The Roman Curia
IN the previous issue of The CBCP Monitor, we dealt with the Synod of Bishops, as a way of helping the Pope in the shepherding of the whole Catholic Church. Now we shall continue with what is popularly known as the Roman Curia, which constitutes the body of offices that help the Roman Pontiff with the business of the day-to-day running of the Catholic Church from the Vatican.
THE Roman Curia is composed of the various offices and related services, which assist the Roman Pontiff in the exercise of the supreme power in the Church. The term Roman Curia seems to have come in vogue in the 12th Century. The term curia itself has unclear roots, but in Church usage, the term can mean a judgment, a major assembly, or the hall used by Church leaders (bishop, eparch, patriarch, etc.). In this case, it has referred both to the building and to the people who worked there. Nowadays, the term is used in relation to the capital offices—e.g., at the level of the particular Churches (prelatic, diocesan or archdiocesan) or universal (Roman) Church.
1. Nature of the Roman Curia
Can.360—The Supreme Pontiff usually conducts the business of the universal Church by means of the Roman Curia, which fulfills its duty in his name and by his authority for the good and the service of the churches; it consists of the Secretariat of State or the Papal Secretariat, the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, congregations, tribunals and other institutions, whose structure and competency are defined in special law.
1) Exercise of Power of Jurisdiction — The Roman Curia is capacitated by law to make acts of the power of jurisdiction that are canonically binding, within the sphere of competence of the different dicasteries. This includes:
a) Administrative — The dicasteries of the Roman Curia exercise a prevalently administrative function, through acts of impulse, exhortation and assessment directed to or petitioned by the different segments of the universal Church.
b) Judicial — The tribunals of the Curia exercise a judicial function.
c) Legislative — With the expressed approval of the Pope, the dicasteries can also dictate general decrees, which are laws properly speaking (cf. cc.29-30).
2) Ordinary and Vicariate Power — The power of the Curia is ordinary and vicariate, because it presupposes an organic participation in the power of the Roman Pontiff. Some authors have also used the notion of an organic deconcentration of functions, although the resultant reality is the same.
3) Principle of Legality — As Pastor Bonus stipulates, the Roman Curia should exercise its functions “according to law, whether universal or special to the Roman Curia, and according to the norms of each dicastery, but always with pastoral means and criteria, in attention to justice as well as the good of the Church, as well as the good of souls above all” (PB, 15).
2. Organization of the Roman Curia
a. General Organization
As c.361 states, the Roman Curia consists of the following:
1) Dicasteries — The generic term for each of the organisms in the Roman Curia is dicastery. Within this generic term are included different colleges, specifically called congregations, tribunals, pontifical councils, commisions, offices and institutes. The dicasteries are juridically equal to each other, and the common dispositions for their composition and functioning are contained in the General Regulations of the Roman Curia, published in 4.II.1992. Each dicastery is normally composed of:
a) Cardinal Prefect (or Archbishop President) assisted by a Secretary — who both cease upon reaching 75 years old.
b) Members —Cardinals, some Bishops, some clerics or even laymen— who all cease upon reading 80 years old.
c) Consultors and Officials — who help the members in their task.
2) Secretariat of State (or Papal Secretariat) — This occupies a peculiar position in the organization of the Curia, given its immediate proximity to the Pope. Organizationally, it would appear as the chief middle manager in the Curia, whose responsibilities include the following:
a) Aid the Pope in his relationship with the universal Church and with the other departments of the Roman Curia, and coordinate direct access to the Pope.
b) Coordinate the work of the different curial offices and preside over the regular meetings of the heads of the different dicasteries.
c) Handle matters which are not clearly within the competence of any other dicastery.
d) Together with the Council for Public Affairs of the Church, supervise the work of the papal legates around the world and take charge of the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications.
e) Edit Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official gazette of the Holy See (cf. c.8, §1).
