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Roman Curia

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Strictly speaking, the ensemble of departments or ministries which assist the sovereign pontiff in the government of the Universal Church. These are the Roman Congregations, the tribunals, and the offices of Curia ( Ufficii di Curia ). The Congregations, being the highest and most extensive departments of the Pontifical Government, are treated elsewhere under ROMAN CONGREGATIONS. This article deals in particular with the tribunals and the offices of Curia (Ufficii di Curia), in addition to which something will be said of the commissions of cardinals and the pontifical family.


According to the Constitution "Sapienti consilio" of Pius X, the tribunals of the Curia are three: the Sacred Penitentiaria, the Sacred Roman Rota, and the Apostolic Signatura.

A. The Sacred Penitentiaria

The origin of this tribunal cannot be assigned with any reasonable certainty. Some authors, like Cardinal De Luca (Relatio curisae rom. forensis, diss. xii), think that the office of penitentiary dates from the primitive Church ; Lega (Prael. de judiciis eccl., II, 263, not.) refers it to the time of Pope Cornelius (204), who is said to have appointed penitentiaries pro lapsis. Penitentiaries are certainly more ancient in the East than in the West. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) ordained the establishment of a penitentiary in each cathedral. The Roman Church, if not the first, was at least one of the first in the West to establish penitentiaries. According to some authorities, from the seventh century, that is from the pontificate of Benedict II , the penitentiary of the Roman Church was a cardinal priest ; this was certainly the case before Gregory X (d. 1276). Gregory IX calls Cardinal Nicola de Romania "poenitentiarius felicis recordationis Honorii pap. praedecessoris". Prior to 1205 Giraldus Cambrensis mentions Giovanni di S. Paolo, of the title of St. Priscilla, as one who heard confessions in the place of the pope ; he was probably a cardinal of that title.

The office of penitentiary assumed greater importance when the reservation of cases to the pope or the bishops began. At the end of the sixth century (592) St. Gregory the Great reserved to himself the excommunication with which he threatened Archbishop John of Larissa for unjustly deposing Adrian, Bishop of Thebes. The first universally recognized case of a general papal reservation of an offence is that of Innocent II , who, at the Council of Clermont (1130), reserved to himself in every case absolution from the crime of striking a cleric. This reservation was confirmed by him in the following year at the Council of Reims, where he also reserved to himself the absolution of incendiaries and their accomplices. Thenceforth reservations increased in number, and an office became necessary to answer those who, guilty of some offence, asked of the sovereign pontiffabsolution from the censure incurred, and reserved to the Holy See, or, being unable to repair to Rome, asked to be absolved from some sin reserved to the pope by a priest of their own land, who would of course require a special delegation. In the time of Cardinal Bérenger Frédol, penitentiary from 1309 to 1323, the office of the Penitentiaria was in existence, with various subordinates and employees, under the direction of a cardinal penitentiary, whom Clement V called paenitentiarius major [c. ii. de elect, etc. (I. 3) in Clem.]. Under Alexander IV and Urban IV, Cardinal Hugo of St-Cher (or of San Caro) was called poenitentiarius summus, or sedis apostolicae paenilentiarius generalis. For the earlier history of this tribunal see the excellent work of P. Chouet, "La sacrée pénitencerie apostolique" (Lyons, 1908), in which may be found the details of its original constitution. The present article deals only with the recent constitution of this tribunal.

The Sacred Penitentiary consists in the first place of the cardinal chief penitentiary (paenitentiarius major) appointed by a Brief of the sovereign pontiff. Pius V, followed by Benedict XIV, decreed that this functionary should be chosen from among the cardinal priests , and must be a master in theology or doctor of canon law (magister in theologia seu decretorum doctor). He must transact the business of his office personally, or if prevented from so doing, he must provide a substitute in another cardinal qualified as above stated, and who takes the title of pro-chief penitentiary. During his term of office he acts in his own name, and not in that of the cardinal by whom he is delegated. To the cardinal chief penitentiary is assigned a regent of the Penitentiaria. This officer, like the others of whom we shall speak, is selected by the cardinal penitentiary and presented to the pope ; and if approved by him is appointed by a letter of the cardinal himself. After the regent comes the theologian, whom it has long been usual to select from the Society of Jesus ; then come the datary, the canonist, the corrector, the sealer (sigillatore), and some copyists, besides a secretary, a surrogate (sostituto), and an archivist. The signatura (Segnatura) of the Penitentiaria (its congress) is the meeting at which the most important cases are considered. It is formed of the cardinal penitentiary, the theologian, the datary, the corrector, the sealer (sigillatore), and the canonist, the secretary also taking part in it, but without a vote. The other members of the meeting are only consulted, the decision of the case being left entirely to the cardinal penitentiary, who, if in doubt as to the extent of his faculties, refers the matter to the Holy Father.

