Guest Columnists

Reform History of The Roman Curia

By Msgr. Jonas Achacoso, JCD

As Catholics, the reform of the Roman Curia is a hot topic at the moment. As of June 5, 2022, the solemnity of the Pentecost, the new apostolic constitution, Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel), for the reform of the Roman Curia, is now in effect.

The new apostolic constitution is the fifth in the last 434 years of the history of the Roman Curia. The version which has been released is only in Italian, with no official translation yet of the major languages such as English and Spanish.

Furthermore, the definitive version in Latin as the official language of the Church is still to be seen.

As have been the case in previous reforms, the same objective can be seen, and that is to bring the institution on par with the times. I should add that it is also in accordance with the vision of the Roman Pontiff of how he wants the Church to be. 

The Roman Curia might have appeared in the past as an embodiment of power. The Pope definitely wants to make a paradigm shift emphasizing that the true power is that of service.

The Roman Curia should be at the service of the Holy Father and the universal Church. To wit, the fundamental service of the Roman Curia is evangelization, hence the title “Preach the gospel.”

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga affirms, in his new book about the reform, that the Roman Curia is either directed towards and at the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church or it is not doing what it is intended to do. 

The title, Praedicate Evangelium, is a major statement for the whole reform, which envisions evangelization as the primordial task of the Church. If the most important mission is to evangelize, it follows that the first dicastery should be on evangelization.

The Dicastery for Evangelization, as established in article 54 of the document, enjoys the direct supervision of the Roman Pontiff. He will be assisted by two Pro-Prefects. We can then say that this dicastery is of prime category.

There are a total of 16 dicasteries whose positioning follows a certain logic. The work of evangelization needs control of the contents of faith and morals, hence the second in the list is the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. At present, this office is amplified to include the Pontifical Commission for Protection of Minors, which in its jurisdiction also includes the protection of vulnerable adults.

Then, third in line is the Dicastery for the Charitable Services. This is in line with the charitable acts that Pope Francis has been known for in his pontificate, whose concern with homeless people leads him to provide them bathrooms and barber service in the Vatican itself.

These are just a few of the reorganization efforts and updating of structures of the Roman Curia.

Another significant reform introduced by Pope Francis is in line with the empowerment of the laity. This opened the way for lay men or women, including religious who are not clerics, to have the possibility to participate in ecclesiastical governance for them to be heads of certain dicasteries.

This was totally unheard of before, that a layman will be heading a dicastery. We can see, for instance, the Dicastery for Communication which now has Paolo Ruffini, a layman, as Prefect. However, his secretary is a cleric, Msgr. Lucio Adrian Ruiz. This move has, in a way, the intention of ending clericalism in church governance, something which the Pope has been emphasizing without mincing words.

Another principal reform is the creation of the Secretariat for the Economy, which is equivalent to a ministry of finance, bringing the financial administration of the Vatican up to date with current standards, especially that of the European Union.

“History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” The wisdom attributed to Mark Twain is very much applicable to the history of the reforms in the Roman Curia. To a large extent the reform is an unprecedented and quite an innovative development, but, at the same time, it rhymes with reforms in the past.

In the end, the key to understanding the new reform is a change of mentality: a new curia for the new times.