Pope Francis changes structure of Vatican doctrinal office

Hannah Brockhaus   By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA


The Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio, the seat of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. / Jim McIntosh via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0).

Vatican City, Feb 14, 2022 / 04:35 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Monday reorganized the internal structure of the Vatican’s doctrine office into two sections — the latest step in his ongoing reform of the Roman Curia.

In a letter issued motu proprio (of his own accord) on Feb. 14, Pope Francis centralized the tasks of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith into a doctrinal section and a disciplinary section.

The department previously had a third section, which dealt with marriage cases. With the motu proprio, titled Fidem servare, the responsibilities of the marriage office will be moved under the doctrinal section.

The restructuring goes into effect immediately.

In his apostolic letter, Pope Francis stated that the changes to the CDF’s organization have been made “in view of the experience gained during this time by the Congregation in various areas of work, and the need to give it an approach more suited to the fulfillment of the functions proper to it.”

The reorganization is a further step in Pope Francis’ gradual overhaul of the Roman Curia, which has included in recent months the replacement of several top personnel.

CDF Prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria, who will turn 78 in April, is also expected to be replaced within the year.

The folding of the CDF into two sections is in line with Pope Francis’ earlier decision to end the pontifical commission Ecclesia Dei.

In January 2019, the tasks of the Ecclesia Dei commission, which facilitated dialogue between the Church and traditionalist communities, especially those linked to Marcel Lefebvre, were moved under the doctrinal section of the CDF. The commission had been its own department within the CDF since 2009.

“‘Keeping the faith’(cf. 2 Tim. 4:7) is the principal task, as well as the ultimate criterion to be followed in the life of the Church,” Francis wrote in his Feb. 14 motu proprio.

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith takes on this important task, assuming both doctrinal and disciplinary competencies, as attributed to it by my Venerable Predecessors.”

The pope noted that St. Pope Paul VI changed the CDF from a lower-level curial department, called a “dicastery,” to the more important classification of “congregation.”

St. Pope John Paul II later specified the CDF’s competencies in his 1988 apostolic constitution, Pastor bonus.

Pastor bonus still governs the Roman Curia, though Pope Francis’ council of cardinal advisors has been drafting a new constitution for years.

In his motu proprio, Pope Francis said the CDF’s two sections will each be coordinated by a secretary whose job is to assist the prefect. Each section will also have an under-secretary who collaborates with the secretary and other heads of office.

The Doctrinal Section is responsible for matters “having to do with the promotion and protection of the doctrine of faith and morals.”

This includes promoting studies related to the transmission of the faith “at the service of evangelization, so that its light may be a criterion for understanding the meaning of life, especially in the face of questions posed by the progress of the sciences and the development of society,” Pope Francis said.

The Doctrinal Section examines curial documents before their publication to assure they are doctrinally sound. Pope Francis said it will also examine “writings and opinions which appear problematic for the correct faith, encouraging dialogue with their authors and proposing the appropriate suitable remedies to be applied.”

The section will also be responsible for issues regarding Anglican personal ordinariates.

The Disciplinary Section, instead, deals with certain serious canonical crimes.

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  1. Some questions come to me as a sort of unqualified novice-amateur out-of-place:

    Was this ever done before?

    Can it cogently serve VATICAN II as regards the laity?

    Isn’t a layperson at a handicap, dealing with this?

    In the first place, is it consistent with sacramental economy?

    Practical – if you split “doctrine” from “discipline”, who then is responsible?

    • Answer to the last question: The Pope, so help him, God.

      But, as Beaulieu notes below, Francis will not judge. If past behavior predicts future performance, Francis will remain silent. He will sign documents of all form and shape of Curial nonsense, synodal silliness, or outright sinfulness while claiming that signing signified only receipt, not approval.

      • Pope Francis does judge. He haws condemned abortion, same-sex marriage, conceited self-serving attitudes, homosexuality …
        What he does not do is judge people. He, or anybody else, cannot really judge people because we cannot read the workings deep within a person’s soul. However, Pope Francis does not remain silent. He condemns all that needs to be condemned according to Catholic belief. He will respond not as worldly wisdom dictates but as Jesus taught.

  2. “The responsibilities of the marriage office will be moved under the doctrinal section”. If, realistically, the intention is to insure unity in judgments on marriage cases a single body [department] doctrinally informed would expectedly make an informed judgment. If, hypothetically, the intention is to variegate these judgments to insure judgment reflects a particular theological perspective, let us say hypothetically, the perspectives of Amoris Laetitia, then a splitting of doctrine from judgment would be conducive to making a preferred rather than doctrinal judgment. Might the Church rather patiently await history’s greatest reductionist transaction [euphemism for Synod on synodality] to evacuate its internal laboring upon the remaining faithful. Better yet, might we simply step aside and stand fast with saints and martyrs.

    • The frog on the pot doesn’t notice the water coming to a boil.

      The splitting of doctrine from practice, it seems to this peasant, has been the agenda since 2013. This way, moral doctrines need never be denied (heresy), but simply set aside. The larger picture, of course, is that with ambiguity toward the sacrament of indissoluble marriage, accommodation is also one step closer, so to speak, for the oxymoron of “gay marriage,” whether merely “civil” or not.
      The even larger next step, this peasant fears, will be the subordination of the CDF to the new super-dicastery of generic (?) Evangelization, which in turn will suffer “pluralism” with other (only natural) religions like complicated/eclectic and, therefore, mega-sectarian Islam.