The minor penitentiaries of certain Roman churches and of the Holy House of Loreto must be mentioned as in some way related to the Sacred Penitentiaria. At Rome, they are attached to the three Basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Peter, and St. Mary Major. At St. John Lateran the office is filled by the Friars Minor. At St. Peter's it was formerly filled by Jesuits, but, at the suppression of the Society by Clement XIV, their place was taken by Minor Conventuals, who still retain it; these are thirteen in number, but there are also at St. Peter's fourteen other "adjunct" penitentiaries -- Carmelites, Friars Minor, Augustinians, Servites. At St. Mary Major the penitentiaries are Dominicans. At Loreto the Jesuits served as penitentiaries until their suppression, when they were succeeded by the Minor Conventuals, who still hold the office. The minor penitentiaries may not be removed by their superiors, either from Rome or from Loreto, without the permission of the Holy See. They are authorized to hear the confessions of all the faithful, not excepting religious, who may come to the minor penitentiaries without the permission of their religious superiors. The faculties of these penitentiaries are very ample; and care is taken, as a rule, that there may be priests of different languages among them, to hear the confessions of pilgrims or other foreigners who do not speak Italian.

The cardinal penitentiary assists the pope at the hour of death, reciting the customary prayers for the dying, etc. It is he, also, who at the beginning of a jubilee, offers to the pope the golden hammer, to give the first three knocks at the Holy Door ( Porta Santa ) of St. Peter's, which door is opened only during the Holy Year, or year of the jubilee. After the pope, the cardinal penitentiary himself knocks twice with the hammer. It is also the office of the cardinal penitentiary, at the end of the jubilee year, when the Holy Door is to be closed, to present to the pope the trowel and the mortar, to begin the walling up of the door. In Holy Week, the cardinal penitentiary, surrounded by those officers who constitute the signatura, or congress of the Penitentiaria, sits four times -- Palm Sunday, Wednesday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday -- in the penitential cathedra, or chair, set in each of the three above-mentioned Roman basilicas, and awaits for some time those who may wish to confess to him, striking lightly upon the head with his traditional rod (also used by the minor penitentiaries) those who may kneel before him with that intention, beginning with the officers of the Sacred Penitentiaria. On the part of the faithful this ceremony is public confession of having sinned against God, and a request for forgiveness by ecclesiastical authority of sins committed.

The Sacred Penitentiaria was always provided with great powers, formerly of internal jurisdiction only, but as time went on, of external jurisdiction also. Under the latter head its work so increased that the administration of this tribunal was greatly hampered. Several popes disapproved of this, especially Pius IV, who planned a reform both of its constitution and of its field of action, or competency. Death prevented him from carrying this into effect: it was realized by St. Pius V, who, in 1569, by his Constitution "In omnibus", reformed the organization of the Penitentiaria, while he modified its competency by his other Constitution "Ut bonus paterfamilias", both dated 18 May of that year. The competency of the Penitentiaria was confined to matters of internal jurisdiction. Little by little, the successors of Pius V increased the faculties of this tribunal; and, as many of these new concessions were made by word of mouth ( vivae vocis oraculo ), there arose new doubts to be solved; wherefore, to remove uncertainties Innocent XII, in 1682, formulated a new list of faculties for the Penitentiaria; but, the sovereign pontiff having delayed the solution of some doubts, and difficulties having arisen in regard to the interpretation of his Constitution, the desired end was not attained while, on the other hand, new faculties were granted to the Sacred Penitentiaria by succeeding popes. Consequently, Benedict XIV as constrained to define better the faculties of this tribunal, which that learned pontiff did by his famous Constitution, "Pastor bonus", of April, 1744, wherein he enumerated the faculties of the Sacred Penitentiaria more or less as they had been granted by Pius V, although broader in some respects. It is more remarkable that he granted some powers of external jurisdiction ; hence until now the Penitentiaria has had, as an exceptional faculty, the power of dispensing destitute or needy persons from public matrimonial impediments.

