The Pope Takes Control of His Diocese

January 12, 2023
St. John Lateran

On January 6, 2023, the Holy See published the apostolic constitution In Ecclesiarum Communione, which reorganizes the structure of the diocese of Rome, placing it closer to the Pope's control.

Officially, the Constitution promulgated by the Roman Pontiff aims to restore “an evangelizing community, a synodal Church” to the Vicariate of Rome, so that the latter may be “an exemplary place of communion, dialogue and proximity, welcoming and transparent, at the service of the renewal and pastoral growth of the Diocese of Rome,” writes Pope Francis.

In fact, the “reorganization” of the vicariate has rather the accents of a vigorous takeover placing the current affairs of the Diocese of Rome under the control of the Argentine Pontiff.

The episcopal council – normally chaired by a cardinal vicar, hitherto Msgr. Angelo De Donatis – should meet three times a month and be presided over by Pope Francis, who intends to have his hand on the agenda of each meeting which “must be transmitted to me as soon as possible,” as Pope Francis intimated, in a tone that leaves little room for discussion.

Cardinal De Donatis’s functions are now strictly framed. He one who up to now has exercised “the high and effective direction of the vicariate,” has become “the auxiliary” of the sovereign pontiff who intends to pull in the reins: “he [the cardinal-vicar] will not undertake any initiative that is important or goes beyond the scope of ordinary administration without first notifying me,” warned Francis.

After the function of cardinal-vicar, several diocesan bodies were also modified, always in the sense of taking control: the council for economic affairs was given new criteria for “transparency in the management of funds.” The diocesan budget must also receive final approval from the Pope.

An independent commission called “vigilance,” composed of six members appointed by the Argentine Pontiff, has also been created, “free of any conflicts of interest,” in order to control the activities of the various diocesan structures.

Finally, the mandate of management staff is now limited to five years, renewable only once. A tightening of screws has been promulgated – should this be seen as the effect of chance? 

This vigorous gesture of regaining control is also in line with other actions undertaken in recent months by the current Pope concerning Opus Dei, Caritas Internationalis, and the Order of Malta. This is a taste of the governance what could be part of Francis’s pontificate, which seems very far from the “synodality” so often talked about.

Last summer, in an interview granted to the channel ViX of Televisa Univision, the Pope had declared that in the event of his resignation, he would go live in St. John Lateran and that he would keep only the title of bishop emeritus of Rome.

The new apostolic constitution which strengthens its grip on the diocese seems to contradict the predictions of those who think that after the death of Benedict XVI, Francis might retire. These recent decisions, in fact, do not go in the direction of those who are preparing for his resignation.