Vatican is an autonomous state, covering just 108 acres, situated within the City of Rome, guaranteed recognition by the Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Vatican in 1929.

The central authority of the Catholic Church is more correctly referred to as the Holy See (the See or seat of Peter) and the central administration is the Roman Curia, most of whose offices are located within the Vatican. Some are in the City of Rome but regarded as 'extra territorial' property.


The principal office through which all other offices communicate officially (either externally or internally) is the Secretariat of State. It is under the control of the Cardinal Secretary of State. It has two sections, one for internal or general affairs and the other for relations with other states.

The Secretariat of State is directly responsible for a number of other offices and publications:

  • Official Bulletin of the Holy See (Acta Apostolicae Sedis)
  • The Pontifical Yearbook (Annuario Pontificio)
  • Vatican Press Office
  • Central Office of Statistics (and Statistical Yearbook)


The Roman Curia's administration of the Church is done mainly through the nine Congregations (or departments, sometimes called 'dicasteries') each headed by a Cardinal

  • The Doctrine of the Faith
  • Eastern Churches
  • Sacraments and Divine Worship
  • Causes of Saints
  • Bishops
  • Evangelization of the Peoples
  • Clergy
  • Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
  • Catholic Education
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Established by Pope Paul III in 1542 to defend faith against heresy and false teachings. It was formerly known as 'Holy Office' and is responsible for everything connected with the teaching and customs of the Church. Its resident members (including 14 cardinals) meet weekly.

Congregation for Eastern Churches

Pius IX established the Congregation in 1862 and its responsibility is for those Churches of Eastern Rite which are in communion with Rome (Copts, Melkites, Maronites Syro- Malabar, Syro- Malankara etc.). It deals with them in the areas covered by the rest of the list of Congregations.

Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship

Originally two separate departments (Congregation for Sacraments founded by Pius IX in 1908 and Congregation for Divine Worship founded by Paul VI in 1969) the Congregation is responsible for everything related to liturgy and sacraments, except for what comes within the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Congregation for the Causes of Saints

In 1588 Pope Pius V established the Congregation for Rites, and entrusted to it the responsibility for worship and the causes of saints (the two were connected because the saints are celebrated first of all in the liturgy). Pope Paul VI's reforms of 1969 gave the Congregation a separate identity and re-ordered its methods of dealing with petitions from dioceses, for the canonization of individuals.

Congregation for Bishops

The Congregation was founded originally in 1588 for the setting up of local Churches, and is still responsible for the setting up of new dioceses and for the appointment of bishops.

In 1958 the Commission for Latin America was set up to look at the particular needs of the Church in Latin America and to assist the Latin American Bishops' Conference [CELAM]. It was incorporated into the Congregation for Bishops in 1969

Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples

This Congregation has its roots in the commission set up by Pius V and Gregory XIII to look after the mission to the East and West Indies and to assist the Church in the Protestant territories in Europe. In 1622 it was reformed by Gregory XV as 'Propaganda Fide' to look after the new local Churches. Presently it is responsible for South Eastern Europe, the Americas, almost all of Africa, the Far East, New Zealand Oceania (with the exception of Australia), Asia and almost all the Philippines.

Congregation for the Clergy

The 'Sacred Congregation of Cardinals' Interpretation of the Council of Trent' was set up to implement the decrees of that Council, and gradually its competence was divided between the various Congregations as they came into being and developed. The Congregation of the Council kept its name until 1967 when it became the Congregation for the Clergy. It has three areas of responsibility

  • The pastoral, spiritual and intellectual development of the clergy
  • The promotion of catechetical and pastoral initiatives
  • The proper administration of the material goods of the Church.

The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life

In 1908 the Congregation for Religious brought together two previously existing bodies to look after all forms of consecrated life within the Church, including the religious orders and societies, hermits, virgins and secular institutes. It took its present name in 1967 under Paul VI.