      The sad fact is that, in the hands of better ghost writers and such, the thrust toward “Fraternity” or even synodality (sin-nods?) need not be falsely harmonized,compromised and decapitated in these rigid and bigoted ways.

      The infallible Law of Unintended Consequences will prevail, with a tsunami of even more “irregular,” that is, more provisional marriages, not unlike the prototype “provisional” deal with China.

      Pilate’s “what is truth?” But, who am I to judge?

    • Stand fast.

      St. Thomas’ Catena on the Gates of Hell, Origen: “Wherefore if we, by the revelation of our Father who is in heaven, shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, having also our conversation in heaven, to us also shall be said, �Thou art Peter;� for every one is a Rock who is an imitator of Christ. But against whomsoever the gates of hell prevail, he is neither to be called a rock upon which Christ builds His Church; neither a Church, or part of the Church, which Christ builds upon a rock.

      …and on binding and loosing: “Second Council of Constantinople, Concil. Con. ii. Collat. 8: How is it that some do presume to say that these things are said only of the living? Know they not that the sentence of anathema is nothing else but separation? They are to be avoided who are held of grievous faults, whether they are among the living, or not. For it is always behoveful to fly from the wicked. Moreover there are divers letters read of Augustine of religious memory, who was of great renown among the African bishops, which affirmed [margin note: see Aug. Ep. 185, 4] that heretics ought to be anathematized even after death. Such an ecclesiastical tradition other African Bishops also have preserved. And the Holy Roman Church also has anathematized some Bishops after death, although no accusation had been brought against their faith in their lifetime. [ed. note: This passage is quoted from the sentence of the Council. It alleges the authority of S. Cyril, from one of whose lost works against Theodorus the sentence beginning, �They are to be avoided, &c,� is quoted.]”

      So, bishops may be anathematized after death. The duty of the faithful is to follow and confess Christ rather than the words of wayward bishops. The faithful should hold firmly to the faith of Peter’s ‘rock’ even should huge chunks of Christ’s Body fall victim to leprosy. Anathema may not happen in a bishop’s life on earth, but the sensus fidelium of the ‘rock’ surely knows when the charge justly should be made.

    • One cannot help but image the “transaction…to evacuate its internal laboring…” When it hits the fan, it won’t be pretty. Best to seek cover now.

  3. This restructure is no surprise as it is long overdue. The last major one was thirty years ago. The abuse crisis has been one of the factors that called for this change. It now has a section devoted to it with greater accountability and efficiency being its aim. This has been warmly welcomed by certain groups. The need for evangelization is also one of the reasons for this change. Of course, the usual naysayers will try to shoot it down – and they will sometimes quote philosophy, theology and even scripture to back up their views.

  4. According to WIKIPEDIA “Praedicate Evangelium” is said to be a provisional title.

    Also there, Cardinal Parolin is given as saying, July 2021, that the thing is in a process of formation to get it to align to its “juridical character” and to achieve “homogeneity” of all the reforms being made.

    Sorry it gives rise to so much speculation.

    And in the meantime changes get made at the local level, in anticipation, without any juridical foundation. One example would be the clustering of parishes. These are even called “families of parishes”.

    The purpose for these changes is to give impetus to mission. That idea is laudable. In the Archdiocese of Detroit it may even be commendable with the structuring there well-arranged and the activities kept to faith and reason.

    But setting it up as template for everyone at large, without the formal clarity, might not be so advisable -or, is is unreasonable -or, is unjustified. Plus, having it as a singular format every ordinary MUST use, extinguishes an apostolic freedom.

    Moreover, “splitting” doctrine and discipline does not have any precedent and portends confusion.

    Saying that it prevents a narrow-mindedness centering on the parish priest, from arising, doesn’t resolve the issues raised.



  5. Gagliarducci describes in his article “Is Pope Francis’ pragmatic approach creating a crisis for canon law?” at CWR, how the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts has already gotten marginalized. This body would harmonize the laws that were to be declared; and now it has only a “sporadic” use. He also gives some background on the Holy Father’s selective interventions. See the link.

    With a split in doctrine and discipline, it’s likely going to get more complicated.

    ‘ Two of Evangelii gaudium’s main principles are “time is greater than space” and “realities are more important than ideas.” For this reason, the pope opens processes without worrying too much about the consequences. As he has often said, one cannot be held back by the rationale that “things have always been this way.”

    The pope does not make cast-iron plans because realities come first. Curial reform is made “while walking,” as Cardinal Marcello Semeraro noted in the magazine Il Regno while he was serving as secretary of the pope’s Council of Cardinals.

    Even legislative action, then, is subject to Pope Francis’ pragmatic approach. That rings alarm bells for Boni and other scholars of canon law. As laws can be made and then adjusted, how will it be possible to have a coherent legislative framework?

    This is the reason why this (Boni’s) book is not just about the marginalization of a dicastery. Instead, it shows the threat of a crisis for canon law. ‘


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