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Praedicate evangelium: Things you might have missed in the new Vatican constitution

Andrea Gagliarducci   By Andrea Gagliarducci for CNA

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, offers a Lenten meditation to Pope Francis and members of the Roman Curia in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican March 18, 2022. The meditation was on the Eucharist. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The new Vatican constitution unveiled by Pope Francis on Saturday is, at first sight, a pastoral turning point.

There are many indications of this. There is the title of the document itself: Praedicate evangelium (“Preach the Gospel”), which emphasizes that the reform is geared toward evangelization. The pope becomes the prefect of the new Dicastery for Evangelization, now the first dicastery of the Curia.

The document also highlights the role of local bishops’ conferences, mentioning them 52 times. By contrast, the 1988 document Pastor bonus, the previous Vatican constitution, mentioned them just twice.

Yet this reform goes beyond the theme of evangelization. It is much more than a mere restructuring of the bodies of the Roman Curia. It represents a change of philosophy.

The Curia also becomes, in some ways, a more bureaucratic body. We lose the sense of ancient institutions in the name of better functionality. Bodies such as the Apostolic Camera (Camera Apostolica), which assisted the Camerlengo in managing the Vatican during a papal interregnum, have disappeared completely.

The Secretariat of State

Under the new constitution, the Secretariat of State assumes the role of a Papal Secretariat. This is not new. During the drafting of Pastor bonus, there was a discussion about whether the Secretariat of State should be renamed the “Papal Secretariat” or even “Apostolic Secretariat.”

In the end, the old name was kept because it had a particular historical solemnity. The Vatican secretary of state at the time, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, joked that the seat of his dicastery had carved a “splendid inscription in Latin: Secretaria Status. It would be a shame to have to throw it away.”

Pope Paul VI made the Secretariat of State the central body of the Roman Curia with his 1967 apostolic constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universal. Up to that point, the Secretariat of State had not completely redefined itself since 1870, when the popes’ lost their temporal powers. Thus in the constitution of Paul VI, the Secretariat of State is described as the Secretariat of the Supreme Pontiff, while the 1983 Code of Canon Law also speaks of “the Papal Secretariat.”

Nothing is new in the end. Even in this case, the name “Secretariat of State” is not lost. Its functions, however, become those of a papal secretariat, which will also organize interdicasterial meetings. Of course, the pope’s presence at such meetings is not foreseen in the constitution, but it can be taken for granted. There could, however, be interdepartmental meetings held only by the dicasteries.

The Apostolic Camera

The Apostolic Camera is a branch of the Roman Curia that administers the goods of the Church during the sede vacante period. It is a venerable institution that dates back to the 12th century. It comprises the Camerlengo, the vice-chamberlain, the general auditor, and the college of clerical prelates of the Camera.

But as early as 2020, the title of general auditor and the college disappeared from the Pontifical Yearbook. It was a clear signal of change.

The Apostolic Camera is not mentioned in Praedicate evangelium. According to the new constitution, the Camerlengo — currently the Irish-American Cardinal Kevin Farrell — is assisted by three assistant cardinals. One is the cardinal coordinator of the Council for the Economy and the other two are “identified according to the modalities provided for by the legislation on the vacancy of the Apostolic See and the election of the Roman Pontiff.”

Pope Francis is therefore showing, on the one hand, his intention to put aside all the old colleges (a reform of the Chapter of St. Peter is also underway.) On the other hand, this change is a step towards bureaucratization, because the role of the Camerlengo somehow loses its exceptional nature, given that one of the administrators of the Church will always remain the Vatican “finance minister,” that is the coordinator of the Council for the Economy.

Goodbye, ‘Red Pope’

Founded in 1622, the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, later called the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, had substantial autonomy, also from a financial point of view. So much so that its prefect was nicknamed “the Red Pope.”

Under the new constitution, the congregation is merged into the Dicastery for Evangelization, along with the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.

The dicastery will continue to oversee the appointment of bishops in the mission territories. Likewise, it retains its financial autonomy, which was thought to be at risk with the new centralization of investments. Article 92 of the new constitution reads: “The congregation administers its patrimony and other assets intended for the missions through its own special office, without prejudice to the obligation to give due account to the Prefecture for Economic Affairs of the Holy See.”

But the red pope has disappeared. Article 55 of the constitution reads: “The Dicastery for Evangelization is chaired directly by the Roman Pontiff. Each of the two sections is governed in his name and by his authority by two pro-prefects.”

This is a modality that previous popes used to guide the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith up to 1968, believing that questions of faith — the integrity of Catholic doctrine on faith and morals — were central to the governance of the universal Church.

