New apostolic constitution envisions greater participation of laity

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New apostolic constitution envisions greater participation of laity

By Filipe Domingues

ROME — On the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, March 19, Pope Francis promulgated the new constitution “Praedicate Evangelium” (“Preach the Gospel”), nine years after his election as pope, closing the cycle of preparation for the reform of the Roman Curia.

The Roman Curia is composed of various bodies that help the pope govern and shepherd the Church. The reform is the culmination of a process that started with the pontificate of Paul VI and continued with John Paul II.

Pope Francis underlines in the new constitution, that “every Christian is a missionary disciple” and, therefore, all the baptized faithful can assume roles of government and leadership in the Curia. He also reorganizes dicasteries — a term that ceases to be a generic reference to the different sectors of the Curia — merging some and reducing management structures.
Priority is given to evangelization, as the “new” Curia must function as a living instrument of support for the bishops’ conferences and the Eastern churches, “gathering and elaborating the presence of the Church in the world.” Pope Francis said he hopes the Curia will be a true “expression of catholicity” and universality of the Church.

Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which will become a dicastery in the reform, presented the new constitution March 21. He said the long-awaited reform meets the need to “reorganize the Roman Curia in a new way and in accordance with the needs of the times,” as requested by the Second Vatican Council.


“Praedicate Evangelium” envisions an even greater presence and participation of the lay faithful in the Roman Curia, “including in roles of governance and responsibility,” said Cardinal Semeraro.
The document states “any member of the faithful can preside over a dicastery or a curial body, given their particular competence, power of governance, and particular function.” This is feasible since every institution of the Curia acts in virtue of the power entrusted to it by the pope.
According to Bishop Marco Mellino, secretary of the Council of Cardinals, there will no longer be the need for dicasteries to be headed by a “cardinal prefect,” assisted by an archbishop secretary. Not even the Secretariat of State, which had a supervisory role over the dicasteries and now has only coordinating prerogatives, will necessarily be headed by a cardinal.

Canon law expert Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, SJ, said the members of the Curia share directly in the Petrine ministry, which makes their power only “vicarious.” In other words, the power they hold “does not come from the hierarchical rank received, but from the power they receive from the Roman pontiff and exercise in his name,” he said. As such, a Curial position can be exercised by a lay person, religious, consecrated, cleric, man or woman, as long as it is in the pope’s name.

Father Ghirlanda believes this change puts an end to the confusion between the so-called “canonical mission” of administration and governance and the “divine mission” conferred by the sacrament of Holy Orders, which has been debated since the Second Vatican Council.


Pope Francis begins the constitution by recalling that “[p]reaching the Gospel is the role that the Lord Jesus entrusted to his disciples.”

The primary mission of the Curia, he says, is to “serve” every person, all of humanity in today’s world. Christ, who “left us the example when he washed the feet of his disciples,” is the model for this service, he said. Caring for brothers and sisters in a spirit of “missionary conversion” should define the Roman Curia.

The Curia must bring to the world the love of Christ, “who is the light of the world,” he continues. It must bring the world closer to the missionary experience of the apostles and must help all members of the Church “walk together,” in synodality, in mutual listening, with the pope as the main sign of unity among all the bishops and all the faithful. 

While all of the new dicasteries of the Roman Curia are all juridically equally,  three dicasteries will stand at the helm: the Dicastery for Evangelization, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Dicastery for the Service of Charity. The latter, responsible for the pope’s charitable works, was formerly the Office of Papal Charities.
According to Bishop Mellino, these three dicasteries together set the tone for the entire ministry of the Curia. “Evangelization, faith and charity” are at the basis of everything, he said.
The new Dicastery for Evangelization will unite the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, formerly “Propaganda Fide,” which served mission territories, and the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, which promoted evangelization where the Church is already present. It is the only dicastery that will be presided by the pope himself as prefect, assisted by two “pro-prefects.”
Cardinal Semeraro described this reorganization as historic.
“It can be understood in the light of the epochal change that is taking place that inevitably asks the Church to face new challenges, projecting herself toward new frontiers, whether in the first mission ‘ad gentes’ (to all peoples), or in the new evangelization of peoples that have already received the proclamation of Christ,” he explained in the presentation of the document.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also becomes a dicastery and continues to have an important role, but now alongside the other two — evangelization and charity — “forming a unity in the missionary action to which the Roman Curia is called,” said Bishop Mellino.
“Praedicate Evangelium” comes into force this Pentecost, June 5, fully abrogating and replacing “Pastor Bonus.”


Photo by Fabio Fistarol on Unsplash

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