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Pope announces Vatican reform and gives weight to combating abuse

Pope Francis' long-awaited reform plan for the Holy See bureaucracy was released on Saturday. It envisages more decision-making powers for the laity, and gives institutional weight to efforts against clerical sexual abuse.

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Pope announces Vatican reform and gives weight to combating abuse

The 54-page text is titled "Praedicate Evansglium" or "Proclaiming of the Gospel". It replaces the 1988 founding constitution, "Pastor Bonus."

In large part, Francis' promise to reform the inefficient and bulky Vatican bureaucracy that acts as the organ for central governance of the 1.3 billion strong Catholic Church was the reason he was elected pope in 2013. To help him with the changes, he created a Cabinet consisting of cardinal advisors.

Many of the reforms have been done piecemeal over the years. There has been consolidation of offices and financial reforms. The publication of the updated document, which is currently only available in Italian, completes the process and will be in effect in June.

This document was released on Saturday, the ninth anniversary Francis' installation as pope.

New reforms emphasize the missionary and charitable nature of the church, as well as the need to ensure that the Vatican is available to both the pope and the local dioceses. It envisions more roles for the laity and makes it clear that any lay person can head a major Vatican office. All staff must reflect the geographical universality of the church.

One of the most significant changes is that it integrates the pope's advisory committee on sexual abuse into the Vatican’s powerful doctrine office, which oversees canonical investigations in abuse cases.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was an ad-hoc commission that reported directly to the pope, but it had no institutional weight or power. It was often at odds with the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which reviews all cases of abuse.

The advisory commission now forms part of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. Its members, which include survivors of abuse, can influence the decisions made by the prelates. They weigh whether or not predator priests should be sanctioned.

The pontifical commission's head, Cardinal Sean O'Malley welcomed the change, saying it was proof of Francis' efforts to foster a culture of protection within the Vatican and wider church.

O'Malley stated that Pope Francis had made protecting and protecting minors a fundamental part the church's central government structure: the Roman Curia. The Pontifical Commission, which has been reaffirmed and renewed, will continue to play an important role in making sure the church is safe for children and vulnerable people by maintaining its separate status within the dicastery.

Another change is to make the pope's personal representative for charity and alms the head of a dicastery, highlighting the importance this service-oriented job holds for Francis. Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski is currently the head of this position. He recently led a humanitarian mission in Ukraine for Pope Francis.

Two Vatican offices for evangelization have merged into one Dicastery of Evangelization. The Vatican previously had a parallel bureaucracy that was dedicated to supporting the church in developing countries, where Catholics are a minority. Another office was dedicated to the revival of the faith in Catholic-majority countries. They have been combined and the new office is led by the pope with two deputy prefects.

The reform document recommends a "healthy" decentralization to give local bishops more power to make decisions, rather than Rome continuing to be the central clearinghouse for all governance decisions. However, the text warns that such authority can't touch matters of "doctrine and discipline" and that bishops conferences must adhere to core principles of church teaching.

It aims to end the siloed nature bureaucracy in which each congregation was responsible for its own fiefdom. It calls on the heads of Vatican offices not to meet individually but as a group, breaking with tradition. It basically calls for the Vatican bureaucracy be more like a Cabinet meeting regularly with the head state.

It is clear that all "dicasteries", as they are called, are equal. The Vatican secretariat of State had a significant influence and was a major player in the past. It was closely followed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. All dicasteries now have equal rights.


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