The Curia is that complexus of bureaus that the pope uses to implement his judicial, legislative, and executive office as head of the Church. Although it really exists and acts only insofar as he wishes it to, its specific powers are set out in the Code of Canon Law and post-Code documents. By force of tradition and practice, moreover, it has assumed a powerful position in day-to-day Church operations.
History. The history of the Curia can be traced through three periods. From the first to the 11th century, the popes exercised their rule through synods—the presbyterium apostolicae sedis —composed of the clergy of Rome. At first priests and deacons were consulted at these gatherings. Later on, from about the sixth century, the priests of principal churches or titles (the first cardinals) and the seven regional deacons of the city composed the synod together with the pope.
During the 11th century the authority of the Roman synod and presbyterium was transferred gradually to the consistory, made up exclusively of cardinals. Alexander III, in 1170, laid down specific rules governing consistorial meetings, and other popes, notably Innocent III, further regulated their power. In later centuries the complexities of papal administration necessitated further modifications. By his celebrated bull Immensa (Jan. 22, 1588), Sixtus V both created and regulated all those bureaus that, in one form or another, are still in existence today.
Organization. On June 28, 1988, Pope John Paul II promulgated the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus, to take effect on March 1, 1989, modifying the organization and competencies of the Roman Curia which had been regulated by the norms of the Aug. 15, 1967, apostolic constitution Regimini ecclesiae universae issued by Pope Paul VI. The introduction to the new norms highlights the nature of the Curia as an aid to the Petrine ministry in service to the universal Church (n. 3) as well as to the bishops throughout the world (n. 9), and suggests that this reorganization of the Curia makes it conform more closely to the needs of the post-conciliar Church as well as to the exigencies of modern times (n. 13).
The dicasteries, as the various agencies of the Curia are called, include the Secretariat of State (arts. 39–47), nine Congregations (arts. 48–116), three Tribunals (arts. 117–130), 12 pontifical councils (arts. 131–170), and three Offices (arts. 171–179), all of which are juridically equal. Other institutes attached to the Curia or related to the Holy See include the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household (arts. 180–181), the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Pope (art.182), the Advocates for various tribunals and dicasteries (arts. 183–185), and other important entities such as the Vatican secret archives, the Vatican libraries, press and radio and television (arts. 186–192).
Cardinals and bishops, some residing in Rome and others in various parts of the world, comprise the actual membership of the different congregations (arts. 3–7). They are assisted in their work by secretaries, consultors, administrators and other officials, from both clergy and laity (arts. 8–9, 12). All Curia members and officials are named for five-year terms (art. 5). The dicasteries of the Curia deal with matters beyond the competence of bishops or groups of bishops, as well as with items reserved to the Holy See or committed to them by the Pope (art.13). No general decrees issued by dicasteries have the force of law or derogate laws unless given specific approbation by the Pope, and no extraordinary business is to be handled by dicasteries without his cognizance (art.18). All of the dicasteries are to foster good relationships with individual dioceses by communicating with the bishop of a diocese before issuing documents that concern matters therein and by responding expeditiously to requests made of them (art. 26). ad limina visits are presented as a prime opportunity for fostering good functional relationships between Bishops and the dicasteries of the Curia (arts. 28–32). Each dicastery has its own special norms for handling business (arts. 37–38), while a Central Labor Office handles all questions connected with employment in the Curia (art. 36).
Secretariat of State and the Congregations. The Secretariat of State, consisting of two sections, directly assists the Pope in expediting governance of the universal Church (arts. 41–44) and in relating with sovereign nations and international organizations (art. 45–47). A special group of 15 cardinals offers advice to the Secratariat of State in financial matters related to the Vatican (arts. 24–25).
