Having no inherent authority of their own, and being only a practical creation of ecclesiastical (not divine) law, every curial department exists as an expression of the pope's own authority. While one or another department's work might appear prioritized according to the circumstances of the time, suggesting that one expression of papal authority "outranks" any other is simply contradictory to the Church's expressed self-understanding.
The specific comparison of Propaganda Fide with the CDF offers a useful illustration of the essentially complementary work of all the Vatican departments.
The CDF's responsibility is, at its core, vigilance. Concerned with protecting the Church from error in faith and morals, it handles matters ranging from the vetting of theological works to judging canonical crimes against the faith – including sexual abuse.
But as an office of vigilance, the work, in a sense, comes to it. The CDF does not have geographic territory or a "missionary function." It does not post officials around the world to carry out its work.
Propaganda Fide, on the other hand, has a dynamic and global function. Charged with the whole of the Church's missionary outreach, and with oversight of the Church's institutional presence in large swathes of the globe, including – for example – China, and other places where dioceses have either not been erected or are not yet self-sustaining.
At a time when much of the Church's concern focused on a world that was institutionally Christian but prone to great doctrinal controversies, especially in the centuries following the protestant reformation, the CDF's role was of special significance.
As the Church enters the third millennium explicitly focused on a "new evangelization" of a secularized culture, Propaganda Fide's mandate has a near universal applicability – something already reflected in the relative size of its staff and resources compared to other departments.
Suggestions that future curial changes in emphasis are reflective of a shift in core Church priorities would seem to mistake the essential unity of the curia's work in service to the Church's basic mission to announce the gospel always and everywhere.
Viewing, for example, Propaganda Fide's work as somehow separate, subordinate or superior to that of the CDF seems to suggest a mistaken understanding that the act of preaching the good news is in conflict with the content of the message.
While the publication of the final document is not expected before next month, Francis has repeatedly stated his aim for curial structures to be better organized to serve their intended purpose and reflect the evangelical mission of the Church.
That mission will be served better by a curia constantly reoriented to its purpose, but achieving that requires a right understanding of the curia's nature.
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