May 25, 2022

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The Pope rules that baptized lay Catholics, including women, can lead oaths of the Vatican

The Pope rules that baptized lay Catholics, including women, can lead oaths of the Vatican

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis introduced a landmark reform on Saturday that will allow any devout Catholic, including women, to head most departments of the Vatican under a new constitution for the Holy See’s central administration.

For centuries, departments were headed by male clergy, usually cardinals or bishops, but this may change from June 5 when the new charter comes into force after more than nine years in operation.

The 54-page constitution, called the Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel), was promulgated on the ninth anniversary of Pope Francis’ installation in 2013, and replaces the constitution promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

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Its preamble states that “the pope, bishops, and other appointed ministers are not the only missionaries in the Church,” adding that lay men and women “must have a role in government and responsibility” in the central administration, known as curia.

The principles section of the constitution states that “any individual of the faithful may head a religion (Curia) or body” if the pope determines that they are eligible and appoints them.

Under the 1988 constitution, departments – with a few exceptions – were to be headed by a cardinal or bishop and assisted by a secretary, experts, and administrators.

The new constitution does not distinguish between lay men and laity, although experts have said that at least two departments – the bishops’ department and the clergy’s department – will still be headed by men because only men can be priests in the Catholic Church.

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Experts said the consecrated life department, responsible for the monastic orders, could be headed by a nun in the future. It is now led by a Cardinal.

In an interview with Reuters in 2018, the Pope said he had chosen a woman to head an economic department at the Vatican, but that she could not take the job for personal reasons.

The role of the authority is “essential”

The new constitution said the role of Catholic laymen in Korea’s governing roles was “essential” due to their knowledge of family life and “social reality”.

Francis also consolidated some offices, created a new office to oversee charitable efforts, and created a new system of importance.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, comprising both lay persons and victims of abuse, appears to have been given greater institutional influence by integrating it into the Doctrinal Department, which determines the penalties for priests convicted of sexual assaults.

But Mary Collins of Ireland, one of the commission’s original members, said on Twitter that this could harm her independence.

While the State Department maintained its prime position as an administrative, coordinating, and diplomatic department, the prestige of the centuries-old doctrinal office was inferior to the evangelization department.

The Pope will head the evangelization office himself, highlighting the importance he attaches to spreading and reviving the faith.

Francis had already appointed a number of lay persons, among them women, to the departments of the Vatican.

Last year, he appointed for the first time a second-ranked woman governor of Vatican City, making Sister Raffaella Petrini the highest-ranking woman in the world’s smallest state.

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Also last year, he appointed Italian nun Sister Alessandra Smirelli to the position of interim secretary to the Vatican’s Development Office, which deals with justice and peace issues.

In addition, Francis appointed Nathalie Piccoart, a French member of the Missionary Sisters of Xavier, as co-procurator of the Synod of Bishops, which is major meetings of the world’s bishops that take place every few years.

(Returns to fix the typo in the eighth paragraph)

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(Reporting by Philip Pullella) Editing by Christina Fincher, Jason Neely and Helen Popper

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.