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is responsible for protecting all matters of doctrine relating to faith and morals (art. 48), and documents of other dicasteries which relate to faith and morals are subject to prior judgment by this congregation (art. 54). Attached to the CDF are the pontifical biblical commission (17:523a) and the international theo logical commission (art. 55). The Congregation for the Oriental Churches has competence in all that concerns the faithful of Eastern Catholic Churches, except for those matters reserved to other dicasteries (arts. 58–59). The Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments oversees, fosters, and protects the valid celebration of liturgy and Sacraments and has responsibility for liturgical texts and missals (arts. 63–64), as well as for cases concerning non-consummation of Marriage and the nullity of Orders (arts. 67–68).
The Congregation for Causes of Saints deals with processes for canonizations and authentication of relics (arts. 71–74). The Congregation for Bishops is competent in all matters concerning particular churches, bishops, and groups of bishops, as well as personal prelatures (arts. 75–82). Attached to this congregation is the Pontifical Commission for Latin America (arts. 83–83). The Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples is responsible for moderating and coordinating all missionary activity, including erecting missionary institutes of consecrated life, regulating missionary organizations and overseeing finances for the missions (arts. 85–92). The Congregation for the Clergy has competence in all matters concerning the discipline, rights, and obligations of clergy, as well as what pertains to the clerical state (arts. 95–97). It also oversees religious education and catechical instruction (art. 94), and is responsible for major actions in the administration of temporal goods belonging to the Holy See throughout the world (art. 98). To this congregation is attached the Pontifical Commission for Preservation of Artistic and Historical Heritage (arts. 99–104). The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life has competence over these entities its well as over associations of the faithful formed with a view to becoming such institutes or societies (arts. 105–111). The Congregation for Seminaries and Institutes of Studies has competence over seminaries, issues norms for Catholic schools, and ratifies statutes for ecclestiastical institutions and universities (arts. 112–116).
Tribunals and Pontifical Councils. The Tribunals of the Curia include the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Apostolic Signatura, and the Roman Rota. The Apostolic Penitentiary deals with all internal forum matters, as well as with indulgences (arts. 117–120). The Signatura cares for the proper administration of justice in various grades of tribunals in the Church and deals with complaints of nullity, recourse, exceptions, conflicts of competence among dicasteries, and actions impugned due to alleged violations of law or of procedure (arts. 121–125). The Rota, to which judges from all parts of the world are assigned by the Pope, is the tribunal of the Apostolic See for protecting rights in the Church, developing jurisprudence, and aiding other ecclesiastical tribunals (arts. 126–130).
The most notable change effected by Pastor Bonus was the formation of 12 Pontifical Councils. Formerly categorized as secretariats, commissions or councils, these new Councils are: 1) the Pontifical Council for the Laity (arts. 131–134); 2) the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (arts. 135–138); 3) the Pontifical Council for the Family (arts. 139–141); 4) the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (arts. 142–144); 5) the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum " [for the promotion of humanitarian endeavors] (arts.145–148); 6) the Pontifical Council for Spiritual Care of Migrants and Travelers (arts. 149–151); 7) the Pontifical Council for the Apostolate of Hospital Workers (arts. 152–153); 8) the Pontifical Council for Interpreting the Texts of Laws (arts. 154–158); 9) the Pontifical Council for Dialogue among Religions (arts. 159–162); 10) the Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non-Believers (arts. 163–165); 11) the Pontifical Council for Culture (arts. 166–168); and 12) the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (arts. 169–170).
Offices of the Curia include the Apostolic Camera, which operates especially during the vacancy of the Apostolic See (art. 171), the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, which handles administration of goods related to the Curia (arts. 172–175), and the Prefecture of the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, which is responsible for the actual financial administration of the Holy See in general (arts. 176–179). Finally, there are two addendas to the apostolic constitution, one concerning guidelines for ad limina visits, as treated in articles 28–32, and another concerning those who work for the Apostolic See, as treated in articles 33–36.
Bibliography: L'Osservatore Romano, Italian Edition (June 29, 1988)
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"Curia, Roman." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/curia-roman
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