Pope Francis changes structure of Vatican doctrinal office

The Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio, the seat of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 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).

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, 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 the dicastery's current configuration dates to St. Paul VI's 1965 renaming of the Holy Office as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and to St. John Paul II's 1988 specification of the CDF’s competencies in his 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.”

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

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

Editor's note, 2022 Feb. 14, 1744: An earlier version of this article erred in its characterization of St. Paul VI's changes to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It has been corrected.

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