The Constitution "Sapienti consilio" of Pius X has confined the competency of the Penitentiaria to its former scope, limiting it to internal jurisdiction. The power to dispense from matrimonial impediments in relation to external jurisdiction, for all classes of people, having been granted to the Congregation of the Sacraments, the tribunal of the Penitentiaria received jurisdiction in all internal matters, in relation to which it is empowered to grant graces of all kinds -- absolutions, dispensations, commutations, ratifications in matter of impediments, condonations. This tribunal also deals with questions of conscience submitted to the judgment of the Holy See. It should be observed here that the chief penitentiary's powers of internal jurisdiction, even before the recent Constitution, held during the vacancy of the Holy See, while his power of external jurisdiction, with a few exceptions, was suspended.

As to the procedure of the Penitentiaria, it follows the rules set down in the Constitution "In apostolicae" of Benedict XIV, in all that is not at variance with the new Constitution of Pius X. It transacts its business under the greatest secrecy, and gratuitously (omnino secreto et gratis). It is chiefly a tribunal of mercy, as Benedict XIV asserts in his Constitution "Pastor bonus"; wherefore it is appropriate that its seal should bear, as is the case, an image of the Virgin Mother with the Child in her arms. Recourse is had to the Penitentiaria by means of a letter (written by the party interested or by that party's confessor ) exposing the case, without, however, naming the person concerned. The letter is addressed to the cardinal penitentiary, and may be written in any language. The name and address of the person to whom the answer is to be sent must be clearly given. The following may serve as an example of applications to be made to the Penitentiaria: "Your Eminence: Tizio and Caia [which must be fictitious names] wishing to be united in the bonds of holy matrimony ask Your Eminence for dispensation from the following impediments : (1) an impediment of the first degree in the direct line, that now is, and most probably will remain, concealed, originating in illicit relations between Tizio and the mother of Caia, after the latter's birth; (2) an impediment of crime, which is also concealed, originating in adultery between the petitioners while the first wife of Tizio still lived, with a mutual promise of marriage in case of the first wife's death. The reasons for this petition are . . . [here the facts are given]. The answer may be addressed as follows. . . ." Fictitious names may be given, with the request that the answer be sent to the General Delivery, or, if preferred, to the confessor of the interested party. The letter containing the petition should be addressed: "To His Eminence the Cardinal Chief Penitentiary, Palace of the Holy Office, Rome ".

We give this example of petitions to the Sacred Penitentiary as the faithful are in frequent need of recourse to that tribunal. The grace that is sought and the reasons why it should be granted vary, of course, in different cases.

B. The Sacred Roman Rota


C. The Apostolic Signatura

In former times, there was only one Signatura, i.e. there were a few assistants who were commissioned by the sovereign pontiff to investigate the petitions addressed to the Holy See , and to report concerning them. These functionaries were called Referendarii apostolici. Vitale, in his "Comm. de iure signaturae justitiae", says that there is record of the referendaries as such in 1243. Innocent IV mentions them. As time went on, recourse to the Holy See becoming more and more frequent, whether to obtain graces or to submit cases to the decision of the pope, the number of the referendaries increased considerably. Alexander VI deemed it expedient to define their office better, which he did by creating a double Signatura -- the Signatura of Grace, and the Signatura of Justice -- to which the referendaries were severally assigned. As the office of referendary was a very honourable one, it came to be conferred frequently as a merely honorary title, so that the number of the referendaries was unduly increased; and Sixtus V was constrained, in 1586, to limit the referendaries of the Signatura of Justice to 100, and those of the Signatura of Grace to 70. Alexander VII combined the referendaries of both Signaturas into a college, with a dean. These were called "voting referendaries", and actually exercised their office. The others remained as "supernumerary referendaries" (extra numerum). In 1834 Gregory XVI gave a new organization to the Signatura of Justice. On the other hand, the Signatura of Grace gradually disappeared: no mention is made of it after 1847 in the catalogues of the tribunals and officials of the Curia.

