Vatican Creating a Super-Dicastery

News: Investigations
by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  June 10, 2016   

Vatican spokesman says nature and scope of this department isn't revealed

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VATICAN ( - There's a new "super-dicastery" for Family, Laity and Life in the making, and people are asking if it's a council or a congregation. Wednesday, the Vatican spokesman said the decision not to peg this curial department as a pontifical council or a congregation is "intentional."

As reported by, Pope Francis Saturday gave the green light for the establishment of the "super-dicastery" for Family, Laity and Life. It's an amalgamation of the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Academy for Life. The statutes for its erection were approved on a trial basis, and it will begin functioning September 1.

But questions are being raised as to whether this department will function like a council or as a congregation. A pontifical council is a consultative body that offers counsel on policy. A congregation, always headed by a cardinal, has executive and administrative powers who decide and implement policy.

According to the statutes, this dicastery, like a congregation, will be headed by a cardinal. But confusing reports, based on a faulty English translation, erroneously claimed the department was a pontifical council.

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told reporters Wednesday that the lack of a decision on the specific nature of the new dicastery was "intentional."

Lombardi explained, "There isn’t any confusion. It's been said on more than one occasion that it is a dicastery … but it is not endowed with the quality of a congregation, or the quality of a council." When asked why it wasn't defined more precisely, Lombardi said he could "only hypothesize."

Lombardi recalled that pontifical councils offer only counseling but do not govern by implementing norms of action as do congregations. He then suggested this new dicastery may do both. He remarked that this super-dicastery might have powers that don't easily "fall into the previous categories of a congregation or council" and so for now "they haven't wanted to define them precisely."

According to its statutes, the curial department will "promote studies to contribute to the doctrinal examination of themes and issues regarding the lay faithful," encourage the "active and responsible presence of the laity" in the Church, and "evaluate the initiatives of Episcopal Conferences that make requests to the Holy See, in accordance with the needs of the particular Churches."

The dicastery's section for the family will address many issues raised by the last two synods on the family. As per the statutes, "The section for the family ... will promote family pastoral ministry, protect its dignity and well-being based on the sacrament of marriage and will promote its rights and responsibility in the Church and in civil society."

According to Lombardi, this super-dicastery may have a dual purpose, namely, to research and illumine policy, and then to implement the policy it develops. What oversight there will be by such congregations as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Divine Worship hasn't been determined.

Father Lombardi further commented Wednesday that the "C9 meetings" (the Pope's Council of Nine cardinal advisors) would continue discussing reform of curial bodies according to principles of "simplification" and possible forms of "decentralization."

Archbishop Vicenzo Paglia, current prefect for the Pontifical Council for the Family, which will soon be rolled into the new super-dicastery, may have set the tone for what policies could be forthcoming from the new curial mega-department.

Speaking last month at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Abp. Paglia offered a 15 page explanation of the apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia," wherein he said,

It is clear that a new ecclesial style is being called for, and this new style requires an understanding of the variety of situations that must be dealt with. The Pope is not calling for new abstract doctrine or new legal rules. ... [Individual] dioceses are tasked with taking responsibility for finding answers to the countless challenges that families are called on to face.


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