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Pope Francis unveiled a series of reforms for the Holy See this week that will ensure greater decision-making roles for the laity, especially women, and better protection for minors, the Hill reported.
The new Praedicate evangelium, or “Proclaiming the Gospel,” will become the new constitution for the Catholic Church’s ruling body on June 5. It will replace the late Pope St. John Paul II’s 1988 constitution.
Among the changes, the new charter will allow laypeople – not just priests, bishops or cardinals – to head a major Vatican office, and ensure greater geographic representation of staff members, the Associated Press noted.
This change could potentially allow women to head a Vatican department for the first time, according to the Hill.
But one of the pivotal reforms will be the unification of the pope’s advisory commission on preventing sexual abuse with the Holy See’s powerful doctrine office which supervises the canonical investigations of abuse cases.
The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors is tasked with protecting minors and other vulnerable people from abuse, which has frequently engulfed the Catholic church in controversy over the past two decades. But the ad hoc commission had no actual institutional weight or power. It often clashed with the more powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which investigates all allegations of abuse.
Now, the commission will become part of the newly-formed Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which will permit members – who include abuse survivors – to influence judgments made by the prelates who decide if and how predator priests are sanctioned.
In general, the new constitution called for a “healthy decentralization” to give local bishops more decision-making authority, as well as encourage more communications and cooperation among offices.
Even so, the text underscores that the increased authority must not affect matters of “doctrine, discipline and communion,” a warning that individual bishops conferences cannot stray from core tenets of the church.