the Church, especially in this season, is living,” the pope wrote in the document.
To emphasize the importance of the Church’s missionary nature, in the new constitution Pope Francis specified that he is the prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization; he will be assisted by a “pro-prefect” for “basic questions regarding evangelization in the world” and a “pro-prefect” for “the first evangelization and the new particular Churches,” those previously supported by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
In a similar way, until 1968, the popes were prefects of what became the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The new constitution begins its description by saying, “The task of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is to assist the Roman pontiff and the bishops-eparchs in the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world, promoting and safeguarding the integrity of Catholic doctrine on faith and morals, drawing on the deposit of faith and also seeking an ever deeper understanding of it in the face of new questions.”
The new constitution does away with the previous distinctions between “congregations” and “pontifical councils,” referring to all of them simply as “dicasteries.”
In addition to creating the Dicastery for the Service of Charity in place of the almoner’s office, the constitution merges the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization into the new Dicastery for Evangelization, and it merges the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Council for Culture into the new Dicastery for Culture and Education.
“Praedicate Evangelium” replaces St. John Paul II’s 1988 constitution, “Pastor Bonus,” but, unlike it, does not reserve the leadership of certain offices only to cardinals and bishops, although the individual statutes of those offices may make such a specification.
However, Pope Francis wrote in the document that offices that have “their own statutes and laws shall observe them only insofar as they are not opposed to the present apostolic constitution and shall propose their adaptation for the approval of the Roman pontiff as soon as possible.”
Insisting that every Christian is “a missionary disciple,” the constitution said, the reform of the Curia also needed to “provide for the involvement of laymen and women, including in roles of governance and responsibility.”
Describing the personnel of the offices, the constitution said the leadership, “as far as possible, shall come from the different regions of the world so that the Roman Curia may reflect the universality of the Church.”
Addressing one of the main concerns expressed by bishops around the world in the past, the constitution said, “The Roman Curia does not stand between the pope and the bishops, but rather places itself at the service of both in ways that are proper to the nature of each.”
In the ordering of the Roman Curia, the Secretariat of State maintains its position of leadership and coordination, but the new Dicastery for Evangelization is placed above the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.