Skip to content
Deacon Keith Fournier Hi reader, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

Analysis: New Vatican constitution to centralize power in state secretariat

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

By (CNA/EWTN)
7/3/2019 (2 weeks ago)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)

Last week, Bishop Marcello Semeraro, secretary of the pope's C6 Council of Cardinal Advisors announced that the group hoped to present Francis with a final draft of a new Vatican constitution in September.

Highlights

By (CNA/EWTN)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
7/3/2019 (2 weeks ago)

Published in Europe

Keywords: Analysis, New Vatican, state secretariat


Vatican City, (CNA) - Praedicate Evangelium, as the new governing document for the Roman curia is to be called, completes the reforming work already begun of combining various smaller Vatican departments into a more streamlined structure.

Focus on the forthcoming changes has largely fixed on the perception that a reformed and enlarged Dicastery for Evangelization will be "ranked above" the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the change said to imply a shift in priorities for the universal Church.

In fact, a recent draft of Praedicate Evangelium obtained by CNA proposes a far more significant change in the governing structure of the Church, one which represents a consolidation of power in Rome unprecedented in the modern era.

With a single exception, all of the Vatican departments '" currently styled as Secretariats, Congregations, or Pontifical Councils, depending on their size and scope '" are renamed "dicasteries." While the reformed Dicastery for the Evangelization is listed first, there is no legal order of precedence or priority attached to it or its work, and all dicasteries are, in the words of the draft text, "juridically equal among themselves."

The single exception to this new uniform designation is the Secretariat of State, which retains its traditional name and is unquestionably the "first" Vatican department under the new constitution.

The most dramatic reform proposed in the current draft of Praedicate Evangelium is the effective ending of any curial department's ability to exercise papal governing authority on a stably delegated basis. 

The draft text lays down that a curial department "cannot issue laws or general decrees having the force of law, nor can it deviate from the prescriptions of the universal law" except on a case-by-case basis "approved specifically by the Supreme Pontiff." It further provides that any "important, rare, and extraordinary affairs" cannot be treated by the prefect of the dicastery unless and until he has cleared the matter with the pope and received his approval.

Legally, this means that the pope must personally approve every authoritative decision to emerge from a curial department - an historic recentralization of Roman power into the person of the pope.

Closely related to the end of curial departments' ability to exercise the power of governance is another historic proposed reform: that lay people can serve as the head of any dicastery. 

Canon law defines ordination as a necessary qualification for the exercise of the power of governance. Lay people '" according to the Code of Canon Law '" can "cooperate" in the exercise, but not exercise it in their own right. Removing the stable exercise of delegated governing authority from all dicasteries is a legal necessity, either as cause or effect, for allowing lay prefects to lead a given department.

Many canonists and curial officials who have seen the draft privately warn it could prove a recipe for administrative gridlock.

"Imagine if the American president said that every binding decision taken by an executive department had to cross his desk and receive his personal approval '" it is impossible, there is not time, nothing will get done," one serving curial archbishop told CNA.

Deciding which matters arrive on the papal desk to receive the pope's time, attention, and approval - and which do not - would, under the new constitution, effectively determine which areas of Church governance Rome chooses to control. Here again, the singular status of the Secretariat of State is underlined.

Unlike a "dicastery," which can be headed by a lay person, Praedicate Evangelium provides that the Secretariat of State must be led by a cardinal, currently Cardinal Pietro Parolin. This department is placed in charge of coordinating the work of the dicasteries and, through meetings with the heads of those departments, "making decisions that will be proposed to the Supreme Pontiff."

The Secretariat of State's section for general affairs is also given charge of drafting governing legal documents, including apostolic constitutions, letters of decree, and apostolic letters, and of processing those acts which have been presented for personal papal approval.

"The [new constitution's] preamble says a lot about collegiality and subsidiarity," one long-serving curial official told CNA, "but this is just the total centralization of power in the office of the Secretary of State."

"Nothing can be done without the pope's approval, and nothing gets to the pope except through [Cardinal Parolin] '" it's the creation of a vice-regency."