The first section of the Dicastery for Evangelization, which absorbs the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, will be the “section for the fundamental questions of evangelization in the world.” The second section, responsible for the new evangelization and the new particular Churches, is, in fact, the ancient Propaganda Fide.

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith

That Pope Francis considers evangelization to be primary could already be seen from the reform of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, launched in February and now incorporated into Praedicate evangelium.

The division into two sections — disciplinary and doctrinal — makes a clear separation between questions of discipline and those of faith. Before, the basic idea was that even crimes such as child abuse were crimes against the faith.

This de facto separation puts the doctrine of faith on a secondary level, according to Pope Francis’ idea of ​​an “outgoing Church.” But it also puts disciplinary questions first. It’s as if, first of all, it is necessary to clarify everything that obscures the exercise of evangelization.

The inclusion of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith should also be read in this way.

The Dicastery for the Service of Charity

The Office of Papal Charities has always been considered part of the “Papal Family” (Familia Pontificalis), rather than a department of the Roman Curia. This is why the Papal Almoner, who runs the office, joins the procession that accompanies state visits to the Vatican and sits next to the pope during the exchange of speeches. The almoner was thus an expression of charity that emanated directly from the pope and had no universal dimension.

The universal characteristic was instead embodied by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which was later merged into the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development. Now, however, the Papal Almoner becomes the head of a “Dicastery for the Service of Charity,” becoming part of the Curia and leaving the Papal Family.

A bond with centuries of history is cut. The peculiarity of a charity emanating directly by the pope is lost, replaced by another body of the Roman Curia.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development retains its title under the apostolic constitution, but the old competencies of Cor Unum are not listed among its prerogatives.

The pope’s finances

The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) is increasingly defined as a sort of central bank of the Holy See. The inclusion of an investment committee (in article 227) should be noted, which ought to serve to avoid mistakes such as that of the investment in the luxury building in London, now the subject of a high-profile trial.

APSA will coordinate all investments in practice and the Institute for the Works of Religion (the IOR, often called “the Vatican bank”) becomes its operational arm. An investment committee was already present within the IOR. It remains to be seen whether this will continue to operate or if APSA will manage all investment expertise.

The laity’s role

There is no longer a distinction between congregations and pontifical councils because all the Vatican’s main departments are now defined as dicasteries. But “dicastery” is a vague word, referring to any office. Therefore, a carefully calibrated element of the 1988 constitution of John Paul II is lost: the collegial relationship between heads of dicasteries and the pope. This is a topic that John Paul II himself addressed when cardinals from all over the world gathered in a consistory to discuss reforms in 1985.

That the heads of the congregations were cardinals and leaders of the pontifical councils at least archbishops reflected the idea that all departmental leaders should have a form of episcopal collegiality with the pope. Moreover, since the congregations were decision-making bodies, it was necessary that their leaders were “princes of the Church,” that is, cardinals, who were on a decision-making level just below that of the pope.

All this changes with the new constitution, with the result that the figure of the pope becomes even more central. Everything now refers to the pope, without a shadow of a doubt. This is not to say that the pope did not have sovereign prerogatives before. But the form of collegiality was respected and set a limit. Now, the only limit to collegiality is the pope himself.

The same applies to the decision that no one in top positions, and no cleric, may serve in the Curia for more than two five-year terms.

This presents two practical problems. If a lay person is called to lead a department, will they accept a position knowing that the role will only last for five years or, at most, 10? What can they accomplish in that time?

A priest must now view his work in the Curia as a “mission.” If his term is limited to 10 years but the laity around him remain for an unlimited time, will they not be able to steer certain decisions in a way that he can’t?

The traditional Mass

The new constitution contains a curiosity: in article 93, in the section dedicated to the new Dicastery for Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, we read: “The Dicastery deals with the regulation and discipline of the Sacred Liturgy as regards the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite.”

Pope Francis had already made it clear, with Traditionis custodes and then with the “responsa” on the motu proprio, that he no longer considered the Old Mass as the “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite. And yet the term is enshrined in the new constitution.

The end of careerism?

For Pope Francis, the provisions in the new constitution serve to undermine careerism, unlinking the chains of power formed when people remain in dicasteries for a long time. But there could be some unintended consequences.

With Praedicate evangelium, everything becomes very bureaucratic. The reform changes little at the structural level, and many changes have already been made, but the philosophy underlying the Curia is altered.

The Curia is an organism at the service of the Church which, however, focuses on the role of the pope. As a result, some historical positions are lost that served to define the philosophy of the Curia. Decisions will, in future, be more bureaucratic, and ultimately the role of the pope is emphasized.

