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Gerard O’ConnellOctober 22, 2015
Pope Francis poses with auditors of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family as he arrives for the afternoon session at the Vatican, Oct. 10 (CNS Photo).

Pope Francis has announced the establishment of a new Vatican congregation, or dicastery, “with competency for laity, family and life."

He made the announcement at the opening of the afternoon plenary session of the synod on the family, Oct. 22, without giving the specific name of the new congregation. 

"I have decided to establish a new dicastery with competency for laity, family and life,” he said, and explained that this “will replace the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family.” Furthermore, he said, “the Pontifical Academy for Life will be joined to the new dicastery." In other words, while the latter comes under the congregation’s umbrella it will not be absorbed by it given its independent status and the fact that people of other faiths and none work with it.

The news comes as no surprise; the pope had let it be known for some time that this would happen. It is, nevertheless, an important affirmation and recognition of the status of the laity and the family in the Vatican structure. There are already congregations for bishops, clergy and those in consecrated life, but up to now the laity and the family were represented by pontifical councils headed by the Polish cardinal Stanislaw Rylko and the Italian bishop Vincenzo Paglia.

The establishment of this new congregation comes as part of the reform of the Roman Curia that is underway, which involves a process of rationalization and streamlining of the different Vatican offices. 

The proposal for the congregation came from the council of nine cardinals that Francis established to advise him.

Announcing his decision, Francis said he has set up “a special commission” to prepare a text that will define from a canon law perspective the competencies of the new congregation. The text will be presented for discussion at the meeting of the Council of Cardinals at their next meeting in December.

He has yet to announce whom he will appoint to be the prefect, secretary and under-secretary of this new congregation.

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