The new dicastery significantly merges two existing bodies: the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, traditionally concerned with new mission territories, and the Council for the New Evangelization, created by Benedict XVI in 2010 to deal with the specific challenges of re-evangelizing de-Christianized Western cultures. The apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium (2013), Pope Francis’s response to a synod on the new evangelization, abolished that distinction in practice. Taking its cues from the 2007 Latin-American bishops’ pastoral document drawn up at Aparecida, Brazil, the exhortation presented the church as essentially missionary everywhere. The forces of secularization and globalization have led to a new crisis in the transmission of the faith throughout the whole world.
The new evangelization dicastery embeds an understanding that all territories are now “mission areas,” and that the church is per se missionary. Unable to rely on the support of law and culture, the church’s credibility in a context of pluralism relies primarily on its capacity to offer an encounter with the mercy of God in Jesus Christ.
As Cardinal Oswald Gracias tells Vida Nueva: “The key point in the new apostolic constitution is that the mission of the church is evangelization. It [the constitution] puts it [evangelization] in the center of the church and of everything that the curia does.” In other words, Praedicate evangelium follows Evangelii gaudium in seeing the church’s primary task as offering the kerygma, or the Good News of Jesus Christ’s saving love. This “kerygmatic” proclamation must be backed by mercy visible in concrete action, which explains why the constitution envisages turning the office of the almoner into a new dicastery for the Charity of the Pope. “After evangelization must come charity,” Cardinal Rodríguez says.
The other gear shift embedded in the new constitution is ecclesiological. As promised by the C9, Praedicate evangelium overturns the idea of the Roman curia as little more than a bureaucracy passing on orders from the head office. It takes seriously the Second Vatican Council’s idea of the universal church being governed by the College of Bishops, with and under the pope. Praedicate evangelium places the departments of the curia at the service of the entire college of bishops, not just the pope, and makes clear that the pastor of a local church is on the same hierarchical level as the prefect of a Vatican body. “As successors of the apostles, the bishops are not in an ecclesiological position below those who work in the Roman curia,” Cardinal Rodríguez points out.
This reform reflects the broad thrust of the new constitution, which seeks to instill an attitude of service in the Vatican. Rather than an instrument used by the pope to oversee and control bishops, the curia’s role is to assist both them and the successor of Saint Peter.
Another change envisaged in the new constitution will affect the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, created by Pope Francis at the end of 2014 at the urging of C9 member Cardinal Sean O’Malley. The idea is to give the commission legal standing within the curia, so that the Vatican departments will be accountable to it, but at the same time preserve the independence on which its credibility depends, according to Cardinal Gracias, the archbishop of Bombay. “We to have to look for a balance between credibility and effectiveness,” he told Vida Nueva, without giving further details of how this hybrid will work in practice.
As expected, the new constitution will abolish the traditional distinction between bodies with executive powers (congregations) and those that are purely advisory (pontifical councils), so that all will be known in the future by their generic name of dicasteries. In principle all dicasteries could be headed either by a lay man or lay woman, although Pope Francis has made clear on other occasions that clerics must continue to head dicasteries that have legal oversight over other clerics, such as the current congregations for clergy and for bishops. Only the Dicastery for Communication currently has a lay man as its prefect.
The constitution also envisages the further merging of existing bodies to reduce the number of dicasteries. It specifically mentions the fusion of the Congregations for Catholic Education and for Culture. Such mergers will reduce overlapping functions and the numbers employed in the curia, although Francis has made clear that employees will serve out their contracts or keep working until their retirements.