The Signatura of Grace, also called Signatura of the Holy Father (Signatura Sanctissimi), was held in the presence of the sovereign pontiff, and there were present at it some cardinals and many prelates, chief among the latter being the voters of this Signatura. At the invitation of the Holy Father, the voters voted upon the matters under consideration, but that vote was merely consultative. The Holy Father reserved to himself the decision in each case, announcing it then and there, or later, if he chose, through his "domestic auditor ", as De Luca calls him, or "auditor of the Holy Father" (auditor sanctissimi), as he was called later. The Signatura of Justice was a genuine tribunal, presided over in the name of the pope by a cardinal prefect. The voters of this Signatura were present at it, and their vote was not consultative, but definitive. As a rule, the cardinal prefect voted only when his vote was necessary for a decision.

Pius X, in the Constitution by which he reorganized the Curia, abolished the two ancient Signaturas, and created a new one that has nothing in common with the other two. The Signatura now consists of six cardinals, appointed by the pope, one of whom is its prefect. It has a secretary, a notary, who must be a priest, some consultors, and a few subordinate officers. The present Signatura is a genuine tribunal which ordinarily has jurisdiction in four kinds of cases, namely:

  • accusations of suspicions against an auditor of the Rota ;
  • accusations of violation of secrecy by an auditor of the Rota ;
  • appeals against a sentence of the Rota ;
  • petitions for the nullification of a decision of the Rota that has already become res judicata . As a temporary commission, the pope gave to the Signatura the mandate and the power to review the sentences passed by the Roman Congregations before the Constitution "Sapienti Consilio". This commission was given to the Signatura through an answer by the Consistorial Congregation on the subject of a doubt relating to a case of this kind. Of course the Holy Father may on special occasions give other commissions of this nature to the Apostolic Signatura.


These are five in number: The Apostolic Chancery; Apostolic Dataria; Apostolic Camera; Secretariate of State; Secretariate of Briefs.

A. The Apostolic Chancery (Cancelleria Apostolica)

This office takes its name from civil law and from the imperial chanceries, and is certainly of very ancient origin in its essence. The primacy of the Roman See made it necessary that the sovereign pontiff should have in his service officers to write and to transmit his answers to the numerous petitions for favours and to the numerous consultations addressed to him. This office, in course of time, underwent many transformations, to the most important of which only we shall refer. After Martin V had instituted a large number of offices in the Chancery, Sixtus V placed many of them in the class of vacabili, as they were then called. The origin of this institution was as follows: The pope was often compelled, in defence of Christendom, to wage war, to fit out expeditions, or at least to give financial assistance to the princes who waged such wars at his exhortation. But the pontifical treasury, on the other hand, was often without the means to defray even the expenses of the Pontifical States , and it became imperative to raise funds. Accordingly, the popes resorted to the expedient of selling several lucrative offices of the Curia, and, as a rule, to the highest bidder. It should be observed, however, that what was sold was not the office itself, but the receipts of the office, e.g., the taxes for the favours granted through the office in question. Some offices were sold with the right of succession by the heirs of the purchaser. This, however, could be done only in the case of an office of minor importance, in the exercise of which no special ability was required. Those offices which entailed grave responsibilities, and which could be filled only by pious and learned men, were sold on the condition that they should revert to the Curia at the death of the purchaser. An aleatory contract, therefore, was made, the uncertainty being, on the one side, the amount of the income of the office and, on the other, the length of life of the purchaser. The prices of the offices, especially of the more desirable ones, were considerable: Lorenzo Corsini, afterwards Clement XII, bought the office of regent of the Chancery for 30,000 Roman scudi -- a large fortune for those times. The hazard was not necessarily confined to the life of the purchaser; he was free to establish it upon the life of another person, provided the latter (called the intestatary) were expressly designated. The purchaser was also allowed to change the life hazard from one person to another, providing this were done forty days before the death of the last preceding intestatary.

