Vatican “Super Dicastery”: A Papal Promise Fulfilled?

When news broke earlier this week about the formation of a new “super dicastery” for evangelization that will supersede the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I expected to see more commentary on it. As an American covering things coming out of Rome from 6,000 miles away, I’m less aware of the nuances and politics of the various mechanisms of the Vatican bureaucracy than I’d like to be.

But the reaction seems somewhat mixed, and fairly muted, considering that this new dicastery — expected, according to Spanish-language weekly Vida Nueva, to be announced in the forthcoming apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium this June — is being touted as possibly “one of the most significant reforms of the governing structures of the Vatican.” From Inés San Martín at Crux:

Another of the novelties in the new constitution is that the curia will no longer be divided into “congregations” and the less prestigious “pontifical councils;” instead all autonomous Vatican departments will be called “dicasteries,” which has already been applied to several new bodies established by Pope Francis.

The new “super dicastery” for evangelization will result from the merging of two already existing bodies: The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, also known as Propaganda Fidei, that is tasked with overseeing “missionary territories;” and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, that was created in 2010 by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI to confront the rapid secularization of Western countries

Some, like Ed Condon and J.D. Flynn of the Catholic News Agency, seem to think this development is nothing new. “I’m not sure anyone familiar with how the curia has functioned for the last several hundred years,” tweeted Condon, “would consider the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples not to be a ‘super department’ already.”

“Exactly,” replied Flynn. “Prop Fide can do almost anything.”

But some people I’ve spoken with are concerned that this change, inasmuch as it amounts to a demotion of the CDF, will damage that body’s authority to oversee bishops’ conferences, and the similar power of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) — with subsequent potential to cause problems in the regulation of both doctrine and worship.

Christopher Altieri at the Catholic Herald is also concerned. He writes:

The juridical equality of all dicasteries may look fine on paper, and could sound sweetly in some ears. The fact is, however, that it cannot be the principle on which a functioning bureaucracy is built. The Roman Curia exists to assist the Roman Pontiff in governing the universal Church. It is an organ — a tool — of governance. It is a power structure.

Not to put too fine a point on it: the talk of all dicasteries being juridically equal has the ring of Orwellian dystopia about it — as though the man directing the reform read Animal Farm and mistook it for a handbook.

Some dicasteries — the thing bears repeating — must be more equal than others.

Another twist is the way the restructuring of the curia will shift the power structures in Rome. From San Martín:

Menor writes that Praedicate Evangelium places the Curia at the service of both the pope and the college of bishops.

“As successors of the apostles, the bishops don’t have an ecclesiological position that puts them below those who work in the Roman Curia,” Maradiaga said. Hence, once the constitution is approved, a bishop from any diocese, no matter how small, will have the same hierarchical power as the prefect of a Vatican dicastery.

Once the text is approved – which will be on a 25-year “trial period” — the Vatican dicasteries will no longer be instruments for the pope to supervise local churches, but will actually be there to serve bishops from around the world. They will no longer be a “body” in between the pontiff and the college of bishops, but an institution that serves both.

This should come as no surprise, since this is exactly what Pope Francis promised in his first major interview, “A Big Heart Open to God,” published both in La Civiltà Cattolica and America Magazine in September 2013:

“The dicasteries of the Roman Curia are at the service of the pope and the bishops,” he says. “They must help both the particular churches and the bishops’ conferences. They are instruments of help. In some cases, however, when they are not functioning well, they run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship. It is amazing to see the denunciations for lack of orthodoxy that come to Rome. I think the cases should be investigated by the local bishops’ conferences, which can get valuable assistance from Rome. These cases, in fact, are much better dealt with locally. The Roman congregations are mediators; they are not middlemen or managers.”

My biggest question comes from reading the comments of Cardinals Oswald Gracias and Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, both members of the pope’s Council of Cardinal Advisers. Both Gracias and Maradiaga argue that the shift in emphasis is because Francis cares so much about evangelization.

“Pope Francis always underlines that the Church is missionary,” opines Maradiaga. “For this reason, it’s logical that we put in the first place the dicastery for Evangelization and not the one for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

“The main point of the new Apostolic Constitution is that the mission of the Church is evangelization,” said Gracias. “It puts it at the center of the Church and everything the Curia does. It will be the first dicastery. The name of the text shows that evangelization is the principal objective, ahead of anything else.”

Considering the pope’s frequent condemnations of proselytism — specifically against “trying to convert people to one’s own belief” — one is left to wonder just what he thinks the word “evangelism” means.

It is also noteworthy that a move touted as a major curial reform was leaked to the media by one of the most notably corrupt members of that body: the archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Cardinal Maradiaga. Earlier this month, we told you about a new book written about the pope’s closest adviser by Martha Alegría Reichman, the widow of Alejandro Vallardes, the late Honduran ambassador to the Holy See. Alegria claims that Maradiaga betrayed her and her husband after nearly four decades of friendship, advising them to participate in what turned out to be a fraudulent investment scheme — one that ultimately cost them their life savings.

In a new report by based on the book, Matthew Cullinan Hoffman of LifeSiteNews says, “Alegría’s groundbreaking book contains numerous revelations and descriptions that illustrate the depth of corruption of the man pope Francis has chosen as the public face of his ‘reform’ project, and who mysteriously continues to occupy his position despite the massive scandals that have engulfed him since 2017.”

Writes Hoffman:

“Sacred Betrayals” reveals that Rodríguez Maradiaga regarded Pope Francis as indebted to him for his election and for convincing him to accept the papacy, and indicates that even Francis cannot control the cardinal, who seems exempt from accountability for his personal misbehavior and abuse of power.

The book also sheds light on what Alegría calls the “excessive” and “unhealthy” relationship between the Cardinal and his close friend and later Auxiliary Bishop, José Juan Pineda Fasquelle, who was housed with Rodríguez Maradiaga for years in the archbishop’s residence of Villa Iris — along with his homosexual boyfriend, Erick Cravioto Fajardo, a layman who dressed as a priest. According to Alegría, Rodríguez Maradiaga ruthlessly destroyed the careers of at least six priests for raising objections to Pineda’s scandalous behavior, behavior reportedly including sexual predation of seminarians, and eventually led to his forced resignation in 2018.

“Sacred Betrayals” gives the perspective of one of Rodríguez Maradiaga’s closest friends, who became a victim of his deceptions and abuse of power, losing most of her family’s savings in a fraudulent investment scheme pushed on her and her husband by the cardinal. Alegría says that the cardinal attempted to silence her and even to induce her to lie to protect him, leading her to a rude awakening regarding his true character.

Hoffman’s entire summary of the book is required reading for anyone wanting a glimpse at the depth of corruption in Francis’s Vatican. But it also raises the question: why is Maradiaga the custodian of this information? And if a man like Maradiaga fully supports the initiative of curial reform as outlined in Praedicate Evangelium, can we expect that any good will come of it?

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