Guest Columnists

History of Reforms In the Roman Curia

By Msgr. Jonas Achacoso, JCD

The news was heard far back: Pope Francis was to reform the Roman Curia! From the beginning of his pontificate, the reformation project appears to be primordial in his to-do list. Rightly so, because in the last years of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, the need for reform became more evident by controversies one after another.

One month after the election of Pope Francis, he established the Council of Cardinal Advisers, and such was confirmed by a chirography in September of that year. The reform began by reviewing the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus which is about the Roman Curia. By my interest in the project as part of my research, I followed its beginnings and progress, even its twists and turns. And now, finally, the nine years of hard work is culminated by the promulgation of the new Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium. Or so I thought. With the new apostolic constitution, Pope Francis, more than culminating the reform, was really preparing the appropriate ground for the reform to take root providing freshness and relevance to this pontifical institution in our times.

Fundamental of the present reform is the reposition of its fulcrum towards evangelization. The Pope is the first evangelizer, and the Roman Curia should help him carry out the mission. What I have seen is more than a canonical reform of bureaucracy, transparency, accountability, and efficiency. The reform is not merely procedural but rather veered towards the substantive, spiritual and pastoral.

Revisiting the previous reformations may help us understand better the present one. The beginning of the Roman Curia goes far back to the beginnings of Christianity. The organization, however, can trace back its formal structure in 1588 when Pope Sixtus V instituted it through the Apostolic Constitution Immensa Aeterni Dei. He instituted 15 congregations of cardinals with jurisdiction and faculties to expedite the handling of business brought to the attention of the Holy Father. The categorical figure evoked back then is that of the church as mother and teacher caring for all the faithful in accordance with the decrees of the Council of Trent. This constitution was in effect for three centuries.

After that long span of time, the Roman Curia was reformed in 1908 by Pope Pius X through the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution Sapienti Consilio. There was a serious need to reform the curia given that the Pope lost the pontifical estates three decades earlier. Most of the congregations of the Roman Curia were to handle concerns pertinent to the pontifical estates and thus these congregations did not have any more reason to continue in existence. The reform implemented was by eliminating some congregations and creating new ones, as well as putting into effect the decrees of Vatican Council I.

Motivated by the aggiornamento of Vatican Council II, Pope Paul VI introduced a new reform of the Roman Curia by the Apostolic Constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae updating its existence and procedures at par with the development of the administrative function in civil governance. The most important development is the introduction of the concept of administrative acts which would permit a clear distinction of jurisdictional functions in ecclesiastical governance as legislative, administrative, and judicial. The competence of each curial office is now defined as who takes care of what matter by the power of governance it is exercising. Early on, matters brought to the Roman Curia were determined in more simplistic terms: whether they are important or not important, ordinary or extraordinary.

Finally, Pope John Paul II put his hand in the work of the curial reform through the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus in 1988. What motivated the reform is to update the structure of the Roman Curia in accordance with the newly promulgated Code of Canon Law in 1983.

Pope Francis gave the latest in the series of apostolic constitutions which he entitled Praedicate Evangelium. A title that leaves a lot to talk about. This latest constitution will take effect on the solemnity of Pentecost, and that happens this June 5, 2022. (To be continued)

Msgr. Achacoso is the author of “Due Process in Church Administration” (2018), recipient of Arcangelo Ranaudo Award (Vatican), and pastor of Corpus Christi Church in Woodside.