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Historical Notes

In 1542, Paul III instituted a commission of six Cardinals with the task of watching over matters of faith (Papal bull Licet ab initio, July 21, 1542). This Commission, known as the Sacred Roman and Universal Inquisition, was initially a tribunal exclusively for cases of heresy and schism.

Paul IV, beginning in 1555, significantly enlarged its area of activity by giving it also the responsibility for judging moral questions of various types.

In 1571, Pius V created the Congregation for the Reform of the Index of Forbidden Books. This task, originally entrusted to the Inquisition, was exercised by this new Dicastery for more than three centuries, until its suppression in 1917.

As part of the reform of the Roman Curia carried out by Sixtus V (Papal bull Immensa aeterni Dei, January 22, 1588), the responsibilities of the Inquisition were extended to everything relating directly or indirectly to faith and morals.

Pius X reorganized the Congregation, changing its name to the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office (Apostolic Constitution Sapienti consilio, June 29, 1908).

Later, Benedict XV, suppressing the Sacred Congregation of the Index, assigned its duties again to the Holy Office, which at the same time was relieved of its responsibility for indulgences (Motu proprio Alloquentes, March 25, 1917).

In 1965, Paul VI undertook a new reform of the Congregation. The name was changed to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and its methods used for doctrinal examination were updated: over the punitive tendency of condemnation, the positive disposition of correcting from the errors, together with protection, preservation and promotion of the faith, prevailed (Motu proprio Integrae servandae, December 7, 1965). On this occasion, the Index of Prohibited Books was also abrogated.

John Paul II, with the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus on June 28, 1988, reorganized the entire Roman Curia and the function, responsibilities and norms governing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith were also further specified. Its competence is “to promote and defend the doctrine of the faith and its traditions in all of the Catholic world” (art. 48). Following that reform, the new Agendi ratio in doctrinarum examine was approved on June 29, 1997.

Subsequently, with the Apostolic Letter Fidem servare (February 11, 2022), Pope Francis modified the internal structure of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In the matters requiring it, the Congregation proceeds also as a Tribunal: “judging the offenses against the faith and the more serious ones both in behavior or in the celebration of the sacraments” (art. 52). With the Moto proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela of April 30, 2001, John Paul II promulgated new procedural norms regarding some grave offenses of exclusive competence of the Congregation. An updated version of these norms was promulgated by Benedict XVI on May 21, 2010.

To guarantee a more rapid examination concerning the delicts reserved to the competence of the Congregation, with his rescript of 3 November 2014, Pope Francis instituted a special College, which the ordinary session of the Congregation has adopted for greater efficiency.


Organization and Responsibilities

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is constituted by a College of Members (Cardinals and Bishops), at the head of which is the Prefect. The Prefect is assisted by two Secretaries, the Undersecretary and also the Promotor of Justice. The Dicastery’s staff is composed of Officials who, under the coordination of the Heads of the respective Offices, attend to various questions to be followed on the basis of their competence and requirements of the Congregation. The Dicastery comprises two Sections, Doctrinal and Disciplinary, each coordinated by a Secretary who assists the Prefect in the specific area of his competence, with the collaboration of the Under-Secretary and the respective Heads of Office.

The Doctrinal Section deals with matters pertaining to the promotion and protection of the doctrine of faith and morals. It also encourages studies aimed at increasing the understanding and transmission of the faith in the service of evangelization, so that its light may be a criterion for understanding the meaning of existence, especially in the face of the questions posed by the progress of the sciences and the development of society.

With regard to faith and morals, the Section arranges for the examination of documents to be published by other Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, as well as writings and opinions which appear problematic for the correct faith, encouraging dialogue with their authors and proposing suitable remedies, in accordance with the norms of Agendi ratio in doctrinarum examine.

This Section is entrusted with the task of studying questions relating to the Personal Ordinariates established by the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus.

Also belonging to the Doctrinal Section is the Matrimonial Office, which has been set up to examine, both in law and in fact, matters concerning the “privilegium fidei”.

The Disciplinary Section deals with offences reserved to the Dicastery and dealt with by it through the jurisdiction of the Supreme Apostolic Tribunal established there. Its task is to prepare and elaborate the procedures provided for by canonical norms so that the Dicastery, in its various instances (Prefect, Secretary, Promoter of Justice, Congress, Ordinary Session, College for the examination of appeals in matters of delicta graviora), may promote a correct administration of justice.

To this end, the Section promotes appropriate training initiatives offered by the Dicastery to Ordinaries and legal practitioners, in order to foster a correct understanding and application of the canonical norms relating to its own sphere of competence.

For its studies, the Dicastery is assisted by a group of Consultors. The meetings of the Consultors generally are held periodically. The matters treated and the opinions of the Consultors therefore are discussed by the Ordinary Session (Feria Quarta) of the Congregation for a deliberate vote. Their decisions are eventually subjected to the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, in a special Audience.

The Dicastery also has its Historical Archives, following their own Norms, to which only qualified scholars are given access.

At the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith are constituted also the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the International Theological Commission, which, under the presidency of the Prefect, work according to the proper norms.


Current Composition of Superiors    

Prefect: Card. Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, S.I.

Secretary: Msgr Armando Matteo

Secretary: Msgr John Joseph Kennedy

Adjunct Secretary: His Excellency Joseph Augustine Di Noia, O.P.
Adjunct Secretary: His Excellency Charles Jude Scicluna

Under-Secretary: Msgr Philippe Curbelié [Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office, 6 July 2022]                   

Promotor of Justice: Father Robert Joseph Geisinger, S.I.


Postal Address

Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith
Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio
00120 Città del Vaticano