Vatican City – Pope Francis followed through on a promise made before his election in 2013 on Saturday and released a much-anticipated reshuffle of the powerful Vatican governing body.
The new constitution, which takes effect on June 5, restructures parts of the unruly Roman Curia and makes increasing the number of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide the Church’s number one priority.
Among the most significant changes are the ability for lay people and Catholic women to lead Vatican departments and the incorporation of the pope’s advisory commission on sexual abuse into the curia.
“Pope Francis has been working for nine years on a new organizational structure for the Vatican. This is a major aspect of his legacy,” Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter tweeted.
Cardinals who gathered for the conclave to elect a new pope in 2013 were split between those who believed there were deep-rooted problems in the curia and those who wanted to preserve the status quo.
Ex-Pope Benedict XVI, who had just resigned, reportedly tried in vain to clean up a body that some even accused of preventing the Church from properly addressing the child sex abuse scandal.
Francis, 85, has assembled a group of cardinals to advise him over the years on how to reform the Curia, and has already enacted many changes as he strives to modernize the age-old institution.
The 54-page text titled “Heralding the Gospel,” which replaces a constitution written by Pope John Paul II in 1988, creates a new department for evangelism, headed by Francis himself.
Becoming ‘chief evangelist’ sums up a ‘tectonic shift towards a more pastoral and missionary church,’ David Gibson, director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture, said on Twitter.
In this vein, Francis says that every baptized Christian is a missionary.
“It cannot be ignored in the update of the Curia, whose reform must provide for the involvement of lay people and women, even in the roles of government and responsibility,” he said. .
The constitution, issued on the ninth anniversary of the inauguration of Francis’ papacy, makes the pope’s charitable czar, currently Poland’s Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the head of a department in his own right.
It also brings the Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors – a papal advisory body – into the office that oversees canonical investigations into cases of clerical sexual abuse.
In doing so, the pope “effectively establishes the Vatican’s first safeguard office,” said Tablet reporter Christopher Lamb.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who heads the Commission, said it was a “significant step forward”, which would give institutional weight to the fight against a scourge plaguing the Church worldwide whole.
But Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of clerical abuse who served on the commission before resigning in outrage in 2017 over the church’s handling of the crisis, instead criticized it as a stark setback.
“The Commission has now officially lost even a semblance of independence,” she said on Twitter.
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