Pope releases long-awaited Vatican reform, to roll out in June

Lay people now allowed to head a major Vatican office

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Published: Sat 19 Mar 2022, 5:57 PM

Last updated: Sat 19 Mar 2022, 6:03 PM

Pope Francis released his long-awaited reform programme of the Holy See bureaucracy on Saturday that envisages greater decision-making roles for the laity and gives new institutional weight to efforts to fight clerical sex abuse.

The 54-page text, titled “Praedicate Evanglium,” or “Proclaiming the Gospel,” replaces the founding constitution “Pastor Bonus” that was penned by St. John Paul II in 1988.

Francis was elected pope in 2013 in large part on his promise to reform the bulky and inefficient Vatican bureaucracy, which acts as the organ of central governance for the 1.3-billion strong Catholic Church. He named a Cabinet of cardinal advisers who have met periodically since his election to help him draft the changes.

Much of the reform work has been rolled out piecemeal over the years, with offices consolidated and financial reforms issued. But the publication of the new document, for now only in Italian, finalizes the process and puts it into effect in June.

The document was released Saturday, the ninth anniversary of Francis’ installation as pope and the feast of St. Joseph, an important figure to Francis’ ministry.

The new reform emphasizes the missionary focus of the church as well as the need for the Vatican to be at service both to the pope and local dioceses. It envisages greater roles for laity, making explicitly clear that lay people — not just priests, bishops or cardinals — can head a major Vatican office, and that all staff should reflect the geographic universality of the church.

In one of the major changes, it brings the pope’s advisory commission on preventing sexual abuse into the Vatican’s powerful doctrine office which oversees the canonical investigations of abuse cases.

Other changes involve consolidation of two Vatican offices for evangelization into one Dicastry for Evangelization. The new office combines them and is headed by the pope, assisted by two deputy prefects.

Overall, the reform document calls for a “healthy decentralization” to give more decision-making authority to local bishops rather than have Rome continue to be the central clearing-house for governance decisions. But the text also makes clear that such authority cannot touch on matters of “doctrine, discipline and communion,” a warning that individual bishops conferences cannot stray from core tenets of church teaching.

It seeks to break down the siloed nature of the bureaucracy, in which each congregation operated on its own fiefdom, by seeking to encourage greater communication and collaboration among offices. In a break with the past, it calls for the heads of Vatican offices to meet regularly as a group with the pope rather than just individually. In essence, it calls for the Vatican bureaucracy to function more like a Cabinet that meets regularly with the head of state.

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