Pope Francis on the Reform of the Roman Curia
by John R. Connolly
June 22, 2022
June 22, 2022
“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
They were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues of fire,
Which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”
(Acts 2: 1-4)
On June 5, 2022, Pentecost Sunday, the Catholic Church celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit. Also, on this day one of the most significant events in the recent history of the Catholic Church took place. Yet, sadly it went unnoticed by the majority of Catholic parishioners in the United States. On this day Pope Francis’ Apostolic Constitution, Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel), on the reform of the Roman Curia went into effect. The full title of the document is Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium on the Roman Curia and its Service to the Church and the World. In a real sense through the promulgation of this document the Holy Spirit descended upon all un-ordained baptized Catholics bestowing on them the gift to fully participate in the governance of the Catholic Church. Based upon the church’s teaching that all Catholics participate in the church’s mission to preach the Gospel by virtue of their baptism, Praedicate Evangelium states that their participation in the governance of the church is indispensable. “Every Christian, by virtue of Baptism, is a missionary disciple… (Praedicate Evangelium, PE, Preamble, 10). Consequently, the document goes on to affirm that the reform of the Roman Curia “must include the involvement of lay people, even in roles of government and responsibility.” (PE, Preamble, 10). Of course, it is true that Catholic lay women and men already serve as members of various Curial congregations, but what is new in Praedicate Evangelium is that it allows Catholic lay persons to preside over a Dicastery, the new name given to all the departments of the Curia, replacing the use of the term congregation. (PE, II, 5). It must be pointed out that this is a momentous development in the Catholic Church’s understanding of the basis of the governing authority of the Roman Curia. It has always been recognized that the authority of the Curia was a vicarious authority based upon receiving a delegated power from the pope. However, in the past, since 1588, positions of leadership in the Roman Curia could only be delegated to cardinals and bishops, who, of course, were all ordained ministers. It was assumed that the power of governance in the Curia was reserved only for those who had received the sacrament of (holy) orders. The new view presented in Praedicate Evangelium is that the power of governance in the Curia can be delegated to any baptized Catholic. Hence, participation in the governance of the church as a member of the Roman Curia is based upon baptism and not upon the reception of orders.
In Praedicate Evangelium Pope Francis has reformed the institutional structures of the Roman Curia so that they more effectively reflect and serve the primary mission of the Church which is to preach the Gospel, evangelization. The document states that preaching the Gospel is the first service that the Church can offer to people living in the world today. This is the task that Jesus entrusted to his followers. (PE, Preamble, 1). The purpose of evangelization is “so that Christ, the light of the nations, may be known and witnessed to in word and deed and his Mystical Body, which is the Church, may be built.” (PE, Sec. 5, Art.53.1). This evangelical emphasis on the mission of the Church has been the cornerstone of Pope Francis’ notion of the Church and his vision of reform since the beginning of his papacy. In Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, Francis states that as the agent of evangelization the Church is “first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way toward God.” (Evangelii Gaudium, EG, 111). Salvation is the primary mission of the Church. The Church is sent by Jesus Christ as “the sacrament of salvation offered by God.” (EG, 112). Its main principle is the primacy of grace. (EG, 112). The salvation that God has brought through Christ, and which is joyfully proclaimed by the Church is for everyone. (EG, 113). “Jesus did not tell the apostles to form an exclusive and elite group.” (EG, 113).
Another notion central to Pope Francis’ understanding of the mission of the Church is the synodal model. In Praedicate Evangelii Francis intends to reform the structures and procedures of the Roman Curia so that they more effectively reflect and implement the synodal model. In speaking of the mystery of communion in the church Praedicate Evangelium states that the “life of communion gives the Church the face of synodality…” (PE, Preamble, 4). The document goes on to explain that this means “mutual listening, in which each one has something to learn.” (PE, Preamble, 4). It means that the Catholic faithful, the bishops, and the pope all listen to one another, and together listen to the Holy Spirit to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church today. The reform of the Roman Curia must reflect this fundamental reciprocity so that the “community of believers may draw as close as possible to the experience of missionary communion lived by the Apostles with the Lord during his earthly life…” (PE, Preamble, 4). Since the beginning of his papacy Pope Francis has made the use of synods an essential aspect of his efforts to reform the Catholic Church. Up to this point in his papacy Francis has convened three synods. The first, the Synod on the Family opened on October 5, 2014, just a little more than a year after he was elected pope. The purpose of this synod was to discuss issues related to the family. This was followed by a second synod, the Amazon Synod which meet in Rome from October 6-27, 2019, to address the concerns of indigenous Catholics living in the Pan-Amazonian region of Brazil. The third synod, the Synod on Synodality is in process now. Pope Francis announced the opening of this synod on October 10, 2021. This synod will be a three-year process that will culminate in Rome in October, 2023.
Another important development in Praedicate Evangelium is that it clearly delineates the source and the nature of the authority of the Roman Curia. Reaffirming the Vatican II principle of collegiality, the document states that it is the pope together with the bishops who govern the church. (PE, Preamble, 5). The hierarchical structure of the church is rooted in the pope and the bishops. The document states that this is the structure constituted by the will of the Lord. (PE, Preamble, 5). The foundation of the governing roles of the pope and the bishops is based upon their office in the church, the pope as the successor of Peter and the bishops as the successors of the Apostles. On the other hand, Praedicate Evangelium states that the authority of the Roman Curia is a vicarious authority that has its source in the pope’s selection and appointment. (PE, II, 5). As such the authority of the Curia is a delegated authority. The primary purpose of the Roman Curia is to serve the pope in governing the universal church. (PE, II, 1 and Preamble, 8). “The Roman Curia is the institution of which the Roman Pontiff ordinarily avails himself in the exercise of his supreme pastoral office and his universal mission in the world.” (PE, II, 1). The Roman Curia also serves the bishops. (PE, III, Art.1). The service that Curia offers to the bishops includes recognizing and supporting the work they do in preaching the Gospel, in timely advice, encouraging the pastoral conversion they promote, and in supporting their evangelizing initiatives. (PE, II, 3). According to the document the Roman Curia should not place itself between the pope and the bishops, “but rather it places itself at the service of both according to the modalities that are proper to the nature of each one.” (Preamble, 8 and 9). The Roman Curia does not constitute an independent third branch of the hierarchy. The Curia does not receive its authority directly from Christ as do the pope and the bishops. Those who serve in the Curia receive their authority from the delegation of the pope.
What becomes quite clear in Praedicate Evangelium is that the primary purpose of the Roman Curia is not to be a bureaucratic institution, but an organization that serves and promotes the pastoral mission of the church. The Curia fulfills this pastoral function not by acting as an instrument of power, but by becoming a living expression of the evangelical mission of the church. This understanding of the Curia represents a “shift from confidence in human power to a receptivity to the Spirit, away from a command-and-control vertical Church to one where authority is service.” (Austen Ivereigh, “Rome on Mission,” Commonweal, Vol. 149, No. 5 (May, 2022), p. 12). In Praedicate Evangelium Pope Francis’ vision of the mission of the church and his program to reform the Roman Curia are aligned so as to have the same purpose. The purpose of both is to witness to the communion of life in the church made possible through the Holy Spirit. Both make this communion possible by fostering the evangelical mission of the church and by bringing to life the synodal model in the community of faith. In his Commonweal article, Austen Ivereigh suggests that the official promulgation of Praedicate Evangelium on Pentecost Sunday, June 5, 2022, might be celebrated by uncorking some bottles and with a few drum rolls. (Ivereigh, “Rome on Mission,” p. 12). Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there were no fireworks on this day or anything else special done to celebrate this most recent coming of the Holy Spirit.