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June 06, 2017

On Monday, May 29, 2017, Pope Francis presided in the Sala Bologna, on the third floor of the Vatican palace, over a work meeting with all the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia.

Pope Francis has made a habit of holding a sort of council of ministers with all the prefects of the Curia’s dicasteries every six months. The Roman Curia is currently composed of nine congregations, each directed by a prefect, and of five pontifical councils, each directed by a president. There were twelve pontifical councils before the reform of Curia Pope Francis began right after his election.

Some of these councils have been grouped together into new entities that have been created since: the Secretariat for the Economy, presided over by Cardinal George Pell; the Secretariat for Communications, presided over by Mgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò; the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, under the direction of Cardinal Fevin Farrell; and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, created on January 1, 2017, and whose statutes have not yet been published. Cardinal Peter Turkson is its prefect, although the sub-section on immigrants is directly under the pope’s responsibility.

The Roman Curia also has three tribunals and six Pontifical Academies, not to mention the Secretariat of State, the administrative services, and the various commissions, as well as the Council for the Economy. Pope Francis also created a Council of CardinalsC9 – to direct the reform of the Curia.

The subject of the May 29th meeting with the prefects of the dicasteries has not been revealed. According to Vatican specialist Andrea Tornielli –  known to be close to the current pope, whose authorized biography has already written – it had to do with the new “ecclesial movements and realities”, in particular, the possibility for priests of being incardinated by them, that is to say, being officially incorporated in order to exercise their ministry as a part of them.

Until now, incardination has been regulated by Canon Law – canons 265 to 272 – , which states that only what the law calls “hierarchical”  – territorial dioceses, dioceses for the military, personal prelatures  – and “non-hierarchical” structures – institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life – can legitimately incardinate clergy.

Thus are excluded many of the new ecclesial movements which, although they include clergy, have only the status of clerical associations – regulated by canon 302 – which involves a close dependence on the local Ordinary wherever they are erected.

Offering these new communities the ability to incardinate would provide their priestly members with greater mobility in their mission, for in a less rigid canonical framework, they would no longer depend directly on the local Ordinary. To fully understand what is at stake, we have to remember that Pope Francis sees these new communities as entities that possess the ability to go out to the famous “peripheries” which are at the heart of his pontificate and which the traditional structures of the Church, in his opinion, have a hard time reaching.

This is a far cry from the commonly accepted idea that sees a spiritual value of the priesthood having roots within a particular Church, that is to say, a diocese. If this meeting has any concrete results in the near future, there is no doubt that the diocesan bishops will have differing opinions on what cannot but look to them like yet another way of dissipating their power, with the risk of causing the tiny flow of diocesan vocations to grow even tinier.