Changing needs, changing names: Reform of Curia is Vatican tradition

National Catholic Reporter

Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service | Jul. 31, 2014

Pope Francis and his international Council of Cardinals continue to study the most effective and efficient way to organize the Roman Curia, a large bureaucracy with a long history of expansions and a few, short-term, attempts at consolidation.

For centuries, popes were assisted in their ministry by the cardinals meeting in consistories; the practical matters were handled by what was called the Apostolic Chancery. But as the church grew and matters became more complicated and more time-sensitive, offices were added. The first was the Sacred Congregation for the Inquisition, a tribunal established in 1542 by Pope Paul III to judge heresy and orthodoxy.

Over the next four decades, a few other offices were added, but an organized Roman Curia came into existence only with Pope Sixtus V in 1588.

Currently the principal offices of the Roman Curia are the Secretariat of State, nine congregations headed by cardinals and 12 pontifical councils led by cardinals or archbishops. The offices share the mission of helping the pope carrying out his ministry “for the good and service of the whole church and of the particular churches,” according to St. John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus (“The Good Shepherd”).

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