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Vatican: Women to benefit as pope unveils reforms

March 19, 2022

Pope Francis delivered on the reforms promised years ago by allowing any baptized Catholic — man or woman — to lead major departments at the Vatican.

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at St. Peter's Basilica
The new constitution will take effect on June 5, replacing one approved in 1988 by Pope John Paul IIImage: Guglielmo Mangiapane/REUTERS

Pope Francis on Saturday issued a new constitution for the Vatican's central administration, known as the Curia, stating that any baptized lay Catholics, including women, can head Vatican offices.

Until now, most Vatican departments have been headed by male clerics, usually cardinals.

The new 54-page constitution, called Praedicate Evangelium (Proclaiming the Gospel), took more than nine years to complete.

It replaces the founding constitution Pastor Bonus penned by St. John Paul II in 1988 and will take effect on June 5.

"The pope, bishops and other ordained ministers are not the only evangelizers in the Church," the preamble says, adding that lay men and women "should have roles of government and responsibility."

Another section says "any member of the faithful can head a dicastery (Curia department)" if the pope decides they are qualified and appoints them.

It makes no distinction between lay men and lay women.

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The text says choices will be made based on people's professional competence, spiritual life, pastoral experience, sobriety and love for the poor, a sense of community and "ability to recognize the signs of the times."

Years in the making

Francis was elected pope in 2013 in large part on his promise to reform the bulky and inefficient Vatican bureaucracy, which acts as the organ of central governance for the 1.3-billion strong Catholic Church.

He named a Cabinet of cardinal advisers who have met periodically since his election to help him draft the changes.

Much of the reform work has been rolled out piecemeal over the years, with offices consolidated and financial reforms issued.

But the publication of the new document, for now only in Italian, finalizes the process.

The document was released Saturday, the ninth anniversary of Francis' installation as pope.

The Catholic Church has struggled to deal with several scandals of alleged sexual abuse by clergy.

mm/dj(AP, Reuters)