The offices of the Chancery which were transformed into vacabili by Sixtus V were those of the regent, of the twenty-five solicitors, of the twelve notaries, auditors of the causes of the Holy Palace, and others. Sixtus V assigned the proceeds of these sales to the vice-chancellor (see below) as part of the latter's emoluments; but this too liberal prescription in favour of the cardinal who presided over the Chancery was revoked by Innocent XI, who assigned the revenue in question to the Apostolic Camera . Alexander VIII restored these revenues to the vice-chancellor, who, at that time, was the pope's nephew, Pietro Ottoboni. Under Napoleon I the Government redeemed many of the vacabili, and but few remained. Pius VII, after his return to Rome, undertook a reform of the Chancery, and wisely reduced the number of the offices. But, as he himself granted to the vacabili the privilege that, by a legal fiction, time should be regarded as not having transpired (quod tempus et tempera non currant), and many proprietors of vacabili having obtained grants of what was called sopravivevza by which deceased intestataries were considered to be living, it came to pass that certain offices remained vacabili in name, but not in fact. Finally, Leo XIII (1901) suppressed all the vacabili offices, ordering his pro-datary to redeem them, when necessary, the datary's office being substituted for the proprietors.

Since the Constitution of Pius X , the Chancery has been reduced to a forwarding office (Ufficio di Spedizione) with a small personnel; there are, besides the cardinal who presides over the Chancery, the regent, with the college of Apostolic prothonotaries, a notary, secretary and archivist, a protocolist, and four amanuenses. The presiding cardinal, prior to the recent Constitution, was called vice-chancellor. The authors who wrote on the Chancery gave many ingenious reasons why that dignitary should not have received the more obvious title of chancellor. Cardinal De Luca regarded these explanations as senseless (simplicitates et fabllae), and proposed an explanation of his own, without, however, insisting on its correctness. According to him, it was probable that the title of vice-chancellor arose in the same way as the title of pro-datary, the custom having been to call the head of the datary office (dataria) the datary (datario), if he were not a cardinal, and the pro-datary (pro datario), if he were a cardinal. The reason for this must be sought in the fact that the office of datary was really not that of a cardinal, but rather of minor dignity; wherefore it did not seem well to give the title of datary to a cardinal. The same custom still obtains in the case of a nuncio who is elevated to the cardinalate : he retains his position for a time, but with the title of pro-nuncio. This theory of De Luca's, if not altogether certain, is at least probable. The new Constitution, however, establishes that the head of the Chancery shall hereafter be called chancellor, a very reasonable provision, seeing that this office has been filled for centuries by cardinals. For the rest, the office in question was always regarded as one of the most honourable and most important of the Curia, as may be seen from Moroni's account of the funeral of Cardinal Alexander Farnese, vice-chancellor, and arch-priest of the Vatican Basilica. The authority of the vice-chancellor was increased when, under Alexander VIII in 1690, there was added to his office, in perpetuity, that of compiler (sommista).

At present the chancellor retains little of his former influence and attributes. He acts as notary in the consistories and directs the office of the chancery. The greatest splendour of the chancellor was under Leo X, from whose successor, Clement VII, this functionary received as residence the Palazzo Riario, long known as the Cancelleria Apostolica, where he resides at the present day. His former residence was in the Palazzo Borgia, from which he moved to the Palazzo Sforza Cesarini, the latter palace being, on this account, known for a long time as the Cancelleria Vecchia. The removal of the vice-chancellor's residence and office to the majestic Palazzo Riario, in the Campo di Fiori, was due to the confiscation of the property of Cardinal Raffaele Riario for his share, with Cardinals Petrucci, Sacchi, Soderini, and Castellesi, in a conspiracy against the life of Leo X. Contiguous to the Cancelleria, in fact forming a part of it, is the Church of San Lorenzo in Damaso. When Clement VII assigned this palace as the perpetual residence of the vice-chancellor, he provided that the vice-chancellor should always have the title of that church; and, as it happens that the chancellors are not always of the same order in the Sacred College, being sometimes cardinal-deacons, sometimes cardinal-priests, and sometimes cardinal-bishops, this church does not follow the rule of the other cardinalitial churches, which have a fixed grade, being titular -- that is churches over which cardinals of the order of priests are placed -- or deaconries -- churches over which are placed cardinal-deacons. San Lorenzo, on the contrary, is a titular when the chancellor ia of the order of priests, and a deaconry when he is a cardinal-deacon. When, on the other hand, he is a sub-urbicarian bishop, the chancellor retains this church in commendam.

