In an administrative move reaffirming his efforts to promote a Catholic revival in the West and greater adherence to traditional church teaching, Pope Benedict XVI has reassigned responsibility among Vatican offices for the religious education of laypeople and future priests.
According to two papal decrees released by the Vatican Jan. 25,
responsibility for seminaries has shifted from the Congregation for
Catholic Education to the Congregation for Clergy, and responsibility
for catechesis has moved from the latter office to the Pontifical
Council for Promoting New Evangelization.
The pope announced the changes in October, during the world Synod of
Bishops on the new evangelization, but did not sign the decrees putting
them into effect until Jan. 16.
Under the new regime, Pope Benedict wrote, the Congregation for Clergy
is now in charge of the "promotion and governance of all that pertains
to the formation, life and ministry of priests and deacons."
Emphasizing the need to link the preparation of seminarians with their
lifelong education after ordination, the pope quoted a warning from
Blessed John Paul II that any "discontinuity or even difference between
these two formative phases would lead immediately to grave consequences
for pastoral activity and the fraternal communion among priests,
particularly those of different ages."
Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, told
the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, that his office is
well-suited to supervising seminaries around the world, since its
comprehensive responsibility for the "ministry and life of priests, the
knowledge derived from that and the study of emerging problems regarding
priests in the world" will serve as an "indispensable compass" for
planning the preparation of future clergy.
The cardinal suggested a need for increased rigor in seminary
admissions, calling for reinforcement of an "authentic profile of
priestly identity" and rejecting what he said was a widespread
misunderstanding that a vocation to the priesthood is a subjective
choice, rather than a "person's response to an objective call from God,
mediated by the church."
The Congregation for Catholic Education, having ceded responsibility for
seminaries, will continue to supervise Catholic schools and
universities around the world.
However, authority over religious instruction of lay Catholics,
including catechisms published by national bishops' conferences and
textbooks for religious education used in Catholic schools, now lies
with the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.
The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, noted that the
council, which was established only in 2010, will now exercise a
significant "jurisdictional power" in addition to its former advisory
In his decree, Pope Benedict stressed the importance of catechesis for
the new evangelization, a project aimed at reviving the faith in
traditionally Catholic but increasingly secular societies.
"The particular historical moment we are living, marked among other
things by a dramatic crisis of faith," requires learning sufficient to
provide believers with answers to new questions, the pope wrote.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the council's president, wrote in the
Vatican newspaper that the challenges for catechesis today include the
pervasiveness of "scientific and technological culture" and widespread
In his decree, the pope wrote that catechesis in the years since the
Second Vatican Council has been marked by "grave errors in method and
content, which have provoked deep reflection and thus led to the
elaboration of some post-conciliar documents that represent new richness
in the field of catechesis."
Pope Benedict has often stressed the importance of interpreting the
teachings of Vatican II in continuity with the church's millennial
traditions, and not as a radical break with the past.