With the reform of the Roman Curia just promulgated by Pope Francis, a page seems to have definitively been turned in the Terza Loggia, on the third floor of the apostolic palace, at the vicinity of the papal apartments overlooking the St. Damase courtyard on one side, and St. Peter’s Square on the other.
This is where the Secretariate of State occupies around fifty rooms, large and small, offices, lounges, antechambers, archives, flanked by the famous loggia decorated by Raphael's students.
Until now, it was the nuclear heart of the Vatican: centralizing body of all the actions of the apparatus of the Church, at the same time the personal secretariat of the Holy Father, the ministry of foreign affairs, and the presidency of the counsel of the Vatican.
Over the centuries, the Secretariate of State has in fact swallowed up the chancellery, the datary, the apostolic chamber, de facto exercising an authority superior to that which the other dicasteries can claim.
An assessment that has been passed into law. Thus, the successive reforms of the Roman Curia in 1908 (Sapienti Consilio), 1967 (Regimini Ecclesiae Universae) and 1988 (Pastor Bonus) gradually strengthened its powers until it became the main office in the curial organization chart: even the Holy See’s communications and the media arms have long depended on it.
The Terza Loggia’s political “obesity” can also be seen in the inflation of the personnel employed there: under the reign of Pope Leo XIII, a dozen people held office in the Secretariat of State. There were 77 at the end of the Second Vatican Council, 114 in the mid-1970s, 170 in 1997. A number which has tended to decrease significantly since the beginning of the current pontificate.
Its leader, the Secretary of State, the closest daily collaborator of the sovereign pontiff, has gradually become the most powerful figure in Rome, feared and dreaded.
Especially since John XXIII had assigned to him the presidency of the commission for the Vatican State and the presidency of the commission for the administration of the goods of the Holy See, allowing him to oversee all the economic and financial activities of the Vatican. His command is restricted only by the limits set by the pope in the closeness of their relationship.
At least until Pope Francis and March 19, 2022, the day of the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate evangelium which, by reforming the Roman Curia, singularly resized the all-powerful Secretariat of State.
A weight loss program has begun over the past few years, since the arrival of the Argentine pontiff on the throne of Peter, to the rhythm of widely publicized financial affairs, which have tarnished his close collaborators.
Henceforth, the Secretariat of State has been relieved of the budget, as well as of personnel management. It has reduced to a simple papal secretariat, and its head, even if he keeps his title, is no longer superior to the dicasteries as he was before, but must above all coordinate their work: a return of the historic pendulum which will be variously appreciated behind the high walls of the Leonine enclosure.
A “healthy decentralization” evokes the sovereign pontiff to justify the reform, where the most attentive observers see, in fact, a much greater power of initiative left to the very person of the pope, who will be more free than ever in relation to its central administration.