Pope Francis clarifies that for Roman Curia, existing norms remain

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The Vatican flag. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Pope Francis has clarified that while the Roman Curia is in the process of being reconstructed, it doesn’t mean there is an absence of law or regulations – the existing rules are still in place, for now.

In a letter (dated Oct. 14 and released Oct. 27) addressed to the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis noted that since the institution of the Council of Cardinals in 2013, “certain problems have emerged,” which he intends to take “prompt action” in addressing.

The first point he made is that “the current period of transition is not a time of vacatio legis (absence of law),” and confirmed that St. John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic constitution Pastor bonus and its subsequent amendments “remain in full force, along with the General Regulations of the Roman Curia.”

Pope Francis' public reminder that Pastor bonus remains in force follows upon his announcement last week that three existing bodies in the Roman Curia are to be consolidated into one dicastery.

Pope Francis formally established the Council of Cardinals – also referred to as the “Council of 9” – on Sept. 28, 2013, in order to advise him in matters of Church governance and reform.

The structure of the Roman Curia has followed criteria laid out in Pastor bonus, which regulates and defines responsibilities, duties and the composition of the offices of the Roman Curia.

Under Pastor bonus the Roman Curia is broken up into a number of dicasteries (called either congregations or pontifical councils); three tribunals; and the Secretariat of State.

While congregations have executive power, pontifical councils do not, and remain in the background of their own spheres of influence.

When the Council of Cardinals first started meeting, the question as to whether Pastor bonus would be modified was one of the first things to be asked.

Although there was an initial rumor that no changes would be made to the document, members of the council stressed that they would be discussing the matter at length, and would unite their efforts to find the best method to execute the reform.

It has since become clear that the intention of Pope Francis' reform is to replace Pastor bonus with a new document which will describe and govern a reformed Roman Curia.

Pope Francis’ latest reform move came during the synod of bishops, when, during the afternoon session Oct. 22, he announced his decision to establish a new office in the Roman Curia that will deal with issues of laity, family, and life.

The new office merges the pontifical councils for the family and the laity, as well as the Pontifical Academy for Life. The move was significant because it streamlines three offices into one, and is also meant to give greater attention to issues relating to the laity in the Church.

The Pope's program of curial reform has already established both a Secretariat for the Economy and a Secretariat for Communications.

In his letter to Cardinal Parolin, the Pope also ordered that “to ensure equitable treatment of employees and collaborators, also in economic terms,” the rules of Pastor bonus as well as the regulations for laity and their recruitment in the Vatican and the Holy See “be scrupulously observed.”

Francis made a point to reiterate that the hiring or transfer of employees in the Roman Curia and all other organizations within the Vatican and the Holy See ought to be carried out according to current staff limits.

He noted that both the hiring and transfer of employees requires the authorization of the Secretary of State, and recalled that their salaries must also respect current parameters set within the Vatican City State.

The Pope closed his letter asking that Cardinal Parolin inform the Governorate and the heads of all departments, offices and organizations in the Roman Curia on the letter’s contents, “highlighting in particular the aspects requiring special attention, and that supervision of compliance be exercised.”

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