Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

This article is part of a series on the
Roman Curia


Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus

Secretariat of State

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) (Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei), previously known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition (wherefrom arose the names Roman Inquisition or Holy Inquisition popularly used in reference to the 16th century tribunals against witchcraft and heresy), and after 1904 called the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, is the oldest of the nine congregations of the Roman Curia. Among the most active of the congregations, it oversees Catholic Church doctrine. Its offices are housed at the Palace of the Holy Office at the Vatican.



Galileo before the Holy Office, a 19th century painting by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury

On July 21, 1542, Pope Paul III proclaimed the Licet ab initio Apostolic Constitution, establishing the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, staffed by cardinals and other officials whose task it was "to maintain and defend the integrity of the faith and to examine and proscribe errors and false doctrines". It served as the final court of appeal in trials of heresy and served as an important part of the Counter-Reformation.

This body was renamed the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office in 1904 by Pope Saint Pius X.

The Congregation's name was changed to Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on December 7, 1965, at the end of the Second Vatican Council. In 1988, with the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia called Pastor Bonus, "Sacred" was dropped from the names of Curial Congregations, and so the dicastery adopted its current name, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.


According to Article 48 of the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus, promulgated by Pope John Paul II on June 28, 1988: "the duty proper to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world: for this reason everything which in any way touches such matter falls within its competence."

Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei

This includes investigations into what are known as "delicta graviora"; i.e., the crimes which the Catholic Church considers as being the most serious of all: crimes against the Eucharist and against the sanctity of the Sacrament of Penance, and crimes against the sixth Commandment ("thou shall not commit adultery") committed by a cleric against a person under the age of eighteen. These crimes, in a "motu proprio" of 2001, "Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela", come under the competency of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In effect, it is the "promoter of justice" who deals with, among other things, the question of priests accused of paedophilia, which are periodically highlighted in the mass media.[1][2] In other words, the CDF was given a broader mandate to address the sex abuse cases only from 2001.

Within the CDF are the International Theological Commission, the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. The Prefect of the CDF is ex officio president of these commissions.


Until 1968, the Pope himself held the title of prefect but never exercised this birth office. Instead, he appointed one of the cardinals to preside over the meetings, first as Secretary, then as Pro-Prefect.

Since 1968, the Cardinal head of the dicastery has borne the title of Prefect, without further qualification. Therefore, from 1968 onwards, the title of Secretary refers to the second highest ranking officer of the Congregation. There are usually ten other cardinals on the Congregation, as well as a prelate and two assistants.

The work of the Congregation is divided into four sections: the doctrinal, disciplinary, matrimonial, and clerical office. The Congregation holds biennial plenary assemblies, and is occasionally obligated to censure theologians whose writings and teachings are contrary to Church doctrine (e.g., Hans Küng, Charles Curran, and Leonardo Boff).

Members (2009):

On 6 May 2006 Cardinals Antonio Cañizares Llovera and Jean-Pierre Ricard were named members of the Congregation.

Recent opinions and publications

  • Dominus Iesus (Declaration on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church; with comments from Congregation officials; August 6, 2000; one of the Congregation's most controversial and debated documents)[3]
  • Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons (2002)[4]
  • [5] (24 November 2002), arguably the basis for the comments by Cardinal George Pell and those by Archbishop Barry Hickey in June 2007 in Australia to Catholic politicians on their votes on therapeutic cloning legislation.
  • In an April 2007 address to chaplains, Archbishop Amato denounced same-sex marriage and abortion and criticized the Italian media's coverage of them, saying that they are evils "that remain almost invisible" due to media presentation of them as "expression of human progress."[6]
  • On September 28, 2007, Gaston Hebert, the then apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Little Rock stated that (per the July 11 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) 6 Arkansas nuns were excommunicated for heresy (the first in the diocese's 165-year history). They refused to recant the doctrines of the Community of the Lady of All Nations (Army of Mary). The 6 nuns are members of the Good Shepherd Monastery of Our Lady of Charity and Refuge in Hot Springs. Sister Mary Theresa Dionne, 82, one of 6, said they will still live at the convent property, which they own. The sect believe that its 86-year-old founder, Marie Paule Giguere, is the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary.[7]
  • On April 5, 2008, as a result of "grave reservations" by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about the Mormon practice of posthumous rebaptism, Catholic dioceses throughout the world were directed not to give information in parish registers to the Mormons' Genealogical Society of Utah for microfilming or digitizing.[8]
  • Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization (with press conference transcript; December 3, 2007)
  • Responses to Certain Questions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Concerning Artificial Nutrition and Hydration (with commentary; August 1, 2007)
  • Note on the banalization of sexuality, Regarding certain interpretations of "Light of the World" (December 22, 2010)
  • Circular Letter to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences regarding the association Opus Angelorum (October 2, 2010)
  • Dignitas Personae (on bioethical questions, with summary and press conference transcript; September 8, 2008)
  • Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church (June 29, 2007)
  • Notification on the works of the Reverend Father Jon Sobrino, S.J. (with an explanatory note; November 26, 2006)
  • Notification regarding the book "Jesus Symbol of God" of the Reverend Father Roger Haight, S.J.
  • Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the collaboration of men and women in the Church and in the world (May 31, 2004)
  • Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life (with two commentaries from Their Eminences, Cardinals Joachim Meisner and Giacomo Biffi; November 24, 2002)
  • Note on the Force of the Doctrinal Decrees Concerning the Thought and Work of the Reverend Father Antonio Rosmini Serbati (July 1, 2001)
  • Notification regarding certain writings of the Reverend Father Marciano Vidal, C.Ss.R.

