The announcement that the Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone, has acquired the power to screen requests for special faculties from the dicasteries of the Curia is another example of the growth of his power.  The Secretary of State has always had the power to control minor statements from individual offices of the Curia in the Vatican, but this new acquisition of power is significant.  During the years I served as a Consultant to the Pontifical Commission for the Spiritual Care of Migrants and Tourists there were many times we, the members and consultants of the Pontifical Commission wanted to issue public statements on some crisis in the maritime world or the world of global tourism, but frequently our statements were cancelled by the Secretary of State because of ‘political considerations.’  Now, Cardinal Bertone has acquired a role that distances the Pope from the curial dicasteries.

–   Abyssum


Vatican Diary / Cardinal Bertone has another gear

In order to obtain “special faculties” in dispensation from canonical norms, the heads of the curia can no longer go directly to Benedict XVI. They must go through the secretary of state. Who will explain the procedure himself

by  Sandro Magister

VATICAN CITY, December 12, 2011 – A normative innovation introduced in recent months has redefined and increased the power of coordination of the secretariat of state with regard to the other dicasteries of the Roman curia.

The novelty is found in a rescript “ex audientia SS.mi” signed by cardinal secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone.

Rescripts are measures taken by the pope in the course of an audience granted to the secretary of state, and ordinarily published only in the “Acta Apostolicæ Sedis,” the official gazette of the Holy See.

In the rescript in question, of last February 7, Cardinal Bertone announced that “the Holy Father, on the date of February 1, 2011, approved the following text as article 126b of the General Regulation of the Roman Curia.” And he specified that its implementation is set for the following March 1.

This new article of the Regulation consists of four paragraphs.

“The dicastery,” it explains in the first paragraph, “that maintains it necessary to ask the Supreme Pontiff for special faculties must make a written request through the secretariat of state, attaching a definitive written proposal, with precise indication of the faculties requested, the reason for the request, and specifying any dispensations from universal or particular canonical norms that would be modified or disregarded in some way.”

“The secretariat of state,” it establishes in the second paragraph, “will ask for the judgment of the dicasteries competent in the matter, and of those it believes may be involved, as well as of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts as far as the correct juridical formulation is concerned, and, if doctrinal questions are implicated, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

The third paragraph explains the concrete procedures to be followed in the formulation of requests relative to “special faculties,” and the fourth finally emphasizes how “the secretariart of state [will communicate] to the dicasteries the text of any faculties granted by the Supreme Pontiff, and, together with the dicastery making the request, will evaluate whether and how to proceed with its publication.”

By virtue of this rescript, therefore, there can no longer be a direct discussion between the pontiff and the curial dicasteries concerning the concession of “special faculties,” which are, in simplistic terms, executive orders that dispense with canonical norms in force and have the value of law, before expiring with the death of the pontiff who issued them.

In the recent past, these “special faculties” have been an instrument used to combat in the most rapid and effective way possible the sexual abuse of minors committed by clergy.

After 2001, in fact, “special faculties” were granted by John Paul II to the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, headed at the time by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He had asked, among other things, for the ability to define new instances of penal canonical crimes, or to hand down very severe penalties, like reduction to the lay state, even without a regular canonical trial.

In 2005, Benedict XVI, with one of his first acts of governance, brought back into effect these “special faculties” that had expired with the death of his predecessor. And in July of 2010, some of these faculties were definitively codified in the new norms of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, on what are called “delicta graviora.”

In recent years, “special faculties” of a similar nature have been granted to other congregations as well, like Propaganda Fide and the congregation for the clergy.

On the morning of January 22, 2010, a meeting was held in the Vatican with the heads of the dicasteries of the curia, presided over by Benedict XVI. The agenda of the day was not revealed. But it has become known that the desire was expressed for greater coordination of the Roman curia by the secretariat of state.

The rescript of last February seems to move in this direction.


All of the articles on the central government of the Church:

> Focus on THE VATICAN


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
This entry was posted in CANON LAW, POPE BENEDICT XVI, VATICAN'S SECRETARY OF STATE and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Curt Stoller says:

    Since I am half-Italian, I hope I can be forgiven for having certain misgivings about His Eminence Cardinal Bertone. My maternal grandmother immigrated to the United States from Italy. Her family name was Antonelli. This is a very common name in Italy. There is a Cardinal Ennio Antonelli today. And there was a Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli during the 19th century. He was the last lay Cardinal in the Catholic Church and was Papal Secretary of State under Pope Pius IX. So I have no animosity to Cardinals or Cardinals who happen to be Secretaries of State! However . . . Italians are justly or unjustly considered the progenitors of the art of diplomacy. And diplomats are individuals who by nature are uncomfortable with conflict. Diplomats are people who smooth things over and quiet waves. At the risk of over-generalizing I think I could say that diplomats are more interested in “appearances” than reality and in the Vatican I am afraid that this could mean priority given to the appearance of unity over the substance of unity. In the secular realm, diplomats are tasked with preventing wars but even a cursory study of history shows that diplomacy has had a terrible track record. Diplomacy played into the hands of National Socialist Adolf Hitler and Soviet Socialist Vladimir Lenin. Diplomacy played into the hands of dissenting Catholics during the 1960’s. I seem to remember a former Vatican Secretary of State who said that he saw nothing wrong in the writings of Father Hans Kung. Liberals of both the political and theological variety are quite adroit at using diplomatic appeasement to advance their agenda. To have a diplomat placed as a a sort of mediator between the Holy Father and those in the Curia doesn’t bode well for orthodox Catholics who are fighting for their very survival. All power and due respect to Cardinal Bertone. I hope he will be the rock of Gibraltar and not a rock of Jello. Perhaps my misgivings are misguided? How is that for diplomacy? Well . . . I wasn’t going to be getting a Christmas card from Cardinal Bertone anyway . . .

  2. Ignatius Martinus says:

    A question I have is why the Pope has given this kind of power to Cardinal Bertone. Possibly, could it be that His Holiness simply no longer has the time and/or energy to handle this responsibility? With this kind of power, the Cardinal now becomes a kind of quasi-pope, because he now decides on doctrinal, disciplinary, pastoral and liturgical matters which affect the entire Church. At least that is what I deduce from what I have read in this post. Let’s hope that this decision by our Holy Father turns out to be a wise decision. Or was he perhaps pressured into this? Certainly we would want a prelate in this position who is of the same mind as the Pope, since the Secretary will now be representing the Pontiff in his decisions, if I’m understanding this all correctly.

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