Inside the Vatican

At the service of everyone’s treasure

The inside story of the Dicasteries of the Holy See: history, objectives, and “operational costs” for their mission, how these structures work to support the Pope's pastoral ministry. In this report, we focus on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith featuring an interview with the Prefect, Cardinal Ladaria Ferrer.

Alessandro Di Bussolo - Vatican City

"We are no longer the Inquisition." Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, opens with an important clarification when presenting his Dicastery. We deal with "real peripheries", perhaps less visible than others, "but no less real and painful", he says, referring among others to the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy. We help those involved see, he explains, that "there is no impunity in the Church", and so we support their "trust in the Church".  Our budget expenses "are modest", but enough for our mission "to promote and protect the doctrine of the faith", because the Church "has the duty to transmit the teaching of the Apostles to the next generation".

The Cardinal Prefect, Francisco Luis Ladaria Ferrer
The Cardinal Prefect, Francisco Luis Ladaria Ferrer

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is the first and oldest office among those of the Roman Curia, but its name is linked to a popular notion of a strict Church, recalling institutions such as the Inquisition and the Index. Today, in a profoundly different world, what is the mission of the Dicastery you head?

R. - The past of our Dicastery still weighs heavily, since we have not always acknowledged the profound changes that have taken place in the Church and in the Roman Curia in recent times. We are no longer the Inquisition; the Index no longer exists. Our mission is to promote and protect the doctrine of the faith. It is a task that will always be necessary for the Church, which has the duty to transmit the teaching of the Apostles to the next generation. What was called the "concern for correct doctrine" came about before the Holy Office, it already existed in the New Testament. We can see evidence of it in so many Councils, Synods, etc. Certainly, the concrete way of carrying out this task has changed over the course of the centuries and we can imagine that it will continue to change. But the concern for fidelity to the doctrine of the Apostles will always remain.

Looking at the practical side of how you carry out your activities, what are the expenses required for your Dicastery? How would you say your "expense budget" is justified by the "mission budget" that must characterize the role of service required by all components of the Roman Curia?

R. - Our budget is modest. Of course, there are the salaries of the officials and the expenses to cover the Dicastery’s normal functioning. You need to throw in a few trips, the meetings of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the International Theological Commission, some publications, and the modest amounts due to our external collaborators... The budget of our Dicastery is the budget appropriate to carry out our mission. We do not need to invent "missions": the large amount of work we have in fulfilling our tasks is enough for us.

The sign at the entrance to the dicastery
The sign at the entrance to the dicastery

For over seven years we have had a Jesuit Pope and for three years you, a fellow Jesuit, have headed the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, after more than twenty years as consultant and then secretary. What influence does Ignatian spirituality have today in the governance of the universal Church and the in the Dicastery of which you are Prefect?

R. - Of course, in many of the Pope's speeches his familiarity with the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola can be easily detected. This is only natural. And it is normal that this has consequences in his style of governing and in his decisions. But Ignatian spirituality is universalist, not particularist, it is open to everything and everyone, and so it is difficult to identify concrete consequences. Perhaps other people can discover this better than I can. I can say the same about our Dicastery: we should ask others if they recognize these Ignatian impressions and to what extent.

Can you give us three concrete examples – following in the best tradition of the Society of Jesus - to illustrate how your work is carried out, emphasizing in particular whether it has only a "Roman" dimension or whether it also involves missions in other parts of the world?

R. - Our mission is universal, even if our work is carried out in Rome. But our documents are for the universal Church. The decisions we must make every day within the scope of our competencies very rarely concern Rome directly. The most important missions that take us outside of Rome involve periodic meetings with the doctrinal commissions of the episcopal conferences of the different continents. In my time of service in the Dicastery, I have participated in three of these meetings: for Africa (Dar es Salam, 2009); Europe (Budapest 2014); and Asia (Bangkok, 2019). On two occasions we have also been to India. And let us not forget the meetings with the episcopacy of the whole world during the ad limina visits here to the Vatican. They are of great importance and take up a great deal of our time and energy.

The chapel
The chapel

On the crucial issue of child abuse, the Dicastery is engaged not only in the strictly "disciplinary" field to rigorously identify and judge reported cases, but also in efforts of awareness and guidance addressed to the bishops and local churches. What are the procedures and costs of this commitment?

R. - We must study and resolve the many cases of abuse of which we become aware. And in dealing with these cases, we raise awareness, we support trust in the Church, of the people involved, showing that in the Church there is no impunity. The ad limina visits are fundamental to raise awareness of the problem among the episcopates of the various countries. Unfortunately, in recent months, because of the pandemic, we have had to suspend these meetings.

Is it possible to identify a "social" strategy in the activity of the Dicastery, especially in order to respond to the Pope's mandate to reach the "peripheries" of our time and to be close to the poor and the least?

R. - There are peripheries of many kinds. The people we must listen to, the problems we must solve touch real peripheries, perhaps not as visible as others, but no less real and painful. Let us not forget that in not a few circumstances the victims of abuse are among the poorest of the poor. Of course, we must study all cases.

Note to the reader: this article was updated on 1 July 2022 to reflect the new name of the Dicastery, previously known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, changed by the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium.

01 February 2021, 15:00