3) Council for the Public Affairs of the Church — This is the agency responsible for diplomatic relations with civil governments. It used to be a section of the Secretariat of State, but was spun off by Paul VI. Today, although it is still headed by the Secretary of State, there is a council of cardinals that shares the responsibility for this office. Together with the Secretariat of State, it supervises the work of the papal legates around the world and takes charge of the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications.
b. Sacred Congregations
The term sacred in the titles of these dicasteries enjoy centuries of usage, and is explained by the fact that they deal with sacred—i.e., religious—matters. They are not involved in civil governance issues, not even of Church-State relations—which are under the care of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, a dicastery that had never been termed sacred. Of late, the adjective sacred has been dropped from the terminology altogether. At the time the 1983 Code took effect, there were nine congregations (more have been added since then):
1) The Congregation for Bishops — is responsible for the erection, division, suppression or other changes in ecclesiastical circumscriptions, i.e., dioceses, ecclesiastical provinces, regions, military ordinariates and personal prelatures. It is also in charge of the process of selecting bishops, apostolic vicars, prefects and administrators, military ordinaries and other prelates with personal jurisdiction. It receives the 5-year report (c.399) submitted by diocesan bishops, orders apostolic visitations of dioceses, and deals with anything else concerning bishops.
2) The Congregation for Catholic Education — formerly called the S.C. for Seminaries and Universities. It is now comprised of three offices, two of which retain the former identity:
a) The Office for seminaries — for matters dealing with seminaries, except for those seminaries under the S.C. for the Oriental Churches and the S.C. for the Evangelization of Peoples (i.e., those in so-called mission territories).
b) The Office for institutes of higher education — for matters dealing with universities and other institutes of higher education. These include ecclesiastical institutions established by the Holy See (cc.815-821), Catholic colleges and universities (cc.807-814) and similar institutions.
c) The Office for Catholic schools — looks after matters affecting Catholic schools, both parochial and diocesan, except those subject to the S.C. for the Oriental Churches and the S.C. for the Evangelization of Peoples.
3) The Congregation for the Clergy — which was formerly the S.C. of the Council, established to implement and interpret the decrees of the Council of Trent. This explains the extensive responsibilities of this congregation, which go beyond what concerns the clergy per se. Three offices comprise this congregation:
a) Office on the life and ministry of the clergy — dealing with matters ranging from their holiness of life to their continuing education and pastoral ministry. It exercises vigilance over pastors and other priests in pastoral ministry, over presbyteral councils and over pastoral councils (diocesan and parish).
b) Office on preaching and catechetics — which promotes and approves pastoral and catechetical directories prepared by difference episcopal conferences, and indicates opportune norms for the religious instruction of children, youth and adults.
c) Office on temporal administration — which handles matters related to alienation of ecclesiastical goods (c.1292, §2); pious foundations, wills and legacies; condition of church buildings, sanctuaries and artistic patrimony; taxes; pensions and the proper support of the clergy.
4) The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — was originally known as the Inquisition and was responsible for addressing the threats of heresy in the 16th Century. Known also as the Holy Office, its name was changed by Paul VI in 1965 even prior to the full reorganization of the Curia. This dicastery is tasked with examining new teachings and opinions, promote their study and condemn—when necessary—the unorthodox ones after hearing the bishops of the region affected.
5) The Congregation for the Oriental Churches — was renamed to the plural Churches to reflect the teaching of Vatican II regarding the equality of the various Ritual Churches sui iuris that form the worldwide communion of the Catholic Church. Aside from the assigned cardinals, the different patriarchs and major metropolitans of the Eastern Catholic Churches are ex officio members of the congregation, together with the President of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.
6) The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples — used to be called S.C. for the Propagation of the Faith or Propaganda Fide. A more descriptive title was assumed, given the pejorative connotation of propaganda in the modern world. Its competence is quite broad, including not only specifically missionary activities but also the development and governance of pastoral life in the particular Churches located in the territories subject to it.
7) The S.C. for Religious and Secular Institutes — is often referred to by its Latin abbreviation SCRIS. In addition to the cardinals and diocesan bishops assigned to it, three general superiors of clerical religious institutes take part in its plenary sessions. The congregation has two sections:
a) Section for religious of the Latin Church. Included are societies of apostolic life (cc.731-746) and third orders (cc.311, 312 and 317). Not included are religious institutes founded in mission territories and are working principally there. This section processes the permission to establish, suppress or change an institute. It supervises matters of government and safeguards the specific purpose of each institute.
b) Section for secular institutes of the Latin Church — which performs similar functions for secular institutes, adapted to their specific nature.
