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.