On March 19, Pope Francis, with the apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium, carried out a radical reorganization of the Roman Curia, perhaps the most profound since the time of Sixtus V. The legislative text in question was presented on March 21 by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, together with Msgr. Marco Mellino – current secretary of the Council of Cardinals – and Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a Jesuit and renowned canonist.
The famous reform of the Curia, announced early in the pontificate of Pope Francis, seems to have achieved its goal, at least regarding the reorganization of the organs of which it is composed. Before the in-depth examination of the doctrinal principles that underlie this text, certain aspects, including the theological short-circuit involuntarily highlighted by Fr. Ghirlanda, deserve attention.
The Creation of the Curia
The Roman congregations were established in 1588 by Sixtus V, although the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition, the Holy Office, had existed since 1542. They were intended to enable a quicker handling of matters which until then had been examined by the cardinals gathered in consistory with the Pope.
As the number of cases increased, Sixtus V brought the cardinals together in working groups—congregations—with their officials and advisers, to deal with most problems, referring the most important cases to the pope. These congregations, profoundly reformed under Paul VI, were then joined by pontifical commissions to deal with more specific or topical questions.
Today, the term “congregation” has disappeared to make way for the term “dicastery.” Bishop Semeraro explained that the term congregation, which dates back to the time of Sixtus V, implied that only cardinals could hold the presidency. “This is no longer the case. The term ‘dicastery’ suggests that in principle any of the baptized can occupy this function: clerics, consecrated, laity.”
“The term dicastery,” the cardinal concluded, “is a lay term; congregation is a clerical term: a lay person can preside over a dicastery, a lay person, according to the indicated criteria. Dicastery is not a generic term but has become a specific term.”
To what extent the congregation cannot concern the laity is difficult to say. But beyond the vocabulary, the great novelty of the apostolic constitution lies in the fact that the dicasteries are no longer meetings of cardinals with their assistants, who are all clerics, but that it is foreseen that lay people can take part, and even be prefects.
Lay people or religious sisters have long been part of the staff of congregations, and occupy important positions usually held by a bishop, such as that of secretary. Only the prefecture is theoretically a cardinal’s role, but Francis had already created many exceptions, no longer granting the purple to several prefects of former congregations.
The Origin of the Power of Jurisdiction in the Church
The principal problem is that in the external forum, many of these roles require the exercise of ecclesiastical jurisdiction delegated by the Pope. However, ecclesiastical jurisdiction, by divine right, can only be received by clerics, as old Canon 118 reminded us. They do not receive it by ordination, but by the conferment of an office by their superior. Only the pope receives this power directly from Christ, and in its fullness.
Lumen Gentium modified this doctrine, asserting that, for bishops, jurisdiction is not received from the pope but from the sacrament of Holy Orders itself. This error, condemned by the Church up to and including Pius XII, reiterated many times in later documents and by the new canon law, creates the other error of collegiality and the much vaunted synodal praxis.
From One Error to Another
How then, from a modernist point of view, can the systematic attribution of jurisdiction to the laity be resolved? Fr. Ghirlanda, one of the most important Roman canonists, surprisingly explained this during the presentation of Praedicate Evangelium.
The prefect of a dicastery, explains the Jesuit, “has no authority because of the hierarchical rank with which he is invested,” but because of the “power” he receives from the pope. “If the prefect and the secretary of a dicastery are bishops, this should not lead to the misunderstanding that their authority comes from the hierarchical rank they receive, as if they were acting under their own power.”
“The vicarious power to exercise an office is the same whether it is received from a bishop, a priest, a consecrated man or woman, or a lay person.”
In unequivocal terms, Fr. Ghirlanda concludes: “the power of governance in the Church does not come from the sacrament of Holy Orders, but from the canonical mission.” With this sentence, the Jesuit Ghirlanda cancels the error of Lumen Gentium in the blink of an eye, as if nothing had happened… but with the aim of including the laity in the exercise of the power of governance – which is contrary to divine law.
John XXIII initiated his reforms by consecrating the cardinals of the Curia who were not bishops. The canonists explain that the Curia must above all be composed of bishops, to show the participation in the “solicitude of all the churches” which belongs to each of them by his ordination and his membership in the college of bishops.
Jurisdiction should therefore no longer be considered as deriving from the pope but from the episcopal order, which participates, through the curia and the synods, in the care of the universal Church.
Today, by a sudden reversal, the participation of the laity in the delegation of the power of jurisdiction annuls an essential aspect of the divine constitution of the Church, in which only the clergy have the right to all public power.
This novelty sounds like an echo of the interview that Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, granted to the Vatican media last October 6, speaking of synodality: “In Anglicanism, synodality, most synods ... have three or at least two chambers. In the Church of England, for example, we have three chambers: bishops, clergy, and laity.”
A few years ago, the synod on the family was preceded and circumvented by the document reforming matrimonial processes: annulling marriages in a month, on the sole basis of the declaration of the spouses, is much simpler than looking for how to give Communion to remarried divorcees.
The synod on synodality is about to open, having already been circumvented by the document on the reform of the Curia, the problem is no longer how to involve the college of bishops in the government of the universal Church, but how to give everyone – clergy, laity, and bishops – the possibility of occupying all the functions.
If the modernist error has not yet completely annulled the hierarchy stemming from the sacrament of Holy Orders – although it has diminished and emptied it with the new liturgy – it has now simply erased the distinction between laity and clerics of the other hierarchy, that of the government, by an equally pernicious error. (*)
It seems strange that, to achieve this result, a man as well trained as Fr. Ghirlanda would be willing to rework Lumen gentium without even mentioning the problem.
(*) There is, in the Church, a double hierarchy which comes under the same subjects: the hierarchy of orders, founded on the sacrament of the same name, and which comprises at least three degrees – bishop, priest, and deacon; and the hierarchy of jurisdiction, which is ultimately based on the pope for the whole Church and on the bishops in their dioceses, without prejudice to that of the pope. Priests - particularly parish priests - receive jurisdiction from their bishop or directly from the pope. Only clerics can belong to the jurisdiction hierarchy.