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Reforming the Roman Curia

  • 29 March 2022
Prior to the conclave that elected Pope Francis, the Cardinals who met together identified the need for a reform of the Vatican finances and a broader reform of the Roman Curia. Shortly after Francis was elected, work began on the reform of the Roman Curia. There was wide consultation including with the various bishops’ conferences around the world. Several times there was speculation that publication was imminent. Certain interim reforms were implemented along the way including some mergers of different offices, a re-structure of the Congregation for Divine Worship, de-centralisation of certain competences to local bishops’ conferences, and the amalgamation of the communications functions into a single dicastery.

Pope Francis, on the feast of Saint Joseph, has promulgated an apostolic constitution Praedicate evangelium (To preach the Gospel) to bring all the curial reform into a single document.

Reform of the Curia has been attempted before within the context of each historical moment. Praedicate evangelium notes a major reform occurred in the sixteenth century, with the Apostolic Constitution Immensa aeterni Dei of Sixtus V (1588) and in the twentieth century, with the Apostolic Constitution Sapienti Consilio of Pius X (1908). After the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI, referring explicitly to the wishes expressed by the Council Fathers, promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Regimini Ecclesiae universae (1967). Pope St John Paul II promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus (1988).

The broad orientation of this reform is captured in the imagery of Jesus’ action at the last supper when he washed the feet of his disciples. Evangelisation and missionary service is at the heart of the document. The Roman Curia is to be at the service of the Pope and the local churches. ‘The Roman Curia does not place itself between the Pope and the Bishops, but rather places itself at the service of both in the manner that is proper to the nature of each.’ (8)

The way one approaches an understanding of the role of the Roman Curia will be determined by one’s ecclesiology. Building on the classic text of Avery Dulles and his models of the church, one could easily approach the purpose of the Curia from the institutional model: as the body that preserves the church’s institutional structure and stability.

'Political jousting between offices is undermined with the statement that each body is explicitly said to be juridically equal, thus removing a past tendency for some to consider they had a preeminent position.' 

Without any ambiguity, Pope Francis begins with the model of communion. There is