Praedicate Evangelium's blueprint for the new curia places considerable emphasis on regular meetings among the heads of dicasteries and the need for "collegiality, transparency and concerted action."

One archbishop, currently serving in a senior curial role said that while these were "noble principles," the result could be "inefficiency by design."

"It is an essentially Soviet model. Lots of meetings, lots of discussion, but in the end the Secretary [of State] decides what will happen."

Asked about the difficulty in securing papal approval for every authoritative decision, the archbishop told CNA "that is the design."

"The pope cannot decide everything, that is why we have a curia to begin with. This pope above all hates meetings and this was understood [by the drafting committee]. It creates a filter, what it is decided he should approve he can approve, what is not, he will simply not receive."

Curial officials familiar with the drafting process told CNA that the apparent centralization of admirative power in the Secretariat of State was deliberately counterbalanced with new, expanded recognition of national bishops' conferences.

In the section describing the reformed Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Praedicate Evangelium refers to the "primary responsibility" of bishops and bishops' conferences for the particular Churches and makes specific reference to the "genuine doctrinal authority" enjoyed by them.

On measures related to "protecting the faith," the reformed CDF is to work in close cooperation with local bishops' conferences, "above all [on] the issue of authorization for teaching in the Church, where the Dicastery will apply the principle of subsidiarity."

One senior official told CNA that "This idea of episcopal conferences having genuine doctrinal authority is very dangerous. We have seen so much confusion just on Communion for the divorced and remarried, now we say what? The Germans can decide what they like with a vote and that is genuine teaching authority?"

One archbishop given sight of the draft told CNA that the plan amounted to "a blueprint for federalism." 

"If you want to see one authentic teaching in Germany and another in Poland, this is how you achieve it."

The document is still in the process of revision. Pope Francis met with the C6 in June to discuss the comments and suggestions received on the draft text, after it was circulated among the presidents of national bishops' conferences, dicasteries of the Roman Curia, Synods of the Eastern Churches, conferences of major superiors, and select pontifical universities. 

Bishop Semeraro called it "an intense process of listening," though the feedback has been stinging in some quarters.

Several curial staffers from different departments told CNA that their congregations had returned "pages of suggested revisions," and expressed deep concerns about the document's proposed centralization of curial operations and the doctrinal latitude it appeared to give episcopal conferences.

One curial bishop told CNA that "Everyone is talking about the effects for the CDF, and I suppose those are the most dramatic, but this touches everything - the Church's teaching underpins all parts of ecclesiastical life, liturgy, clerical discipline, how we evangelize. Now, we have a new system designed to create exactly the sort of problems the curia exists to resolve."

"Everything touching power and money goes to State. Everything else is thrown to the wind."

It remains to be seen how closely the final version of Praedicate Evangelium will resemble the current draft, and significant changes could well be implemented in the coming months. In the meantime, many are concerned that if Rome becomes unable to speak clearly, it is the Church's essential mission to preach the Gospel that would suffer.


Comments


More Europe

Cardinal Mueller criticizes 'false teaching' on revelation in Amazon synod doc Watch

Image of

That the working document for October's Synod of Bishops calls the Amazon region a source of revelation is a "false teaching," Cardinal ... continue reading


Abortion Clinic 'buffer zone' challenged in London Watch

Image of

The Court of Appeal of England and Wales is hearing a challenge Tuesday and Wednesday to a buffer zone banning pro-life gatherings and ... continue reading


Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

N Ireland bill legalizing abortion, gay marriage faces challenges in House of Lords Watch

Image of

As the British parliament continues to consider a bill on Northern Ireland including amendments that would legalize abortion and same-sex ... continue reading


Vatican draws attention to sacrifice of seafarers, requests prayers Watch

Image of

The prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development urged prayers Sunday for seafarers, fishermen, and maritime workers, ... continue reading


Pope Francis: Judge your own heart first - not that of those in need

Image of

Helping a person in need requires compassion toward their situation, Pope Francis said Sunday, encouraging Catholics to think first about ... continue reading


Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Information
Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Services
Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on catholic.org

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Education
Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Socials
Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.