Congregation for Catholic Education

In 1588 Pius V set up the Congregation for Roman University Studies to look after these institutes and similar universities in Paris, Bologna, Salamanca etc. State schools came within the competence of the Congregation in 1870 and in 1915 the seminaries also were included. Its competence today covers:

  • The seminaries for priestly training and other places of religious formation
  • The Catholic universities and similar institutions
  • All schools under Church control.
  • Other offices within the Roman Curia
The Tribunals The three tribunals are :
  • The Apostolic Penitentiary : this deals with matters in the 'internal forum' (rather than the external or public forum), the granting of absolutions and other pardons and the question of indulgences.
  • The Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature works in three areas:
  • as supreme tribunal or court of the Church,
  • as administrative tribunal, and as a strictly administrative body, a justice ministry supervising the work of ecclesiastical courts and processes.
  • The Roman Rota is a court of higher appeal at the Holy See to safeguard rights within the Church and assist the work of other tribunals and courts.
The Pontifical Councils

All of the Councils of the Holy See have their origins in the last century, and their competence is indicated clearly enough by their titles.

  • Pontifical Council for the Laity (1976, Paul VI)
  • Pontifical Council for Christian Unity (1960, John XXIII)
  • Pontifical Council for the Family (1981, John Paul II)
  • Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (1967, Paul VI)
  • Pontifical Council 'Cor Unum' (the Holy See's Charities, 1971, Paul VI)
  • Pontifical Council for the Care of Migrants and Itinerants (1970)
  • Pontifical Council for the Care of Health Workers (1985, John Paul II)
  • Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Texts (1917, Benedict XV)
  • Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue (1964, Paul VI)
  • Pontifical Council for Culture (originally 1965, Paul VI as Secretariat for Dialogue with Non Believers)
  • Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization (Established in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI)

Pontifical Council for Social Communications (originally 1948, Pius XI, as Pontifical Commission for the Cinema)

The Pontifical Commissions

The Commissions deal with more specific areas of competence:

  • Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Goods of the Church (1993)
  • Pontifical Archeological Commission (1852)
  • Pontifical Biblical Commission (1902)
  • Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Vulgate [Latin text of the Bible] (1907)

Other institutions within the Vatican

The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) is what some people refer to as the 'Vatican Bank'. Others refer to the Institute for Religious Works (IOR) as the bank. Neither is strictly true, although APSA is treated as bank by other banking institutions.

APSA was set up after 1870 to look after what the Holy See had left after the loss of the Papal States with the unification of Italy. Its work became more important after the 1929 Lateran Treaty with Italy, when the Vatican was compensated for the loss of territory. The monies paid in compensation were invested and form a large part of the ordinary income of the Holy See. It also looks after the ordinary financial administration of the Curia (salaries etc.)

The IOR is an office set up to gather and administer funds for religious purposes. It provides clearing-bank services for those working in the Vatican and for many religious orders, who hold a large proportion of its investments and their yields. The Holy See receives the profits it makes on its transactions.

The Prefecture of the Papal Household took its present form in the re-organization within the Vatican under Paul VI. The running of the Papal Household involves the pope's daily timetable, principally events like audiences (private and public).

Other institutions connected with the Holy See

The Vatican Secret Archives preserves a great deal of material relating to the history of the Papacy, but for various reasons, much of what there was to the time of Innocent III (1198-1216) has been lost. The most important part is the register of Papal bulls from that time onwards.

Separate from the Archives is the Vatican Library. Like the Archives, it has lost most of what existed up to the XIII century but preserves many historically important manuscripts.

The Vatican Polyglot Press has its origins in the XVI century and with the Vatican Publishing House is now mainly concerned with the production and distribution of the documents of the Holy See. Vatican Radio, Vatican Television and the Vatican's own (unofficial) newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, are all fairly recent additions to the Church's efforts to evangelise. The radio was founded in 1931 and the TV centre in 1983. The newspaper was founded in 1861 and is published every day in Italian and weekly in a number of other languages, including English.

Other sources of information regarding the Holy See are its own yearbook (Annuario Pontificio, in Italian) and the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (the official Latin text of all documents issued by the Holy See). The Statistics Office of the Secretariat of State publishes a Statistical Yearbook which gives detailed statistics for the Catholic Church worldwide. The figures are a few years out of date simply because of the time it takes to collate them.

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