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ROME – Pope Francis has made significant changes to the Vatican’s doctrinal office, restructuring the department to include a new independent section dealing entirely with disciplinary matters, including clerical sexual abuse cases.
The new law published Monday and titled Fidem servare, or “To preserve the faith,” establishes independent doctrinal and disciplinary sections within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that will be coordinated by two different secretaries, both of whom report to the department’s prefect.
This decision from Pope Francis, which comes ahead of the long-awaited publication of a new apostolic constitution outlining the new structure of the Roman Curia, meaning the Vatican’s central governing bureaucracy, comes one month after the pope removed a top official within the CDF.
Last month the Vatican announced that Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, former secretary of the CDF, would leave his Vatican post to take over as bishop of the Italian Diocese of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla.
No reasons were given for the move, which came on the heels of several apostolic visitations of curial departments conducted last year at the pope’s request, however, some observers believe Morandi’s exit could be related to disagreement with Pope Francis’s decision last year to issue a decree restricting the Latin Mass.
The department is currently served by two adjunct secretaries: American Archbishop Augustine Di Noia and Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s top prosecutor of clerical abuse cases.
No replacements for Morandi were announced in Monday’s legislation, however, there is speculation that Scicluna could be named to one of the two secretary slots, most likely the CDF’s disciplinary section, following the pope’s April 2-3 visit to Malta.
Spanish Jesuit Cardinal Luis Ladaria is the current prefect of the CDF. At 77, he has already passed the mandatory age of retirement for cardinals and bishops in the Catholic Church, meaning more change could be underway for the department in the months to come.
In Monday’s motu proprio, meaning a revision of Church law issued on the pope’s own authority, the doctrinal section will deal with matters related to the “promotion and protection” of the doctrine of the faith and morals, as well as marriage annulment requests.
This section will also be responsible for promoting “studies” aimed at bettering the Church’s evangelizing efforts and with responding to “questions posed by the progress of the sciences and the development of society.”
The doctrinal section will also be tasked with reviewing documents to be published by other Vatican departments that deal with “faith and customs,” with an emphasis on dialoging with authors of documents when the text appears to be problematic in some way to find “suitable remedies.”
According to the new law, the disciplinary section will deal with “grave” delicts, including the sexual abuse of minors.
Signed Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the new law goes into effect immediately.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen