Skip to comments.What You [Catholics] Need to Know: The Vatican (or Holy See) [Catholic-Orthodox Caucus]
Posted on 04/30/2007 8:50:39 PM PDT by Salvation
Many Catholics don't know much about the Vatican or how the Church is governed. Nor have basic materials on the governance of the Church found their way into our own archives over the years. Perhaps we take too much for granted.
We have placed a brief description of the structure of Church government in our library to serve as a primer. This identifies the different departments and offices which serve the Pope in fostering and regulating all the various aspects of ecclesiastical life.
In addition to being the center of the Catholic Church's government, however, the Vatican is also the spiritual center of Catholicism. This "spiritual home" is especially embodied in St. Peter's Basilica, the chief Church of all Christendom. The Vatican's museums also house an astonishing collection of artifacts of the greatest spiritual significance.
To delve more deeply into both the "mindset" of the Vatican and its inner workings requires the help of an experienced insider. We offer a review of a recent book on the subject which, while not without flaws, provides considerable insight into how Catholic business is done.
If you only have time to look at three things, LOOK AT THESE.
While one must always be wary of misunderstanding and even bias when non-Catholic websites describe Catholic governance, searches on the web may be profitably used to locate more information about any particular office or body associated with the Holy See.
For more on the artifacts preserved in the Vatican, it is sufficient to visit the official web site of the Vatican Museums. For Pope Benedict XVI's recent comments on their importance, see Vatican Museums, Where Faith and Art Intertwine.
Finally, it goes without saying that the universal mission of the Church which emanates from the Vatican includes all the manifestations of the Pope's sacramental and teaching powers, including all the disciplines and doctrines promulgated by the Church's magisterium, or teaching authority.
Vatican City: The Vatican City State is a small independent territory designed to assure the free operations of the governance of the Church without interference from other political powers. The central government of the Catholic Church is housed in Vatican City. The Vatican is also referred to as the Holy See, which can designate either the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) or the entire administrative apparatus which supports the Pope, in effect the government of the Catholic Church.
Pope: The head of the Church and the political ruler of the Vatican City State.
Secretary of State: The Secretariat of State is the oldest dicastery of the Holy See and provides both an organizational support system for the Pope and an administrative arm for civil affairs, including papal diplomacy around the world. The Secretariat of State is divided into two sections, the first of which deals with the organization and staffing of the Curia (see below), and the second of which handles civil concerns and relationships with other states.
Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State: A committee of cardinals supported by a board of lay advisors. This Commission assists the pope and the secretary of state in administering the government of the Vatican. Under this body there is a central council of the heads of various administrative offices, the directorships of museums, technical, economic and medical services; the Swiss guard; Vatican radio and television; the Vatican observatory; and the directorship of Castel Gandolfo, the traditional summer residence of the pope.
Roman Curia: The Curia (or Court) consists of the officials and offices which assist the pope in the religious governance of the Church. As of 2007, the Curia consisted of the Secretariat of State, nine Congregations, three Tribunals, eleven Pontifical Councils, and a complex of offices that administer church affairs. The most important administrative bodies are the Congregations, followed closely by the permanent Pontifical Councils. Less important affairs may be handled by other pontifical councils and commissions. Each administrative group is headed by a cleric, most often a Cardinal, called a Secretary. The nine congregations are:
There are also councils for Christian unity, non-Christians, and nonbelievers, justice and peace, the laity and other councils and commissions for various functions, such as the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
Cardinals: Cardinals attain their office solely by papal appointment and must be priests. They serve as special advisors to the pope and often as heads of important adminsitrative offices of the Holy See. The number of cardinals has been expanded from 70 to 184 by various popes between 1960 and 2001. Paul VI also set the age of 80 for retirement of cardinals from official service (including serving as papal electors). The entire body of cardinals is called a College.
Bishops: Bishops are appointed by the Pope and must be validly consecrated in the line of apostolic succession (that is, by other bishops who can trace their lineage back to the original apostles). They serve as the heads of local churches, which they govern under the authority of the pope. The entire body of bishops called together in union with the pope is a general council of the Church.
Heads of Religious Communities: These men and women are elected or appointed in various ways, according to the rules of their communities, under the authority of the Holy See. They govern their own communities in pursuance of the goals, charisms and constitutions of these communities, which have, if they are legitimate, been approved by the Pope.
Priests: Priests are ordained by bishops and called to support the local bishop in building up the people of God in the local church. Insofar as they may be appointed by the bishop to be pastors, they share in his governing authority for their local parishes.
Papal Elections: Though it is possible for a pope to resign, this would cause such confusion in the Church that typically popes serve until death. Popes are elected through whatever the latest mechanisms are that have been authoritatively put in place by a previous pope. For centuries, papal elections have been in the hands of the entire body of cardinals and, under current law, a new pope must be chosen from their number. When a pope dies, the entire body, or college, of active cardinals is called together to elect his successor. Two-thirds vote plus one of those in attendance is required, and typically the College of Cardinals discusses and debates the merits of the candidates in secrecy, holding successive ballots until a candidate wins the required number of votes.
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I know that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ and the Voice of God on earth! When he speaks the case is closed; the matter decided. There is no appeal! The Pope is Lord over all the rulers and peoples of the earth!
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You may remember the year j2p2 said no to women priests, but yes to lady acolytes? I think the acolytes issue came first but I don't recall. In any event our then bishop said about the acolytes, "Roma locuta, causa finita." BUT when the word about the women priests came down - and it came purty hard, as I recall, our bishop said,"Well, this is still not settled, there will certainly be some evolution of opinion, blah blah blah.
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