The Regency, which is the next office in the order of precedence in the Chancery after the chancellorship, was created in 1377, when Gregory XI returned from France to his see. Cardinal Pierre de Monteruc, who was the chancellor at that time, refused to follow the pope from Avignon to Rome ; and, as it was necessary that someone should direct the office of the Chancery, the pope, leaving the title of vice-chancellor to Montéruc, appointed the Archbishop of Ban, Bartolommeo Prignano, regent of this important office. At the death of Gregory XI, in 1378, Prignano was elected pope, and he appointed a successor to himself in the office of regent of the Chancery, which was thereafter maintained, even when the vice-chancellor re-established his residence at Rome.

There is not space here to refer in detail to the other offices of the Chancery, and the subject is the less important, since the greater number of those offices have now disappeared for good.

At present the Chancery is charged only with the expedition of Bulls for Consistorial benefices, the establishment of new dioceses and new chapters, and other more important affairs of the Church. (For the various forms of Apostolic Letters, see BULLS AND BRIEFS.) One fact concerning the expedition of Bulls should be mentioned. Formerly, there were four different ways of issuing these documents, namely, by way of the Curia (per viam curios), by way of the Chancery (per cancellarium), secretly (per viam secretam), and by way of the Apostolic Camera (per viam cameras). The reason for this is that, while some Bulls were taxed, there was no taxation on others, and it was necessary to determine upon what Bulls the proprietors of the vacabili offices had a right to receive taxes. Bulls, therefore, which concerned the government of the Catholic world, being exempt from all taxation, were said to be issued by way of the Curia. Those Bulls of which the expedition was by way of the Chancery were the common Bulls, which, after being reviewed by the abbreviators of the greater presidency (see ABBREVIATORS), were signed by them and by the proprietors of the vacabili, the latter of whom received the established taxes. The Bulls said to be issued secretly were those in favour of some privileged persons -- as the palatine prelates, the auditors of the Rota, and the relatives of cardinals. They were signed by the vice-chancellor, and they, too, were exempt from taxation. Finally, the Bulls of which the expedition was said to be by way of the Camera were those that concerned the Apostolic Camera. Since the style and the rules of the Chancery could not be adapted to these Bulls, they were issued by the sommista, whose office was created by Alexander VI and later, as was said above, united by Alexander VIII with that of the vice-chancellor.

At the present time, all the vacabili having been abolished, these various forms of expedition have been suppressed, the new Constitution providing that all Bulls be issued by way of the Chancery, on order of the Congregation of the Consistory for all matters of the competency of that body, and by order of the pope for all others. This is in keeping with the new organization of the Chancery as a merely issuing office. The Constitution "Sapienti consilio" provided that the ancient formulae of Bulls should be changed, and the duty of preparing new ones was given to a commission of cardinals composed of the chancellor, the datary, and the secretary of the Consistorial Congregation. This commission has already reformed the Bulls for the Consistorial benefices, and Pius X, by his Motu Proprio of 8 December, 1910, approved the new formula; and ordered them to be used exclusively after 1 January, 1911. The college of the abbreviators of the greater presidency having been suppressed, and the abbreviators of the lesser presidency having become extinct in fact, the Apostolic prothonotaries in actual office have been appointed to sign the Bulls. A very reasonable change has also been made in regard to the dating of Bulls. Formerly Bulls were dated according to the year of the Incarnation, which begins on 25 March. This medieval style of dating remained peculiar to papal Bulls, and in time gave rise to much confusion. Pius X ordered these documents to be dated in future according to common custom, by the year which begins on 1 January.

Mention should here be made of what are known as the Rules of the Chancery. This name was given to certain Apostolic Constitutions which the popes were in the habit of promulgating at the beginning of their pontificate, in regard to judicial causes and those concerning benefices. In many cases the pope merely confirmed the provisions of his predecessor; in others he made additions or suppressions. The result has been an ancient collection of standing rules which remained unmodified even in the recent reorganization of the Curia. These Rules are usually divided into three classes: rules of direction or expedition, which concern the expedition of Bulls ; beneficial or reservatory rules, relating to benefices and reservations; lastly, judicial rules, concerning certain prescriptions to be observed in judicial matters, especially with relation to appeals. The Rules of the Chancery have the force of law, and are binding wherever exceptions have not been made to them by a concordat. In ancient times, these rules ceased to be in force at the death of the sovereign pontiff, and were revived only upon the express confirmation of the succeeding pope. Urban VIII , however, declared that, without an express confirmation, the Rules of the Chancery should be in force on the day after the creation of the new pope. It would be outside of the scope of this article to enter into a minute examination of these rules, all the more because the commission of cardinals charged with the reformation of the formulae of Bulls has also charge of revising the Rules of the Chancery.

