Issues facing the new pontiff: II – Curia Reform

For some time it has been general knowledge that the administration function of the Roman Catholic Church, the Roman Curia, has been in need of reform.  During the General Congregations ahead of the papal Conclave, Vatican Information Service, (VIS), reported that the discussions of the cardinals had included: improving the Curia, (9th GC); the activities of the Holy See and its Dicasteries, (5th and 9th GCs); and the  Holy See, its Dicasteries and relations with bishops, (4th GC).  The secular press suggested that there was a high degree of resentment in many of the cardinal electors toward the Roman Curia and its intensely secretive and predominantly Italian bureaucracy. On 12 March, the BBC reported

“The big divide is not between conservatives and liberals. In truth, there are very few liberals amongst the cardinals. The major division is between those who believe the Curia needs cleaning out and those who still defend the status quo

On 16 March the Vatican issued the following terse statement

Holy Father Provisionally Confirms Heads and Members of Roman Curia

Vatican City, 16 March 2013 (VIS) – Holy Father Francis has expressed the desire that the Heads and members of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, as well as their Secretaries, and also the President of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, continue “donec aliter provideatur”, that is, provisionally, in their respective positions.

The Holy Father wishes to reserve time for reflection, prayer, and dialogue before any final appointment or confirmation”


Pope Francis’ interim statement was essential to ensure continuity in the governance of the Church through the Curia.  During a sede vacante, Universi Dominici Gregis, (UDG) requires inter alia that

14. According to the provisions of Article 6 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus,13 at the death of the Pope all the heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia — the Cardinal Secretary of State and the Cardinal Prefects, the Archbishop Presidents, together with the members of those Dicasteries — cease to exercise their office. . . . . .

24. During the period of vacancy, the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, with the exception of those mentioned in No. 26 of this Constitution, have no faculty in matters which, Sede plena, they can only deal with or carry out facto verbo cum Sanctissimo or ex Audientia Sanctissimi or vigore specialium et extraordinariarum facultatum which the Roman Pontiff is accustomed to grant to the Prefects, Presidents or Secretaries of those Dicasteries.

However, it is significant that the pontiff’s statement is conditional, [donec aliter provideatur, “until otherwise provided”], suggesting the possibility of future changes.  La Stampa has suggested that in the interim, there will be a degree of “self-reform” is likely within the Dicasteries, based upon the early example set by Francis I.

The appointment (or confirmation of re-appointment) of the Heads and members of the Dicasteries is but one aspect of the future operation of the Curia that may be addressed by the new pontiff.  From the reported discussions within General Congregations, it seems likely that there could be a broader review of the modus operandi of the Curia, encompassing; the General Regulations, Regolamento Generale della Curia Romana, Feb 4 1992; the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus; and their operation within the 1983 Code, Canons 334, 360, 361, 368, in the longer term.

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  1. Pingback: Issues facing new pontiff: III – Sexual abuse, bishops’ resignation and transparency | Law & Religion UK

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