As a result of his periodic consultations with a council of cardinal advisors, Pope Francis has approved the founding of an experimental new dicastery, or department, in the Holy See. It is a dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life. This dicastery will combine the work of two previous pontifical councils, the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family, which will cease operations and be suppressed.
The new dicastery will officially be in operation effective Sept. 1.
Combining these three concerns into one dicastery is perfectly in line with the focus and priorities of the papacy of Pope Francis, as well as those of his immediate predecessors, St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. As John Paul II observed, modern western culture is attacking life and the family in a particular way, seemingly doing everything possible to tear down the traditional and natural structures that govern human life. By uniting these concerns under the auspices of a single dicastery, their defense is unified, and they can be strengthened together.
Coming so soon (in ecclesial terms) on the heels of the two recent synods related to issues of the family, this move feels very much like a fruition of that work. Similarly, the canonization of Pope John Paul II and the beatification of Pope Paul VI, great apostles of the family, speaks to the importance of family, life and lay issues in the heart of Pope Francis.
On August 17, 2016, Pope Francis released a letter issued motu proprio officially establishing the new dicastery. The same day it was announced that the first prefect of the dicastery will be Bishop Kevin Farrell, the Dublin-born prelate currently serving as the bishop of the Diocese of Dallas.
This dicastery is sure to do great and profound work, and to bolster the work of bishops’ conferences and all Catholics around the world in supporting families, the lay, and the defense of life, from conception to natural death. It is important that we remember that there are fights happening all over the world that we in the United States may not always recognize.
In many parts of Africa, bishops and others are fighting against polygamy in native cultures, struggling to teach the truth that marriage is a lifelong bond between one man and one woman; in China and other countries, children are almost routinely killed because of their sex – when a family wants a boy, and gets a girl, and is told by the government that they can only have one or two children, they feel the situation is dire, and often act drastically, to put it mildly; all over the world, people are fleeing their homes because of war or persecution, from then on struggling to remain fed and sheltered and safe; again, all over the world, Christians and others are harassed, tortured, sometimes killed purely for their faith.
In short, this dicastery is coming not a moment too soon. The church is called to defend the truth, and in some of the most controversial ways in our day, this dicastery will staunchly defend that truth with a unified front.
The writer works at Oregon Catholic Press and holds a Master's of Pastoral Ministry from the University of Portland.