B. The Apostolic Dataria

According to some authorities, among them Amydenus (De officio et jurisdictione datarii necnon de stylo Datariae), this office is of very ancient origin. It is not so, however, as appears from the fact that the business which eventually fell to it was originally transacted elsewhere. The Dataria was entrusted, chiefly, with the concession of matrimonial dispensations of external jurisdiction, and with the collation of benefices reserved to the Holy See. To this double faculty was added that of granting many other indults and graces, but these additions were made later. Until the time of Pius IV matrimonial dispensations were granted through the Penitentiaria; and as to the collation of reserved benefices, that authority could not have been granted in very remote times, since the establishment of those reservations is comparatively recent: although some vestige of reservations is found even prior to the twelfth century, the custom was not frequent before Innocent II, and it was only from the time of Clement IV that the reservation of benefices was adopted as a general rule [c. ii, "De pract. et dignit." (III, 4) in 6°]. It may be said that, while this office certainly existed in the fourteenth century, as an independent bureau, it is impossible to determine the precise time of its creation.

The Dataria consists, first, of a cardinal who is its chief and who, until the recent Constitution, was called the pro-datary, but now has the official title of datary. There was formerly as much discussion about the title of pro-datary as about that of vice-chancellor (see above). Some are of opinion that it is derived from the fact that this office dated the rescripts or graces of the sovereign pontiff, while others hold it to be derived from the right to grant and give (dare) the graces and indults for which petition is made to the pope. It is certain that, on account of these functions the datary enjoyed great prestige in former times, when he was called the eye of the pope (oculus papae). After the cardinal comes the subdatary, a prelate of the Curia who assists the datary, and takes the latter's place, upon occasion, in almost all of his functions. In the old organization of the Dataria there came after the subdatary a number of subordinate officials who, as De Luca says, bore titles that were enigmatical and sibyllic, as, for example, the prefect of the per obitum, the prefect of the concessum, the cashier of the componenda, an officer of the missis, and the like.

Leo XIII had already introduced reforms into the organization of the Dataria, to make it harmonize with modern requirements, and Pius X , reducing the competency of the office, gave it an entirely new organization in his Constitution "Sapienti consilio", according to which the Dataria consists of the cardinal datary, the sub-datary, the prefect and his surrogate (sostituto), a few officers, a cashier, who has also the office of distributor, a reviser, and two writers of Bulls. The new Constitution retains the theological examiners for the competitions for parishes. Among the Datary offices that have been abolished mention should be made of that of the Apostolic dispatchers, which, in the new organization of the Curia, has no longer a reason for being. Formerly these officials were necessary, because private persons could not refer directly to the Dataria, which dealt only with persons known to, and approved by, itself. Now, however, anyone may deal directly with the Dataria, as with any of the other pontifical departments. The Dataria, which, as noted above, was commissioned to grant many papal indults and graces, has now only to investigate the fitness of candidates for Consistorial benefices, which are reserved to the Holy See, to write and to dispatch the Apostolic Letters for the collation of those benefices, to dispense from the conditions required in regard to them, and to provide for the pensions, or for the execution of the charges imposed by the pope when conferring those benefices.

It would be both lengthy and difficult to retrace the former modes of procedure of this office, all the more as it was mainly regulated by tradition, while this tradition was jealously guarded by the officers of the Datary, who were generally laymen, and who had in that way established a species of monopoly as detrimental to the Holy See as profitable to themselves; thus it happened that these offices often passed from father to son, while the ecclesiastical superiors of the officials were to a great extent blindly dependent upon them. Leo XIII began the reform of this condition of things so unfavourable to good administration, and Pius X has totally abolished it.

C. The Apostolic Camera

In the Constitution "Sapienti consilio" Pius X provided that during vacancies of the Holy See its property should be administered by this office. The cardinal - camerlengo presides over the Camera, and is governed in the exercise of his office by the rules established in the Constitution, "Vacante sede apostolica", of 25 December, 1906. (For history and general treatment see APOSTOLIC CAMERA.)

