On 19 March 2022, the Feast of St. Joseph, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium (Proclaim the Gospel), to take effect on Pentecost Sunday 2022 (5 June). At that time, the roles and structure of the Curia established by Pope John Paul II in Pastor Bonus will be replaced by the new norms. The information presented here on EWTN's See of Peter Roman Curia section will be progressively updated to reflect those norms. The primary change to note initially is not any substantial change to roles, but the re-titling of the major departments (Congregations and Councils) as simply Dicasteries. Please follow EWTN's News Services for details and commentary on the changes as the Apostolic Constitution is read and understood.
The ROMAN CURIA are the offices and officials who assist the Supreme Pontiff in carrying out his responsibilities of teaching, sanctifying and governing the Church on earth in Christ's name as the Successor of St. Peter.
These curial responsibilities are divided among different dicasteries, from a Greek word for a “court,” according to their particular function, such as doctrine, worship or law. Although they are juridically equal in authority, they are grouped into categories, such as the Secretariat, Congregations, (misc.) Dicasteries, Tribunals etc., as indicated on the above navigation bar, and summarized by the linked pages.
The particulars of these tasks are most recently defined in the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, promulgated by Pope St. JOHN PAUL II in 1988, which citing the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Ministry of Bishops (Christus Dominus) states,
7. . . In exercising his supreme, full and immediate authority over the universal Church, the Roman Pontiff employs the various departments of the Roman Curia, which act in his name and by his authority for the good of the Churches and in service of the sacred pastors.
Consequently, it is evident that the function of the Roman Curia, though not belonging to the essential constitution of the Church willed by God, has nevertheless a truly ecclesial character because it draws its existence and competence from the pastor of the universal Church. For the Curia exists and operates only insofar as it has a relation to the Petrine ministry and is based on it. But just as the ministry of Peter as the "servant of the servants of God" is exercised in relationship with both the whole Church and the bishops of the entire Church, similarly the Roman Curia, as the servant of Peter’s successor, looks only to help the whole Church and its bishops.
This clearly shows that the principal characteristic of each and every dicastery of the Roman Curia is that of being ministerial, as the already-quoted words of the Decree Christus Dominus declare and especially these: "The Roman Pontiff employs the various departments of the Roman Curia." These words clearly show the Curia’s instrumental nature, described as a kind of agent in the hands of the Pontiff, with the result that it is endowed with no force and no power apart from what it receives from the same Supreme Pastor.
In addition to being assisted by the Roman Curia in his spiritual responsibilities as the Successor of St. Peter, the Supreme Pontiff is assisted in the government of the temporal territories of the Holy See by a Governorate. Principal among these territories is the Vatican City State.
The Mons Vaticanus is a small hill across the Tiber River from the center of Rome. In the first century it contained a palace and a circus (an oblong racecourse), belonging to the Emperor Nero. It was in Nero’s Circus that St. Peter was martyred, crucified upside-down, because he had said he was unworthy to die as Christ died. He was buried in a near-by garden containing other graves. A shrine indicating Peter’s presence was erected over the grave around 150 AD during a relative period of peace for the Church, and Peter’s bones were hidden in a wall to protect them from desecration.
The first, or Constantinian, Basilica of St. Peter was built on the site after the Emperor legalized Christianity in 313 A.D. and then gave the land to Pope Silvester (314-335). Over the course of the centuries offices and a residence were built to accommodate the pope and his court. In the 16th century this basilica was torn down and the current Renaissance basilica was erected. Excavations under the main altar in the 1940s to 1960s have revealed the 1st century pagan graveyard, the shrine over Peter’s grave, as well as discovered bones suggestive of St. Peter, along with the ancient graffiti “Petrus ibi est” (Peter is here). These excavations are today open to the pubic for tours, scheduled well in advance due to their popularity.
Despite the close association of Peter and the popes with Vatican Hill, until the 1870s the Vatican was not the principal residence of the popes. Rather it was the Lateran Palace, also built on property given to Pope Sylvester by the Emperor Constantine. Here the Pope constructed the cathedral of Rome, dedicating it to the Holy Savior, to St. John the Baptist and to the Apostle St. John, though it is commonly called the Lateran Basilica.
From the early Middle Ages (700s), the Pope possessed other territory in central Italy. Known as the Papal States, in which he had both spiritual authority as pope and civil authority as ruler. Beginning in 1859 Giuseppe Garibaldi, fighting on behalf of King Victor Emmanuelle II of Italy, progressively unified the states on the Italian peninsula. By 1861 the Pope had lost all but Rome and Lazio, the region around the city. Then in 1871, Italian forces entered Rome and the Pope retreated to the Vatican, where his residence has remained ever since.
In 1929, Vatican City was formally established by concordat with Italy as the territorial seat of the Roman Pontiff, a treaty updated in 1985. The Vatican City State is the smallest sovereign state in the world (109.7 acres). It has its own diplomatic corps, passport, laws, police, stamps, and money, as well as a parish church, St. Anne, a pharmacy, supermarket and other services needed by its almost 1000 permanent residents.
Pontifical Commission for the State of Vatican City and President of the Governorate of Vatican City State: Archbishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, L.C.