Pope Francis' reform of the Roman Curia is expected to produce a new document regulating the body, and to reduce the number of Pontifical Councils, while increasing the number of Congregations.

The group of eight cardinals advising Pope Francis on the reform and on the government of the Church will have their second meeting at the Vatican Dec. 3-5, following their Oct. 1-3 meeting.

"The cardinals are not thinking about an adjustment of Pastor Bonus; they are mostly thinking about sketching out a brand new pastoral constitution," Fr. Federico Lombardi, Holy See press office director, said in a media briefing Oct. 2.

Pastor Bonus is the apostolic constitution issued by John Paul II in 1988 which regulates and defines charges, duties and composition of the offices of the Roman Curia.

Composing a new apostolic constitution is a tricky challenge: Pastor Bonus was finally issued after 16 years of studies and discussion. Nevertheless, the new apostolic constitution should re-design the Roman Curia.

The Roman Curia is composed of a number of different dicasteries, but by far the two most common types are Congregations, of which there are nine, and Pontifical Councils, of which there are 12.

While Congregations have executive power, Pontifical Councils do not, and remain in the background of their own spheres of influence.

It is widely rumored in Rome that the curial reform will result in fewer Pontifical Councils, and that their competencies will be transferred to the Congregations. This subsumption of the councils into the Congregations should streamline the Roman Curia.

Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa and coordinator of the G-8 cardinals, said last week that this consolidation could develop the laity's role in the Church's ranks by creating a 'Congregation for the Laity.'

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This possible congregation would enroll the current Pontifical Councils for the Family and for the Laity, as well as the Pontifical Academy for Life, according to Cardinal Rodríguez.

By speaking of a congregation for the laity, Cardinal Rodríguez is seemingly following Pope Francis' wish to give more space and importance to laypeople within the Church.

In any case, a 'Congregation for the Laity' would submit the laity to the authority of the clergy, since a Congregation is a governmental body.

This is the reason why – the official of a Pontifical Council who asked for anonymity told CNA Oct. 30 – "creating a Congregation would not be the best way to give more space and influence to the laymen of the Church."

The official maintained that "the ranks of Pontifical Councils are full of laymen, entrusted with important charges, acting as main characters in the life of the Church."

The official said that Pontifical Councils should instead "think about having more lay members, thus giving the lay people a sort of deliberative power within the Vatican dicasteries."

Under current law – Pastor Bonus – dicasteries are composed of their presiding cardinal or archbishop, along with other cardinals and bishops, "assisted by a secretary, consulters, senior administrators, and a suitable number of officials … unless they have a different structure in virtue of their specific nature or some special law."

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The apostolic constitution goes on to say that some dicasteries can have "clerics and other faithful" as well, but specifies that "strictly speaking, the members of a congregation are the cardinals and the bishops."