D. The Secretariate of State

After the promulgation of the Constitution of Innocent XII, in 1692, the cardinal nephews were succeeded by the secretaries of State. Of the cardinal nephews many authors have written with greater severity than is justified by the facts, although the dignitaries in question may on more than one occasion have given cause of complaint. In times when the life of the pope was in jeopardy from conspiracies formed in his own court (such, for instance, as that against Leo X mentioned above, under A. The Apostolic Chancery ), it was a necessity for the sovereign pontiff to have as his chief assistant one in whom he might repose implicit confidence, and such he could nowhere more surely find than in his own family. The cardinal nephew was called "Secretarius Papae et superintendens status ecclesiasticæ". The cardinal secretary of State, who fills the place of the nephew, has been, and is, in the present day, the confidential assistant of the pope. Hence the office is vacated upon the death of the reigning pontiff. Before the promulgation of the recent Constitution of Pius X, this office of Curia comprised, besides the cardinal secretary himself, a surrogate, also called secretary of the cipher, and some clerks and subaltern officials. Now, however, there have been amalgamated with it certain other offices which were formerly independent. The Secretariate of State, therefore, is at present divided into three sections, the first of which deals with certain extraordinary ecclesiastical affairs, the second with ordinary affairs, including grants of honours, titles, and decorations by the Holy See otherwise than through the majordomo, the third with the expediting of pontifical Briefs.

For the work of the first section, see what is said on the subject of the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, under ROMAN CONGREGATIONS. The second section deals with the relations of the Holy See with secular princes, whether through Apostolic nuncios or legates or through the ambassadors accredited to the Vatican. This section of the office of the secretary of State has charge of the distribution of offices of the Curia, and of the election of the various officers. Through this section titles of nobility -- as prince, marquis, count palatine, etc. -- are granted and the decorations of the Holy See, which, besides the golden cross pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, instituted by Leo XIII, include such distinctions as the Supreme Order of Christ (or Order of the Militia of Jesus Christ, as it is called by Pius X in his brief of 7 February, 1905), the Order of Pius IX, established by that pontiff in 1847, the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, created by Gregory XVI in 1831; the Order of Saint Sylvester ; the Order of the Golden Militia, or of the Golden Spur, restored by Pius X, and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, of which Pius X has reserved to himself the supreme mastership.

As has already been said, the third section of the Secretariate of State is exclusively concerned with the expediting of Briefs.

E. The Secretariate of Briefs to Princes and of Latin Letters

The Secretariate of Briefs to Princes consists of the secretary and two office assistants. The secretary is a prelate whose duty it is to write the pontifical Briefs addressed to emperors, kings, civil princes, or other exalted personages. He also prepares the allocutions which the pope pronounces at Consistories, and the Encyclicals or Apostolic Letters addressed to the bishops and to the faithful. All this he does according to the instructions of the pope. He must be a proficient Latinist, since Latin is the language in which these documents are written. The secretary for Latin letters is also a prelate or private chamberlain (cameriere segreto), his duties being to write the letters of less solemnity which the sovereign pontiff addresses to different personages. He has an office assistant.


Certain commissions of cardinals which still exist are the Commissions for Biblical Studies, for Historical Studies, for the Administration of the Funds of the Holy See or of the Peterspence, for the Conservation of the Faith in Rome, and for the Codification of the Canon Law.

In the wider sense of the term, the Curia includes not only the departments already mentioned, but also what is officially known as the Pontifical Family. The chief members of this body are the two palatine cardinals -- cardinal datary and the cardinal secretary of State. Formerly the cardinal datary always lived with the pope ; the secretary of State, even now, lives in the Vatican Palace and is the pontiff's confidential officer. After these follow the palatine prelates : majordomo, the maestro di camera, the master of the Sacred Palace, and the carnerieri segreti partecipanti (the private almoner, the secretary of Briefs to Princes, the surrogate for ordinary affairs of the Secretariate of State and secretary of the Cipher, the sub-datary, the secretary for Latin Letters, the copyist, the embassy secretary, and the master of the robes), to whom are added, as palatine prelates, the sacristan and the se

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