Pope Francis publishes the new Apostolic Constitution “In Ecclesiarum Communione”, which reorganizes the Vicariate of Rome by strengthening the role of the Episcopal Council and making the Pope, as Bishop of Rome, more present in the Vicariate’s decisions.
The new Apostolic Constitution features greater collegiality and an increased presence of the Pope, as Bishop of Rome, in every important pastoral, administrative and economic decision regarding the Diocese of Rome. The text calls for the creation of new offices to supervise finances and misconduct, while the term of office for personnel in managerial positions is set at five years, extendable for only one other five-year period. These are all new features introduced by “In Ecclesiarum Communione”, the new Apostolic Constitution published on Friday, 6 January, that abrogates the previous “Ecclesia in Urbe” of 1988 by John Paul ii and reorganizes the Vicariate’s functions.
The Constitution comes into effect on 31 January 2023 and begins with an extensive introduction by Pope Francis who offers a profound reflection on his diocese, Rome. He recalls its importance from an ecclesial point of view, but also the challenges of the people who live there and the activities that can assist the most fragile social groups. The second part then lists 45 articles, reflecting much of the previous Constitution, while introducing several new items, starting with the role of the Cardinal Vicar, defined as ‘auxiliary’ for the first time, and the more prominent role of the Episcopal Council.
This reform follows in the wake of “Praedicate Evangelium” and has a precise objective: to give “evangelising and synodal impetus” back to the Vicariate of Rome, so that, as Pope Francis writes, it can be “an exemplary place of communion, dialogue and closeness, welcoming and transparent at the service of the renewal and pastoral growth of the Diocese of Rome”.
The Pope reiterates in the document how “the Church loses her credibility when she is filled with what is not essential to her mission or, worse, when her members, sometimes even those invested with ministerial authority, are a source of scandal with their behaviour unfaithful to the Gospel”. In fact, Francis lists “some of the most serious and urgent commitments” that call for pastoral action by the Vicariate. These include vigilance over economic management “so that it may be prudent and responsible” and “conducted consistently with the objective that justifies the possession of goods by the Church”.
In detailing the 45 articles of the Constitution, the Pope dwells on the hierarchical figures of the Vicariate: Cardinal Vicar, Vicegerent and auxiliary bishops. All, he writes, “are appointed by me for an indefinite period of time and cease from office by my decree”. The Vicar — as already established by “Ecclesia in Urbe” — continues to exercise “the episcopal ministry of magisterium, sanctification and pastoral government for the Diocese of Rome with the ordinary power of the Vicar” under the terms established by the Pope. The Cardinal Vicar, he continues, “will not undertake important initiatives or ones exceeding ordinary administration without first reporting to me”.
“In Ecclesiarum Communione” strengthens the role of the Episcopal Council, which becomes the “primary agent of Synodality” and “the high-level place for discernment and pastoral and administrative decisions”. The Pope will preside over it when it meets at least three times a month: “The agenda for each meeting must be sent to me as soon as possible”, Francis stipulates. Similarly, “minutes of the meetings of the Episcopal Council are drawn up by the auxiliary bishop acting as secretary, designated at the beginning of the Council, which must be sent to me, and be kept in a special section of the diocesan general archives”.
“The Cardinal Vicar”, the Pope continues, “in his function of coordinating diocesan pastoral care, always acts in communion with the Episcopal Council”, and if he differs from the concurring opinion, he must do so only after having evaluated the matter with the Pope. The Episcopal Council must also give its approval for the appointment of chaplains, church rectors and those responsible for pastoral services.
The regulations governing the Diocesan Council for Economic Affairs, a group that assists the Pope in the economic administration of the diocese, must also be approved by the Pope, with “criteria of transparency in the management of funds”. In the same vein, an Independent Review Commission is established at the Vicariate of Rome as an internal control entity with its own regulations approved by the Pope.
New and very detailed rules also apply to procedures for choosing new parish priests, whose “spiritual, psychological, intellectual, pastoral characteristics and experience in previous service, if any, must also be evaluated”. “The Cardinal Vicar, having completed the process”, the Pope states, “shall submit the candidates for the office of parish priest to me for eventual nomination, and appoint the vice-parish priests”.
Finally, the general organigram calls for the creation of the Office for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons.
Also on Friday, Pope Francis appointed Auxiliary Bishop Baldassare Reina as the new Vicegerent of the Diocese of Rome.
By Salvatore Cernuzio