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
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 SECRETARIAT OF STATE
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
- 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
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
- The Doctrine of the Faith
- Eastern Churches
- Sacraments and Divine Worship
- Causes of Saints
- Evangelization of the Peoples
- Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
- Catholic Education
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
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 Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies
of Apostolic Life
- 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.
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 three tribunals are :
The Pontifical Councils
- 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.
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:
Other institutions within the Vatican
- 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]
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
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.
The Vatican is on the Internet at www.vatican.va