MY CATHOLIC FAITH
58. The Roman Curia
What is the Roman Curia? --It is the organization of various bodies to which the Pope has delegated the exercise of his jurisdiction.
Almost all the heads of the bodies in the Roman Curia are cardinals.
The Roman Curia is the papal court; it is the core of the government of the Church. The Holy Father possesses complete and absolute power over the government of the Church; but it is not possible for him to exercise his authority personally and directly over every detail in the worldwide Church. A great deal of the jurisdiction has therefore been delegated to the Roman Curia, which at present consists of:
- Twelve Congregations, namely: Of the Holy Office, of the Consistory, for the Oriental Church, of the Sacraments, of the Council, of Religious, for the Propagation of the Faith, of Sacred Rites, of Ceremonies, of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, of Seminaries and Universities, and of the Basilica of St. Peter.
- Three Tribunals, namely: Sacred Penitentiary, Sacred Roman Rota, and Apostolic Signature.
- Five Offices, namely: Apostolic Chancery, Apostolic Datary, Apostolic Camera, Secretarfate of State, and Secretariate of Briefs to Princes and Latin Letters.
What in general are the duties of the twelve Congregations of the Roman Curia? --Their duties are summarized below:
- The Congregation of the Holy Office guards Catholic doctrine in faith and morals, protects sacramental dogma, acts on heresy and heretics, decides matters related to the condemnation of books, the doctrine of indulgences, new prayers and devotions.
Unlike all other Congregations, it has judicial, as well as administrative powers. The importance of this sacred congregation is shown by the fact that the Holy Father Himself is its Prefect, acting with a Cardinal-Secretary. This, the Consistorial Congregation, and that for the Oriental Church are the only administrative Departments thus personally headed by the Pope himself. All other congregations have cardinal-prefects, and the tribunals and offices have cardinal or other prelates at their head.
- The Consistorial Congregation prepares subjects of discussion at the papal consistories, where the College of Cardinals with the Pope deliberate on important matters. It judges the competency of all the Congregations with the exception of that of the Holy Office.
It is this Congregation through which the Pope nominates bishops and other high officials, after inquiring into their qualifications; it forms new dioceses, provinces, etc. that are not under the Propagation of the Faith or of the Congregation for the Oriental Church, and looks after their preservation.
- The Congregation for the Oriental Church takes care of all matters related to the Eastern Church. (See Chapter 55 on The Catholic Eastern Church: Rites)
- The Congregation of the Sacraments looks after the external regulations of the seven sacraments, ordains decrees and grants dispensations; it has charge of matters related to the validity of Orders or Matrimony.
- The Congregation of the Council has supervision over secular clergy and laymen, including parish priests, religious associations (even those under religious) , taxes, etc.; it has charge of episcopal conferences. It deals with matters related to the observence of the laws of the Church.
- The Congregation of Religious has authority over matters related to all religious, including lay members of Third Orders; it takes up their government, discipline, and privileges, and supervises their property and studies.
- The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith has charge of all matters related to the missions; missionary societies and seminaries are under its jurisdiction.
- The Congregation of Sacred Rites acts upon matters pertaining to rites and ceremonies; it considers the beatification and canonization of departed holy souls; it bestows insignia and marks of honor.
- The Congregation of Ceremonies has control of ceremonies in the papal chapel and court, and of functions performed by cardinals outside of the papal chapel; it judges matters of precedence of cardinals and legates.
- The Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs has charge of matters related to civil laws and governments; its prefect is the Cardinal Secretary of State. Whenever a settlement is necessary in conjunction with civil authority, this Congregation has charge of the formation and division of dioceses, the appointment of bishops and other prelates, etc.
- The Congregation of Seminaries and Universities supervises seminaries and universities, even those under religious orders, inquiring not only into government, but also into curricula; it establishes standards and confers academic degrees.
- The Congregation of the Basilica of St. Peter looks after the upkeep of that Basilica.
What is the jurisdiction of each of the three Tribunals of the Curia? --The Jurisdiction of each of the three Tribunals of the Curia may be summarized thus:
- The Sacred Penitentiary judges all cases involving conscience, whether sacramental or not, and all cases concerning the granting and use of indulgences, outside of the rights of the Holy Office on the subject of dogmatic doctrine.
- The Sacred Roman Rota has charge of matters involving judicial procedure, outside of the rights of the Holy Office and the Congregation of Sacred Rites.
- The Apostolic Signature is the supreme court of the Roman Curia. It has charge of all appeals, and settles all cases regarding jurisdiction of inferior tribunals.
Summarize briefly the duties of the five Offices of the Roman Curia. --This is a brief summary:
- The Apostolic Chancery sends out Apostolic Letters and Bulls on matters of major importance.
- The Apostolic Datary takes care of the appointment of candidates to benefices, and their due taxation.
- The Apostolic Camera has charge over all temporal goods and rights of the Holy See, especially when the See is vacant. It corresponds to the Treasury of the Church. Its head, the camerlengo assumes the regency upon the death of a Pope, and makes arrangements for the election.
- The Secretariate of State prepares matters for the consideration of the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs. The Cardinal-Secretary of State may be said to be the Prime Minister of the Pope.
- The Secretariate of Briefs to Princes and Latin Letters transcribes into Latin all acts of the Pope that he endorses to it.
The Papal Elections
When the Dean of the College of Cardinals publicly announces the death of the Pope, all the cardinals throughout the world are convoked to a solemn conclave, for the election of a new Supreme Pontiff. The conclave is held within fifteen to eighteen days after the death of the Holy Father.
If all the cardinals are present on the fifteenth day after the death of the Pope, then the conclave begins. If not all the cardinals are present, the conclave is postponed until the eighteenth day. Then the cardinals, after celebrating Holy Mass, gather in the Sistine Chapel, for the elections. And until they have made a choice, they remain in seclusion within a part of the Vatican, reserved for them.
Any male Catholic of whatever country or race, even a layman, may be elected Pope. Should a layman be chosen, he would have to be ordained priest and consecrated bishop, before he may assume the duties of his office. To be validly the Supreme Pontiff, the elected one is required to accept the office. The Pope is elected for life; however, if he wishes, he may resign, and a new Pope would then be elected.
The voting by the cardinals is done on specially-printed ballots. A two-thirds majority plus one is required to elect. Two ballots are taken every morning and evening until a selection is made. As long as no choice is made, the ballots are burned with damp straw; the heavy black smoke coming out from the chimney is a sign to the public usually assembled in the plaza outside that no decision has been reached. But when a candidate receives a two-thirds majority plus one, then he is elected, and the ballots are burned without the damp straw. Light smoke issuing from the chimney notifies the eager public that they have a new Holy Father.