After 40 meetings of the Council of Cardinals over nine years, we are faced with a reform that may yet require further finetuning. For example, the constitution opens the way to more lay leadership of dicasteries. But according to canon 129 of the Code of Canon Law, it is those in sacred orders who “are qualified … for the power of governance.” So will canon law be amended?

At a Vatican press conference on Monday, canon law expert Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, S.J., addressed the question of canon 129. He said that the constitution makes the decision that it is not ordination but the canonical mission that counts.

Finally, regarding personnel, there will not be an actual reduction: the heads of departments will be fewer, but the number of employees will remain the same.

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About Andrea Gagliarducci, Catholic News Agency 43 Articles
Andrea Gagliarducci is Vatican analyst for Catholic News Agency.


  1. “Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, S.J. said on canon 129 that the constitution makes the decision that it is not ordination but the canonical mission that counts” (Andrea Gagliarducci CNA). This most radical ecclesial modus oFperandi is essentially a demotion of sacred orders and promotion of a laicized Church. It contradicts Christ’s appointment of Apostles and presbyters by the laying of hands. What is it other than heresy?

    • Rather, it appears to elevate people into the primary sacrament of vocation, baptism. Let’s not forget the virtue of the imitation of Christ: his whole incarnation was capped by his handing of his mission to all his disciples.

      This reform is good news. Let’s hope it sticks.

  2. This re-reorganization is, as the author stated, “nothing new,” and more to the point, it is more of the same: the continuation of the 50-year-long profanation of the Catholic Church by the abusive, secretive, and unaccountable money-changers of the sinister Secretariat of State.

    The very organization that cultivated the cancer of covering up the homosexual abuse crisis in Europe, South and Central America and North America, protecting Maciel and protecting and promoting McCarrick (in the irregular specisl selection process used to over-rule the regular process via the Congregation of Bishops).

    So after 50 years of S of S profanity and vice, the Pontiff Francis is doubling down and suggesting 50 to 100 more…

    As mentioned in this podcast, this is another meaningless act in the “theater of reform” by this now sinking Pontificate, which just saw the Pontiff’s closest colleague from Argentina, Bishop Zanchetta, tried, convicted and jailed in Argentina for sex abuse of seminarians, despite “the great reformer” and Secretariat of State refusing to provide documents requested in evidence.

    Damian Thompson’s podcast, which I will post the link to below, tolls the bell for this final act of the abusive carnival 2013.

    • In theory there should be little issue with what a pope says. He should be an unquestioned blessing to the flock. The church will always have its travails, yet a Leader is to solve problems not to be a source of them.

      The congregants, priests and bishops must be the moral authority of the church. When a person is mistaken, they need be corrected in love. God’s word rebukes us and is the standard for a disciplined, active life. Regardless of the person, God’s moral authority is the standard.

      The Lord’s clarity, purpose and love must prevail in our hearts for us to be profitable servants for His kingdom.

      Many blessings.

  3. This is an excellent move, and about time, too.
    Bishops and Cardinals should be freed to look after their diocese. The head of the dicastery is not in that position because of his “authority based on the hierarchical level achieved, but by the power received by the Roman Pontiff to act in his name.” After all, it is the Pope’s office.
    Though there will be the usual anti-Francis lot criticizing this change, let us pray that it works out well.

  4. Frankie is making a mess. Actually he’s attempting to destroy the Church. It’s time for his pontificate to end. Actually it should have ended before it started. God save us from wolves in clerical clothing.

    • Blessings of peace and appreciation.

      On this forum and elsewhere, considerable assessment of the earthly head of the Church of Rome has taken place. God gives us discernment to make the right decision.

      To those faithful servants of Christ, those who have given much and asked for little, we remind ourselves, God is on His throne. He is a righteous judge.

      Revelation 11:1-Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. …

      2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

      James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

      Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

      Romans 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

      Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

      You know scripture, we may read it a thousand times and yet, it continues to guide and uplift us.

      God bless you.

  5. We must try to “reform” ourselves first and foremost. God’s word, prayer, preaching and the influence of godly men and women shape our faith. God wants us to be effective. Christ was effective. The Apostles (moved by the Holy Spirit) have been of blessing.

    When something needs change, let it honour Christ. The Holy Spirit strives with us to give direction, purpose and faith.

    1 Timothy 1:17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.

    Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

    1 Samuel 2:30 Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honour me I will honour, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.

    Revelation 14:7 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

    Revelation 4:11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

    Let us pray for our leaders that all their decisions reflect the will of the Lord.

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