(with comments; February 22, 2001)

  • Notification on the book "Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism" by the Reverend Father Jacques Dupuis, S.J. (with commentary; January 24, 2001)
  • Notification concerning some writings of Professor Dr. Reinhard Messner (November 30, 2000)
  • Ardens felicitatis (instructions on prayers for healing; September 14, 2000)
  • Note on the expression "sister churches" (June 30, 2000)
  • Documents regarding "The Message of Fatima" (June 26, 2000)
  • Notification regarding Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and the Reverend Father Robert Nugent, SDS
  • Considerations on The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the mystery of the Church (October 31, 1998)
  • Formula to be used for the profession of faith and for the oath of fidelity to assume an office to be exercised in the name of the Church with the Illustrative doctrinal Note of the conclusive formula of "Professio fidei" (June 29, 1998)
  • Notification concerning the writings of the Reverend Father Anthony De Mello, S.J. (jUNE 24, 1998)
  • Notification concerning the Text "Mary and Human Liberation" by the Reverend Father Tissa Balasuriya, O.M.I. (January 2, 1997)
  • Notification on the writings and activities of Mrs. Vassula Ryden (October 6, 1995)
  • Responses to questions proposed concerning uterine isolation and related matters (July 31, 1993)
  • Some considerations concerning the response to legislative proposals on the non-discrimination of homosexual persons (July 23, 1992)
  • Decree on the doctrine and customs of the Association Opus Angelorum (June 6, 1992)
  • Communionis notio (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of the Church understood as Communion; May 28, 1992)
  • Instruction on some aspects of the use of the instruments of social communication in promoting the doctrine of the faith- The Second Vatican Council (March 30, 1992)
  • Note on the book "The Sexual Creators, An Ethical proposal for Concerned Christians", (University Press of America, Lanham-New York-London 1986), by the Reverend Father André Guindon, O.M.I. (January 31, 1992)
  • Donum veritatis (Instruction on the ecclesial vocation of the theologian; May 24, 1990)
  • Orationis formas (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of Christian meditation; October 15, 1989)
  • Note regarding "The moral rule of "Humanae vitae" (Pope Paul VI's encyclical, On the Regulation and Control of Human Birth) and the pastoral duty" (February 16, 1989)
  • Observation of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) II's "Salvation and the Church" (November 18, 1988)
  • Formula to be used for the profession of faith and for the oath of fidelity to assume an office to be exercised in the name of the Church (July 1, 1988)
  • Donum vitae (Instruction on respect for life in its origin and on the dignity of procreation; February 22, 1987)
  • Homosexualitatis problema (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons; October 1, 1986)
  • Notification on the book "Pleidooi voor mensen in de Kerk" (Nelissen, Baarn 1985) by the Reverend Father Professor Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P. (September 15, 1986)
  • Letter to György Bulányi on certain writings attributed to him (September 1, 1986)
  • Letter regarding the suspension of the Reverend Father Professor Charles Curran from the teaching of theology (July 25, 1986)
  • Libertatis conscientia (Instruction on human freedom and liberation; March 22, 1986)
  • Notification on the Book "Church: Charism and Power. Essay on militant Ecclesiology" by the Reverend Father Leonardo Boff, O.F.M. (March 11, 1985)

Heads of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Grand Inquisitors

When the Supreme Sacred Congregation for the Roman and Universal Inquisition was first established in 1542, it was led by an officer who bore the title of Grand Inquisitor. Grand Inquisitors led the Congregation for the Inquisition until 1602, when the Pope himself assumed formal presidency of the Congregation.


Unless stated otherwise, the secretaryship ended with the relevant man's death. From 1602 until 1965, the leading prelate of the Congregation was the Secretary, as the Pope himself presided over the congregation as its Prefect. However, the daily administration of the affairs of the Congregation was discharged by the Secretary, aided by the Accessor. Thus, unlike other Congregations, that were led by a Prefect aided by a Secretary, the Holy Office was led by a Secretary, aided by an Accessor, with the Pope as Prefect.


On December 7, 1965, along with changing the name of the dicastery, Pope Paul VI changed the title of the head of the Congregation from Secretary to Pro-Prefect, the Roman Pontiff retaining the role of Prefect. Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, who was then Secretary, having been appointed to lead the Holy Office in 1959, continued leading the newly reorganized dicastery without any break in continuity since that date. In spite of that, a few months later, on February 8, 1966, Cardinal Ottaviani was formally confirmed as Pro-Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.


Since the appointment of Cardinal Franjo Šeper in 1968, the head of the dicastery has been titled Prefect. The Pope no longer holds the office of Prefect of the CDF himself. Although Cardinal Ottaviani had served as Pro-Prefect, upon his retirement he was declared Prefect emeritus of the Congregation, and not Pro-Prefect emeritus. The following Prelates have presided over the Congregation as Prefects since then:

Modern Secretaries of the CDF

With the reorganization of the Holy Office as the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in December 1965, the head of the Congregation was no longer titled Secretary. The dicastery's second-in-command, until then titled accessor, was then given the title of Secretary, as was already the case with the other Roman Congregations. The following Archbishops have served as the CDF's second-in-command with the title of Secretary:

See also


External links

Coordinates: 41°54′04″N 12°27′22″E / 41.90111°N 12.45611°E / 41.90111; 12.45611

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