The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The duty of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
is to promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals
throughout the Catholic world.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect

Vatican City, 19 March 2015

The Pastors of the Church, who have the mission to proclaim the word of salvation received by divine Revelation, are required to safeguard in its entirety the deposit of faith entrusted to them by Christ. Throughout the many centuries of the Church’s history, the Popes have been assisted by various entities to help them better fulfill this responsibility, according to the needs of each age. Over time different offices have facilitated the governance of the Church by assuring observance of laws that have been promulgated, encouraging initiatives to accomplish the goals proper to the Church, and resolving controversies which arise. The origin of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is situated in this context. Recent documentary research on the history of this institution has produced a picture of the Congregation less darkly drawn than was formerly the case, a picture which can help overcome ideological prejudices and dispel commonly-held misconceptions. This new image is also aided by significant editorial efforts that have made available to the wider public documents previously known only by a limited number of scholars.

Progress in these studies has been encouraged by the opening of the historical archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. On that occasion, the then Prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, remarked: “The opening of our Archives is inspired by the same charge given to our Congregation by the Holy Father to ‘promote and safeguard the doctrine of the faith and morals for the whole Catholic world’. I am certain that opening our Archives responds not only to legitimate desires of scholars, but also to the Church’s determined intention to serve man by helping him to understand himself by reading his own history without prejudice. (Card. Joseph Ratzinger, “The Dream of Truth”, Avvenire. 23 Jan 1998, p. 210)”.

This little work sees the light of day in this new, positive context. Its purpose is both informational (historical presentation) and formational (education in the faith). The following topics are treated here: the origin and development of the Holy Office; its reform at the beginning of the twentieth century; the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and the Dicastery according to the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus. There is also detailed information concerning: the structure and organization of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, (personnel, offices and procedures); its examination of doctrine and the norms for reserved delicts; and the other offices associated with it: the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the International Theological Commission, and the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

Like other offices of the Roman Curia, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is an institution of ecclesiastical right, assisting the Holy Father in his universal mission as regards doctrine of faith and morals. It has the responsibility to watch over the profession of the true faith and guide all activities of the Church related to that faith: liturgy, preaching, catechesis, the spiritual life, ecumenical endeavors, social teaching, etc.

In the context in which society and the Church exist today – a context marked by rapid cultural, political, technical, and economic change, and by public opinion increasingly shaped by patterns and directions influenced by the social media – the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is confronted on a daily basis with a difficult challenge.

The Congregation strives to discern the key thoughts and most important ideas that emerge from the ebb and flow of cultural challenges and theological opinions. It is necessary, therefore, to examine these challenges, explore them to their deepest roots, and evaluate them in a way that is inspired by the Gospel and Catholic tradition. This work is carried out in conformity to the specific nature of the Church as the People of God in its two dimensions as a universal and a local community.

The Congregation’s life is full of colloquiums, study sessions, and a great deal of correspondence with bishops, nuncios, and superiors of institutes throughout the world. Its cooperation with other offices of the Holy See becomes more intense when they are developing official documents and reaching decisions that involve the doctrine of the faith and the moral life. This helps to explain the association of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the International Theological Commission with the Congregation, both of which provide consultative assistance in various fields according to the expertise of their members. At the same time, the documents they produce advance a deepening understanding of the faith for the whole Church.

The Congregation listens, too – in a particular way during the periodic visits of bishops ad limina: on these occasions, all the bishops have an opportunity to share the particular problems they face in their own countries and to seek advice. Occasionally, some representatives of the Congregation will travel to different continents to meet with the presidents of the doctrinal commissions of Episcopal Conferences to examine relevant doctrinal problems with them. The Congregation also studies theological journals from throughout the world in order to be continually informed of new developments in theology. In the case of extremely difficult questions, the Congregation itself provides an opportunity for a more profound understanding by holding symposia involving experts from throughout the world.1