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The Church
The reform of the Roman Curia read by a canonist

Missionary conversion

 Conversione missionaria  DCM-002
04 February 2023

Since Pentecost 2022, the reform of the Roman Curia, previously regulated by the 1988 Constitution Pastor Bonus, has been effective. The points of innovation are remarkable, although some transformations had already taken place over the years. The Curia’s new framework is more compact and linear, and the matters previously divided between Congregations and Pontifical Councils have now been brought back to the Dicasteries, some of which have new names. However, it would be reductive to grasp the meaning of the reform only on the level of organisational functionality. The very title of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Constitution, Praedicate Evangelium, provides the key to interpretation and the direction that has been given to the work of the Roman Curia. That whole complex of organisms, which constitutes the highest expression of the institutional dimension of the universal Church, finds its meaning and purpose in serving the Gospel. It is no coincidence that the first Dicastery is that of Evangelization, presided over directly by the Pontiff and divided into two sections: the fundamental questions of evangelization in the world; and, that for first evangelization and the new particular Churches. Evangelization essentially consists of bearing witness in word and deed to the mercy that the Church and each baptized person has received. This implies that the whole Church is constantly engaged in a process of missionary conversion to let herself be renewed and moulded by God’s mercy.

Mission is closely linked to communion.  The purpose of mission is precisely to make every person share in the communion that God wanted with humanity by entering into this history and this world. We need to overcome certain ecclesiological and pastoral schematics according to which one should first take care of communion ad intra, in order to then be able to proclaim the Gospel ad extra. We should abandon this dualist schematic, because in reality we can only achieve vital communion if we live as an “outgoing Church”, in a state of constant missionary conversion. Just like every believer, so every ecclesial structure, including the Roman Curia, needs to allow itself to be evangelized, and this conversion is by its very nature missionary, like that experienced by the Apostles at Pentecost.

An experienced communion gives the Church the face of synodality, mutual listening and an inclusive welcome. The Roman Curia, while experiencing the same communal and missionary dynamic of every ecclesial reality, concretely realizes synodality as a style, method and form of ecclesial relations. This is why the Curia -as outlined by the reform of Pope Francis- is in a dynamic relationship not only with the Pope, but with the College of Bishops and with the individual Bishops, and also with the Bishops’ Conferences and their regional and continental Unions, and the Oriental Hierarchical Structures too. Therefore, it is not placed between the Pope and the Bishops, rather it is at the service of both and of the intermediate frameworks of communion and collegiality, since the universal Church is given by the communion of the particular Churches.

As guarantor and guardian of the unity of the Churches, the Bishop of Rome has the immense task of governing the universal Church; in fact, the Roman Curia, according to ancient tradition, exists precisely to allow the Popes to exercise their primatial power. From this derives the vicarious nature of the power of the Curia, whereby each curial institution, and each person who receives a position or office in it, exercises power not in his own right, but in the name of the Pontiff. The current reform fully realizes this principle, since it is now clear that every baptized person can be invested with the power of governance attached to the office, on the basis of the sacramental qualification received in baptism and by reason of their specific competence in the matter. So as to avoid restrictive interpretations, it is therefore made explicit that any member of the faithful may preside over a Dicastery or Body. Therefore, when making the appointments, it is for the Pontiffs to discern the criteria for the representativeness of the persons to be entrusted with the offices, on the basis of gender, linguistic, cultural and ritual affiliation, state of life and personal vocation. In recent years, we have witnessed a small increase in the presence of laymen and laywomen in top positions. In this regard, certain experts and their pronouncments have hastened to distinguish the subjects suitable for laymen and laywomen from the Dicasteries that should continue to be led exclusively by clerics. In addition to finding no support in the Constitution Praedicate Evangelium, they constitute a lack of respect for the full, supreme, immediate and universal power of the Pope, who appoints whoever he wishes, without any other constraints than those arising from discernment of the requirements of the Gospel and communion.

Reform will be real and possible if it sprouts from an inner conversion to embrace the paradigm of the Good Samaritan, who knows how to deviate from his path to care for wounded humanity, the face of Christ.

by Donata Horak
A theologian and lecturer in Canon Law at the Alberoni theological studio in Piacenza