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
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.