8) The Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship — is the result of the fusion in 1975 of two congregations, the S.C. for Sacraments and the S.C. for Divine Worship, the latter being in its turn the result of the splitting in 1969 of the older S.C. for Rites into the S.C. for Divine Worship and the S.C. for Causes of Saints. The present dicastery has two sections:
a) Section on sacraments — looks after the discipline of the seven sacraments, except for privilege of the faith cases and dispensations from celibacy of priests (which go to the S.C. for the Doctrine of the Faith) and cases on the validity of marriage (which go to the Roman Rota).
b) Section on divine worship — looks after pastoral and liturgical concerns. It prepares liturgical texts and calendars for the universal Latin Church, as well as those proper to specific dioceses and religious institutes. It approves, dispenses and interprets texts and translations, governs the veneration of relics, confirms patrons (of dioceses, etc.) and confers the title of minor basilica on noteworthy churches.
9) The Congregation for Causes of Saints — was formed when the Sacred Congregation of Rites was reorganized in 1969. It takes charge of the processes for the beatification and canonization of saints in the Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches and is competent for the authentication of relics. It works through three offices:
a) Judicial Office — establishes the procedures for beatification and canonization and carries them out.
b) Office of the Promoter General of the Faith — who acts as the so-called Devil’s Advocate, investigating any objections and assuring the integrity of the procedure.
c) Historico-hagiographical Office — investigates cases for which there are no living witnesses and has to resort to careful historical research to determine the heroic virtue of persons whose causes are presented long after their death.
Secretariats are organized along the same lines as the congregations—i.e., cardinals and bishops from around the world are appointed: a cardinal serves as President (Pro-President if he is not a cardinal), assisted by a Secretary, Undersecretary and an appropriate staff. Three permanent secretariats were established in the 1960s:
1) Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity — has the competence specified by its title, which it carries out in two offices and a special commission:
a) An office for relations with Eastern Christians — e.g., Orthodox Churches.
b) An office for relations with Western Christians — e.g., Anglicans, Protestants, etc.
c) A special commission for religious relations with the Jews.
2) Secretariat for Non-Christians — charged with developing relations with non-Christian believers and promoting greater esteem among Christians for non-Christian believers. It has a special office for religious relations with Moslems.
3) Secretariat for Non-Believers — which is charged with the study and development of relations with atheists. It has carried on dialogues with Marxists and studies on the meaning of atheism and religious indifferentism in the modern world.
Can.1442—The Roman Pontiff is the supreme judge for the entire Catholic world; he tries cases either personally or through the ordinary tribunals of the Apostolic See or through judges delegated by himself. Three tribunals form part of the Roman Curia, each with a specialized competence and its proper organization.
1) The Apostolic Penitentiary — has its roots in the medieval practice of naming a cardinal to absolve censures reserved to the Holy See. In time, his competence has been reduced to the internal forum, and today he functions at the level of the universal Church in much the same way as the canon penitentiary at the level of the particular Church (c.508).
2) The Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura — is the supreme court of the external forum in the Church. It is composed of a panel of cardinal judges, presided by one of their number as Prefect and assisted by a secretary, sub-secretary, promoter of justice, defender of the bond, chancellor and staff.
3) The Roman Rota — is the main appellate court of the Roman Curia, although it also tries some cases in the first instance. It derives its name (rota = wheel in Latin) from the method of determining the composition of the panels (called ternus) of rotal judges (called auditores), who serve in panels of three, five, seven or all together (videntibus omnibus).
e. Other Institutions of the Roman Curia
To round off this part of our discussion, other institutions have arisen in the Vatican:
1) Councils and Commissions — Several of these carry on important work in the Curia, of varying natures and permanence:
a) Temporary — e.g., revision of the Vulgate, and until recently revision of canon law.
b) Scholarly — e.g., biblical studies, sacred archeology, history and sacred art.
c) Pastoral — e.g., Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, Pontifical Council for the Laity, Pontifical Council for the Family.
2) Offices — These carry out operations of the Roman Curia and services directly connected with the papal household.