The priority of evangelization and the role of the laity are the primary ideas that connect the new Apostolic Constitution governing the Roman Curia with the Second Vatican Council.
The Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium, which will govern the Roman Curia, was published on Saturday, 19 March.
The text puts into a systematic form the path of reform that originated in the discussions prior to the 2013 conclave, and which have already largely been implemented over the last nine years.
It is a document that deepens and makes effective the guidelines of the Second Vatican Council, which had as its original aim, precisely the answer to the great question of how to proclaim the Gospel in a time of change that would ultimately prove to be — as Pope Francis often stresses — a change of era.
The unification into a single Dicastery, led directly by the Pope, of the ancient and highly-structured Congregation Propaganda Fide (also known as the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples) and the relatively-new Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation indicates the priority given to evangelization expressed in the document right from the title.
How can we bear witness to the beauty of the Christian faith to the new generations that do not speak or understand the old languages? How can we ensure that the yeast of the Gospel returns to leaven the dough both of societies that were once Christian and of those that do not yet know Jesus Christ?
The Church that engages in dialogue in order to evangelize has been the leitmotif of recent pontificates, and now this aspect is also being further emphasised in the structure of the Roman Curia.
The Curia is not an organism that acts in its own name, a “power” of government over the local Churches, but rather a structure at the service of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, which acts in his name, on his instructions, exercising a “vicarious” power with regard to that of the Vicar of Christ.
A second significant element of the new constitution is the development of a desire expressed in the conciliar texts regarding the role of the laity. Pope Francis recalls in the Preamble that “The Pope, the bishops and other ordained ministers are not the only evangelizers in the Church... Every Christian, by virtue of Baptism, is a missionary disciple to the extent that he or she has encountered God’s love in Christ Jesus.”
Hence the involvement of laymen and women in the roles of governance and responsibility. If “any member of the faithful” can preside over a Dicastery or a curial body, “given their particular competence, power of governance, and particular function,” it is because every institution of the Curia acts in virtue of the power entrusted to it by the Pope.
This passage, which is already being acted upon, is rooted in the concilar theology on the laity. The affirmation contained in the new Apostolic Constitution makes it clear that a prefect or a secretary of a Dicastery who happens to be a bishop does not have authority as such, but only insofar as he exercises the authority conferred on him by the Bishop of Rome.
And this authority, within the Roman Curia, is the same whether it is received by a bishop, a priest, a religious, or a layman or a laywoman. This removes the specification contained in Article 7 of the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus — the previous structural reform of the Roman Curia, carried out during the pontificate of Saint John Paul II — which states that “matters requiring the exercise of power of governance be reserved to those in holy orders.”
In this way, what was established by the Council is fully realised and has already been incorporated into canon law, which recognises that, by virtue of baptism among all the faithful, there is “a true equality regarding dignity and action”.
By Andrea Tornielli