Pope Francis has established a new Vatican congregation for the laity, family and life in response to a proposal made by his nine-member advisory Council of Cardinals.
The new congregation will merge existing Vatican offices into a single unit, with the goal of streamlining and co-ordinating activities and at the same time emphasising the importance of the Vatican’s policies involving family and life issues.
As a congregation, the office will be at the top level of the Vatican’s administrative structure.
Suggestions for a single dicastery to handle family issues – combining functions that are now handled by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Academy for Life, and other offices – have been under discussion since the start of this pontificate.
The Council of Cardinals finalised a proposal for the new office in February of this year, submitting it to Pope Francis for approval.
The dicastery, which the Pope has approved on an experimental basis, will officially come into being on 1 September, at which point the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family will be suppressed.
The new dicastery, according to the Holy See Press Office, will be “presided over by a prefect, assisted by a secretary, who may be a layperson, and three lay undersecretaries”. The Pope did not name officials of the new dicastery. Although some Vatican-watchers had suggested that the top position could be assigned to a lay Catholic or even a married couple, the Vatican announcement of the new office indicated that it would be headed by a prefect – presumably a cardinal or archbishop.
The section for the laity will “encourage the promotion of the vocation and mission of the lay faithful in the Church and in the world, as individuals, married or unmarried, or as members of associations, movements and communities,” the press office said in a 4 June statement.
The section for the family will “promote family pastoral ministry, protect its dignity and well-being based on the sacrament of marriage, and will promote its rights and responsibility in the Church and in civil society, so that the family institution may be increasingly able to perform its functions in both ecclesial and social context.”
The section for life, the press office added, will support and co-ordinate activities to encourage responsible procreation and the protection of human life from conception to natural end, bearing in mind the needs of the person in the different phases of development.
It will promote and encourage organisations and associations helping women and families to welcome and protect the gift of life, especially in the case of difficult pregnancies, and to prevent recourse to abortion. It will also support programs and initiatives intended to help women who have terminated a pregnancy.
On the basis of Catholic moral doctrine and the teaching of the Church, it will study and promote formation on the main issues of biomedicine and of the law regarding human life and the ideologies developing in relation to human life and gender identity.
Nine congregations, three tribunals, 12 pontifical councils, and nearly three dozen other offices, agencies, commissions and committees are associated with the Roman Curia, along with the Secretariat of State and the Secretariat for the Economy.