Prophetic Papal Reform into Action
Pope Francis continues to be a prophetic voice offering the timely plea and admonition that no one and nothing of God’s creation is disposable and that everyone has the responsibility to protect and lift up the marginalized and forgotten people and things of the world. To these ends, he recently inaugurated a new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Perhaps aware of the frailty of his health, he is making concerted efforts to put into place all the means available at the Church’s disposal to address the most pressing needs of humanity today, giving Catholics authoritative texts for teaching in The Joy of the Gospel and Laudato Si; providing an intercessor in heaven in Saint Teresa of Kolkata; and now instituting more effective organs of papal government. The new dicastery speaks of “integral development.” This is an idea promoted by the Pope in Laudato Si, his encyclical of May 24, 2015. The individual, the human community, and the world itself, all make progress together, as those with the means use the resources at hand to make choices that remember and do not marginalize anyone or anything of God’s creation. In order to make the best use of Vatican resources for these objectives, the Pope has merged four pre-existing pontifical councils: Justice and Peace; Cor Unum [addressing poverty and helping the poor]; Migrants and Travelers; and Health Care Ministry. The new department will begin work on January 1.
This new, experimental department created by the Pope bears the generic title of a dicastery, a term used to describe any ministry in the Roman Curia, whether it is a secretariat, congregation, tribunal, council, or office. Papal organs of government are as old as the papacy itself and have grown in complexity over the centuries. The current shape of the Curia dates to the organization given it by Pope Sixtus V in 1588 and the subsequent major reforms of Saint Pius X in 1908 and Saint John Paul II in 1988
At present, the Roman Curia is defined as “the complex of dicasteries and institutes which help the Roman Pontiff in the exercise of his supreme pastoral office for the good and service of the whole Church and of the particular Churches. It thus strengthens the unity of the faith and the communion of the people of God and promotes the mission proper to the Church in the world” (Saint John Paul II, apostolic constitution, Pastor Bonus, June 28, 1988).
A little bit of the detail of the charge given to the new office, which has been placed under the directorship of Cardinal Turkson of Ghana, the current president of the Council for Justice and Peace, can help explain its central mission. The opening of the papal letter issued under the Pope’s own initiative (“motu proprio”) on August 17 spells out the purpose of the dicastery.
In all her being and actions, the Church is called to promote the integral development of the human person in the light of the Gospel. This development takes place by attending to the inestimable goods of justice, peace, and the care of creation. The Successor of the Apostle Peter, in his work of affirming these values, is continuously adapting the institutions which collaborate with him, so that they may better meet the needs of the men and women whom they are called to serve.
So that the Holy See may be solicitous in these areas, as well as in those regarding health and charitable works, I institute the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. This Dicastery will be competent particularly in issues regarding migrants, those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture.
The statutes describe the work of the new body.
1. The Dicastery deepens the Social Doctrine of the Church and strives to ensure that it is widely spread and implemented and that social, economic and political relations are ever more permeated by the spirit of the Gospel.
2. [The Dicastery] gathers information and the results of investigations regarding justice and peace, the advancement of peoples, the protection and care of human dignity and of human rights, especially, for example, those relating to labor, including child labor, the phenomenon of migration and the exploitation of migrants, trafficking in human lives, reduction to slavery, imprisonment, torture and the death penalty, disarmament or the issue of armament as well as of armed conflicts and their consequences on the civilian population and on the natural environment (humanitarian law). It evaluates these data and informs the episcopal organisms of the conclusions that it draws therefrom, so that they may intervene directly where appropriate.
It is worth noting the Pope’s special concern for the plight of children and the trafficking in human lives, which we know sometimes involves the most vulnerable of poor youth selling their bodies and their limbs and organs to raise money to support their families.
Article 4 of the statutes governing “Relations with Members of the Curia and Connected Organisms” stipulates close relations with the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, an international think-tank, chaired by the one-time recipient of the Cummins Institute Montini Fellowship, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorando. The Pope is offering the Vatican offices as cooperators with God, who hears the cry of the poor (Ps. 34). How can we, as members of a Catholic academic institution, continue to explore ways of responding to this prophetic call? The Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action (CILSA) at SMC already practices joining “head, heart, and hands.” It is not alone in this campus pursuit. Papal leadership gives us all encouragement in this direction.
Photo credits: Portrait of Pope Francis by Brother Patrick Martin, F.S.C. Photo of Cardinal Turkson from Wikimedia Commons