CONGREGATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH: The Inquisition 2020
In 1542, Paul III instituted a commission of six Cardinals with the task of watching over matters of faith (Papal bull Licet ab initio, July 21, 1542). This Commission, known as the Sacred Roman and Universal Inquisition, was initially a tribunal exclusively for cases of heresy and schism.
Paul IV, beginning in 1555, significantly enlarged its area of activity by giving it also the responsibility for judging moral questions of various types.
In 1571, Pius V created the Congregation for the Reform of the Index of Forbidden Books. This task, originally entrusted to the Inquisition, was exercised by this new Dicastery for more than three centuries, until its suppression in 1917.
As part of the reform of the Roman Curia carried out by Sixtus V (Papal bull Immensa aeterni Dei, January 22, 1588), the responsibilities of the Inquisition were extended to everything relating directly or indirectly to faith and morals.
Pius X reorganized the Congregation, changing its name to the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office (Apostolic Constitution Sapienti consilio, June 29, 1908).
Later, Benedict XV, suppressing the Sacred Congregation of the Index, assigned its duties again to the Holy Office, which at the same time was relieved of its responsibility for indulgences (Motu proprio Alloquentes, March 25, 1917).
In 1965, Paul VI undertook a new reform of the Congregation. The name was changed to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and its methods used for doctrinal examination were updated: over the punitive tendency of condemnation, the positive disposition of correcting from the errors, together with protection, preservation and promotion of the faith, prevailed (Motu proprio Integrae servandae, December 7, 1965). On this occasion, the Index of Prohibited Books was also abrogated.
John Paul II, with the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus on June 28, 1988, reorganized the entire Roman Curia and the function, responsibilities and norms governing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith were also further specified. Its competence is “to promote and defend the doctrine of the faith and its traditions in all of the Catholic world” (art. 48). Following that reform, the new Agendi ratio in doctrinarum examine was approved on June 29, 1997.
With the Motu proprio Da oltre trent’anni of 17 January 2019, His Holiness Pope Francis suppressed the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei and assigned all its areas of competence to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In the matters that require it, the Congregation proceeds also as a Tribunal: “judging the offenses against the faith and the more serious ones both in behavior or in the celebration of the sacraments” (art. 52). With the Moto proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela of April 30, 2001, John Paul II promulgated new procedural norms regarding some grave offenses of exclusive competence of the Congregation. An updated version of these norms was promulgated by Benedict XVI on May 21, 2010.
Organization and Responsibilities
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is constituted by a College of Members (Cardinals and Bishops), at the head of which is the Prefect. The Prefect is assisted by the Secretary, the Undersecretary and also the Promotor of Justice. The Congregation’s staff is composed of Officials who, under the coordination of the Heads of the respective Offices, attend to various questions to be followed on the basis of their competence and requirements of the Congregation. The Congregation comprises four Offices:
The Doctrinal Office
The Doctrinal Office takes care of the matters that relate to the promotion of the doctrine of the faith and morals.
The Discipline Office
The Discipline Office handles the offenses against the faith as well as the grave offenses committed against morals and in the celebration of the sacraments. It attends also to the examination of other problems connected with the discipline of the faith.
The Marriage Office
The Marriage Office deals with what concerns the privilegium fidei. It involves itself in the instances of the dissolution of the marriage in favorem fidei and of other aspects of the matrimonial bond connected to the validity of the sacrament.
The Office of the Fourth Section
The Office of the Fourth Section deals with the previous areas of competence of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, namely the relations with all the Institutes attached to the celebration of the Roman Liturgy according to the usus antiquior (forma extraordinaria).
For its studies, the Congregation is assisted by a group of Consultors. The meetings of the Consultors generally are held weekly. The matters treated and the opinions of the Consultors therefore are discussed by the College of the Members of the Congregation for a deliberate vote. Their decisions are eventually subjected to the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, in a special Audience.
At the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are constituted also the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the International Theological Commission, which, under the presidency of the Prefect, work according to the proper norms. The Congregation also has its Historical Archives, following their own Norms, to which only qualified scholars are given access.
Current Composition of Superiors
Prefect: Card. Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, S.I.
Secretary: His Excellency Giacomo Morandi.
Adjunct Secretary: His Excellency Joseph Augustine Di Noia, O.P.
Adjunct Secretary: His Excellency Charles Jude Scicluna
Under-Secretary: Reverend Matteo Visioli.
Promotor of Justice: Father Robert Joseph Geisinger, S.I.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio 00120 Città del Vaticano
Source: The Vatican’s Website: