This news dropped unexpectedly over the weekend, on the Feast of St. Joseph.

From The New York Times: 

Pope Francis on Saturday issued a new constitution, nearly a decade in the making, to govern the bureaucracy that runs the Roman Catholic Church.

The constitution, running 54 pages, newly stipulates that baptized lay Catholics, including women, can lead departments traditionally headed by cardinals and increases institutional efforts to protect minors by incorporating the pope’s clergy abuse commission into the church’s government.

The new text — titled “Praedicate Evangelium,” or “Proclaiming the Gospel” — concluded a process that has, over the years, introduced in dribs and drabs overhauls regarding Vatican finances and the consolidation of Vatican offices. It reflects Francis’ emphasis on a more pastoral and ground-up church, and leaves a concrete mark on the church’s workings.

Reforming the often unwieldy and out-of-touch Vatican bureaucracy, known as the Roman Curia, which governs a church of 1.3 billion faithful, was a central motivation for Francis’ election in 2013.

The document, drafted by top cardinals chosen by Francis, was released on the ninth anniversary of his installation as pope. It explicitly states in its preamble that “the pope, bishops and other ordained ministers are not the only evangelizers in the church,” creating space for Catholic “laymen and laywomen” to have “roles of government and responsibility.” In another section, called “Principles,” it states that the pope can appoint any Catholic he considers qualified to lead a Vatican office.

Church experts suggested that the departments for bishops, which oversees bishops around the world, and clergy, which deals with the church’s priests, would still require men as leaders because only men could be priests.

The new constitution also places Francis’ abuse commission inside the powerful doctrinal office that often opposed the panel’s recommendations. The new structure, the constitution says, will help the church “protect minors and vulnerable persons from sexual abuse.”

Read more. 

Crux adds this:

 The pope’s new document outlining the design and function of the Roman Curia enshrines much of Pope Francis’s broader vision for the church into the statutes of its governing body.

In a new apostolic constitution published March 19 and titled Praedicate evangelium, or “Preach the Gospel,” the pope also created new mega-departments for evangelization and charity, taking personal charge of the former.

Since the beginning, the buzzwords of Francis’s reform have been evangelization, decentralization, and a missionary spirit. He prefers a curia that functions as an open, outward-reaching body that evangelizes through contact with local realities and closeness to the people, rather than an inward-looking entity, stuck and perpetually closed in on itself.

This spirit is emphasized in the preamble of the document, which states that preaching the Gospel “is the task that the Lord Jesus entrusted to his disciples,” and therefore, “the Church fulfills its mandate above all when it testifies, in words and deeds, the mercy that it freely received.”

Framed as part of the pope’s desire for a “missionary conversion,” the curial reform, according to the document, is intended to “better harmonize the daily exercise of the service of the Curia with the path of evangelization that the Church, above all at this time, is experiencing.”

CNA offers this explainer, outlining the different dicasteries.

And NCR notes:

The constitution also now relocates the pope’s clergy abuse commission, known formally as the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, within the Vatican’s doctrinal office. The restructuring marks a change from earlier draft versions of the constitution, which had confirmed the commission as an “independent institution connected to the Holy See, with an advisory function at the service of the Holy Father.”

The new constitution says the commission will remain composed of a president, a secretary and members appointed by the pope, and will continue to operate according to its own statutes.

The current president of the commission, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, immediately praised the new structuring, saying in a statement that “for the first time, Pope Francis has made safeguarding and the protection of minors a fundamental part of the structure of the Church’s central government: the Roman Curia.”

While O’Malley said that the reorganization would ensure safeguarding is a priority throughout the curia, former commission member Marie Collins, an Irish clergy abuse survivor who resigned from the group in frustration in 2017, immediately took to social media to express concern, saying it has lost its independence.