Roman Curia

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. On 19 March 2022, the Feast of St. Joseph, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium (To Proclaim the Gospel), whose purpose was to make the Curia more effective in assisting the Pope, the bishops and the entire Church in her mission “to preach the Gospel.” It took effect on Pentecost Sunday, 5 June, 2022. At that time, the roles and structure of the Curia established by Pope John Paul II in Pastor Bonus (1988) were replaced by the new norms. 

“… reform is not an end in itself, but a means to give a more convincing witness to Christ; to favour a more effective evangelization; to promote a more fruitful ecumenical spirit; to encourage a more constructive dialogue with all." (Praedicate evangelium 12) 

The Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Ministry of Bishops (Christus Dominus) describes the general function of the Roman Curia thus,

9. In exercising supreme, full, and immediate power in the universal Church, the Roman pontiff makes use of the departments of the Roman Curia which, therefore, perform their duties in his name and with his authority for the good of the churches and in the service of the sacred pastors.

The fathers of this sacred council, however, desire that these departments-which have furnished distinguished assistance to the Roman pontiff and the pastors of the Church-be reorganized and better adapted to the needs of the times, regions, and rites especially as regards their number, name, competence and peculiar method of' procedure, as well as the coordination of work among them.

In Praedicate evangelium, Pope Francis provides the following specifications of these general principles.

1. Service to the mission of the Pope. The Roman Curia is primarily an instrument at the service of the successor of Peter to assist him in his mission as “perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the Bishops and of the whole company of the faithful”, [26]and to be of assistance to Bishops, particular Churches, Episcopal Conferences and their regional and continental groupings, the hierarchical structures of the Eastern Churches and other institutions and communities in the Church.

2. Co-responsibility in communio. The present reform proposes, in the spirit of a “sound decentralization”, [27] to leave to the competence of Bishops the authority to resolve, in the exercise of “their proper task as teachers” and pastors, [28] those issues with which they are familiar [29] and that do not affect the Church’s unity of doctrine, discipline and communion, always acting with that spirit of co-responsibility which is the fruit and expression of the specific mysterium communionis that is the Church. [30]

3. Service to the mission of the Bishops. In this context of cooperation with the Bishops, the service that the Curia offers them consists primarily in acknowledging and supporting their ministry to the Gospel and the Church. It does so by providing them with timely counsel, encouraging the pastoral conversion that they promote, showing solidary support for their efforts at evangelization, their preferential pastoral option for the poor, their protection of minors and vulnerable persons, and all their initiatives to serve the human family, unity and peace. In a word, the Curia backs their efforts to enable the peoples to have abundant life in Christ. The Curia also offers its service to the mission of Bishops and to communio by carrying out, in a fraternal spirit, tasks of vigilance, support and enhancement of the affective and effective communion of the successor of Peter with the Bishops.

4. Support for the particular Churches and their Episcopal Conferences and for the hierarchical structures of the Eastern Churches. The Catholic Church throughout the world embraces a multitude of peoples, languages and cultures, and thus can draw upon an immense store of successful experiences regarding evangelization; this must not be lost. Based on the Church’s presence worldwide, the Roman Curia, in its service to the good of the entire communio, is in a position to draw upon and process this rich fund of knowledge and the fruits of the best initiatives and creative proposals for evangelization devised by individual particular Churches, Episcopal Conferences and the hierarchical structures of the Eastern Churches, as well as their responses to specific problems and challenges. By assembling these experiences of the Church in her universality, the Curia can share them, by way of support, with the particular Churches, the Episcopal Conferences and the hierarchical structures of the Eastern Churches. For this kind of exchange and dialogue, the visits of the Bishops ad limina Apostolorum and their relative reports represent an important resource.

5. The vicarious nature of the Roman Curia. Each curial institution carries out its proper mission by virtue of the power it has received from the Roman Pontiff, in whose name it operates with vicarious power in the exercise of his primatial munus. For this reason, any member of the faithful can preside over a Dicastery or Office, depending on the power of governance and the specific competence and function of the Dicastery or Office in question.

6. Spirituality. The Roman Curia contributes to the Church’s communion with the Lord solely by cultivating the relationship of all its members with Christ Jesus, working generously and fervently in service to God’s plan, the gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows on the Church, and the vocation of all the baptized to holiness. It is necessary, therefore, that in each institution of the Curia, service to the Church as mystery remains joined to an experience of the covenant with God, manifested by common prayer, spiritual renewal and periodic common celebrations of the Eucharist. In the same way, based on their encounter with Jesus Christ, the members of the Curia are to carry out their work in the joyful recognition that they are missionary disciples at the service of the entire people of God.

7. Personal integrity and professionalism. The face of Christ is reflected in the varied faces of those of his disciples who place their charisms at the service of the Church’s mission. Consequently, those who serve in the Curia are chosen from Bishops, priests, deacons, members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and lay men and women outstanding for their spiritual life, solid pastoral experience, simplicity of life and love for the poor, spirit of communion and service, competence in the matters entrusted to them, and ability to discern the signs of the times. For this reason, care and attention must be given to the selection and training of personnel, as well as the organization of work and the personal and professional growth of every individual.

8. Cooperation between Dicasteries. Communion and participation must be the hallmark of the internal working of the Curia and each of its institutions. The Roman Curia must increasingly be at the service of communion of life and operational unity around the pastors of the universal Church. Superiors of Dicasteries thus meet periodically with the Roman Pontiff, both individually and in groups. These periodic meetings favour transparency and concerted action in discussing the work plans of the Dicasteries and their application.

9. Interdicasterial and intradicasterial meetings. Interdicasterial meetings, which express the communion and cooperation existing within the Curia, discuss matters involving more than one Dicastery. Responsibility for convening these meetings belongs to the Secretariat of State, since it acts as the Papal Secretariat. Communion and cooperation are also shown by appropriate periodic meetings of the members of each individual Dicastery: plenary sessions, consultations and congresses. This spirit must also mark the meetings of Bishops with the Dicasteries, whether individually or in groups, as on the occasion of their visits ad limina Apostolorum.

10. Expression of catholicity. The catholicity of the Church must be expressed in the selection of Cardinals, Bishops and other personnel. All those invited to serve in the Roman Curia are a sign of communion and solidarity with the Roman Pontiff on the part of the Bishops and Superiors of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life who make available to the Roman Curia qualified personnel coming from different cultures.

11. Reduction of Dicasteries. It has been necessary to reduce the number of the Dicasteries, unifying those whose purpose was very similar or complementary, and streamlining their functions with the aim of avoiding an overlap of competencies and improving the effectiveness of their work.

12. The chief aim of reform, as desired by Paul VI, is to allow the spark of God’s love to kindle, in the Curia and the entire Church, “the principles, teachings and resolves set forth by the Council, so that, fanned into flame by charity, they might truly bring about, in the Church and in the world, that renewal of mind, action, conduct, moral conviction, hope and joy which was the ultimate purpose of the Council”. [31]


[26]  SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 23.

[27] Cf. FRANCIS, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 16.

[28] Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 7.

[29] Cf. FRANCIS, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 31-32.

[30] Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 8.

[31] PAUL VI, Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (8 December 1965).


See: Praedicate Evangelium


Governorate of Vatican City

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.