ROME — Pope Francis on Saturday issued a new constitution, nearly a decade in the making, to govern the bureaucracy that runs the Roman Catholic Church.
The 54-page constitution recently provides that baptized lay Catholics, including women, can lead departments traditionally run by cardinals and step up institutional efforts to protect minors by stepping up the Papal Commission on Clergy Abuse. participate in the government of the church.
The new text — titled “Praedicate Evangelium” or “Proclaiming the Gospel” — concluded a process that has seen trickle of review over the years regarding the Vatican’s finances and the consolidation of Vatican offices. It reflects Francis’s emphasis on a more pastoral and grounded church, and puts a concrete stamp on the functioning of the church.
Reforming the often unwieldy and out-of-touch Vatican bureaucracy known as the Roman Curia, which runs a church of 1.3 billion believers, was a central motivation for Francis’s election in 2013.
The document, prepared by top cardinals elected by Francis, was released on the ninth anniversary of his inauguration as pope. It explicitly states in the preamble that “the Pope, bishops and other ordained ministers are not the only evangelizers in the church”, giving Catholic “lay and laity” room to “have government roles and responsibility”. Another section, called “Principles,” states that the Pope can appoint any Catholic he deems qualified to lead a Vatican office.
Church experts suggested that the divisions for bishops, who oversee bishops around the world, and clergy, who deal with the priests of the church, would still require men as leaders, because only men can be priests.
The new constitution also places Francis’s Abuse Commission within the powerful doctrinal office that has often opposed the panel’s recommendations. The new structure, the constitution says, will help the church “protect minors and vulnerable individuals from sexual abuse.”
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston and the chairman of the committee in question, has at times taken the extraordinary step against the hierarchy, criticizing Francis for being tone-deaf and wrong about abuse. But the cardinal called the incorporation of his commission into ecclesiastical government a “major step forward in improving the place and mandate of the commission, which can only lead to a stronger culture of protection throughout the Curia and the whole Church.” “
The constitution, signed by Francis on Saturday and published immediately, and in Italian only, will come into force on June 5, replacing the “Pastorbonus” or “Good Shepherd” charter, introduced in 1988 by Pope John Paul II.
Francis has made it a tradition to accuse the leaders of the Roman Curia — usually in a grand Christmas speech — of a myriad of sins, including being in love with power and status and being far from the faithful.
He has denigrated the Curia hierarchy as a self-righteous, “heavy, bureaucratic customs house” plagued by “small group intrigue” that placed themselves and the priesthood above parishioners, rather than “shepherds, smelling sheep.”
The new constitution seeks to codify Francis’ vision of the Church. It introduces changes to put serving the Pope back at the heart of the Curia’s mission – “Nothing can be done until the head of the Curia institution communicates it to the Roman Pontifex,” it reads at one point – as well as serving bishops and supporting the local churches that Francis considers the lifeblood of the faith.
The Vatican offices will be further streamlined, but will also undergo a new prioritization. After the powerful Secretary of State, the top bill will go to the new Dicastery for Evangelism, which combines a previous office supporting the Church in the developing world, and in countries where Catholics are a minority, with another dedicated to supporting the Church. reinvigorating faith in countries that already claim a large Catholic presence. The new office comes “directly” under the Pope, with the help of two prefects.
Francis has repeatedly attempted to place his pontificate within the continuum of the Second Vatican Council, the historic gathering of bishops in the 1960s who sought to embrace the modern world.
He has recently cracked down on the use of the old Latin Rite in Mass celebrations, which is favored by traditionalists. Francis decided they were divisive within the church because they were promoting a vision that undermined the legitimacy of the modern church. The mission statement of the new Constitution for the Dicastery of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments says that the ministry “promotes the sacred liturgy in accordance with the renewal undertaken by the Second Vatican Council.”