Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

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The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (C.D.F.) (Template:Lang-la), formerly known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, from where the names Roman Inquisition or "Holy Inquisition" arose.<ref group="note">The term Holy Inquisition became popularly used in reference to the 16th century tribunals against witchcraft and heresy)</ref> It is informally known in many Catholic countries as the Holy Office (i.e. Santo Oficio) and after 1904 was termed as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office. It is the oldest among the nine congregations of the Roman Curia.

Founded by Pope Paul III in 1542, the congregation's sole objective is to "spread sound Catholic doctrine and defend those points of Christian tradition which seem in danger because of new and unacceptable doctrines". Its offices are head-quartered at the Palace of the Holy Office, just outside Vatican City. The congregation employs an advisory board including cardinals, bishops, priests, lay theologians, and canon lawyers. The current Prefect is Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller.


thumb presented before the Holy Office, a 19th-century painting by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury]] On July 21, 1542, Pope Paul III proclaimed the Apostolic Constitution Licet ab initio, 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. In many pious Catholic countries, the term is often informally abbreviated as Holy Office (i.e. Santo Oficio).

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. Soon after the entry into force of the present Code of Canon Law at the end of 1983, the adjective "Sacred" was dropped from the names of all Curial Congregations (it remained in use throughout 1984, as can be seen in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis of that year, but no longer appeared in the 1985 issues of that official bulletin of the Holy See), and so the dicastery adopted its current name, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.


1542 Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition established "to maintain and defend the integrity of the faith and to examine and proscribe errors and false doctrines".
1622 Pope Gregory XV wrote a letter addressing the issue of priests abusing the confessional to solicit "shameful and dishonorable conduct". The letter is referenced in Sacramentum Poenitentiae (1741).
1665 The General Congregation of the Universal Inquisition, in the presence of Pope Alexander VII, releases an ordinance that "propositions deemed alien and discordant by the Evangelical truth" be "checked, condemned, and prohibited." "The Inquisitors of Heretical Depravity, ..., [should] seek out and proceed against everyone - every priest [...] who has essayed to tempt a penitent." (source: Sacramentum Poenitentiae) .
1908 The Inquisition is renamed Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office by Pope Pius X.
1965 The Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office is renamed Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (SCDF).
1981 Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) is appointed prefect of the Sacred Congregation (November 25).
1985 All dicasteries of the Roman Curia no longer use the adjective "Sacred" as part of their title; hence The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was renamed as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (CDF)
1988 Pope John Paul II reaffirms the authority of the CDF: 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 proper duty of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals in the whole Catholic world; so it has competence in things that touch this matter in any way."<ref name="article-48">Template:Cite news</ref>
2001 Pope John Paul II issues Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela "by which are promulgated Norms concerning the more grave delicts reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith". It, again, reaffirms the CDF's responsibilities, expressing that it was necessary to define more precisely both “the more grave delicts whether against morals or committed in the celebration of the sacraments” for which the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith remains exclusive, and also the special procedural norms “for declaring or imposing canonical sanctions.”<ref name="sac-sanc-tut" />


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 proper duty of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals in the whole Catholic world; so it has competence in things that touch this matter in any way."<ref name="article-48" />

thumbThis 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.<ref name="sac-sanc-tut">Template:Cite news</ref>

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 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. The Congregation has a membership of some 18 other cardinals and a smaller number of non-cardinal bishops, a staff of some 38 priests, religious and lay men and women, and some 26 consultors.

The work of the Congregation is divided into four sections: the doctrinal, disciplinary, matrimonial, and clerical offices. The Congregation holds biennial plenary assemblies, and issues documents on doctrinal, disciplinary and sacramental questions that occasionally include notifications concerning books by Catholic theologians (e.g., Hans Küng, Charles Curran, and Leonardo Boff) that it judges contrary to Church doctrine.

Staff (2012):

  • Prefect: Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller
  • Secretary: Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, S.J.
  • Assistant (Adjunct) Secretary: Archbishop Joseph Augustine di Noia, O.P.
  • Undersecretary: Monsignor Damiano Marzotto Caotorta
  • 25 members: Cardinals, Archbishops, Patriarchs and Bishops
  • 28 Consultors (Heads of Superior of Religious Orders (both male and female), Canon lawyers
  • Staff of 33 (Lay Theologians)

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

Recent canonical judgments and publications

  • Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious - (Re-affirmed by Pope Francis on April 15, 2013)
  • 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)
  • 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.
  • Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization (with press conference transcript; December 3, 2007)
  • 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.
  • Responses to Certain Questions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Concerning Artificial Nutrition and Hydration (with commentary; August 1, 2007)
  • Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church (June 29, 2007)
  • 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."<ref>Template:Cite news</ref>
  • 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)
  • (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.
  • Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons (June 3, 2003)
  • 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)
  • Dominus Iesus (Declaration on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church; with comments from Congregation officials; August 6, 2000)<ref>Dominus Iesus</ref>
  • 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)
  • Recentiores episcoporum synodi, on some questions of Eschatology (condemnation of "resurrection within death", etc.; May 17, 1979)
  • Inter insigniores (Declaration as to the question of admitting women to priesthood; October 15, 1975), contains a proof of tradition for what would later be taught with highest authority by Pope John Paul II (Ordinatio sacerdotalis)

Heads of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith


When the Supreme Sacred Congregation for the Roman and Universal Inquisition was first established in 1542, it was composed of several Cardinal Inquisitors styled as "Inquisitors-General", who were formally equal to each other, even if some of them were clearly dominant (e.g. Cadinal Gian Pietro Carafa from 1542, who was elected Pope Paul IV in 1555). The Pope himself was a prefect of the Congregation until 1965. However, from 1564 the daily administration of the affairs of the Congregation were entrusted to the Cardinal Secretary.

Unless stated otherwise, the secretaryship ended with the relevant man's death.

  • Antonio Michele Ghisleri (1564-1566; elected as Pope Pius V)<ref name=Black>Christopher Black: The Italian Inquisition. New Haven & Londyn: Yale University Press, 2009, p. 118. ISBN 978-0-300-11706-6.</ref>
  • Scipione Rebiba (1566-1577)<ref name=Black/>
  • Giacomo Savelli (1577-1587)<ref name=Black/>
  • Giulio Antonio Santori (1587-1602)<ref name=Black/>
  • Camillo Borghese (1602-1605; elected as Pope Paul V)<ref name=Black/>
  • Pompeio Arrigoni (1605-1612; resigned, died in 1616)<ref name=Black/>
  • Giovanni Garzia Millini (1612-1629)<ref name=Black/>
  • Antonio Marcello Barberini (1629-1633; resigned; died in 1646)
  • Francesco Barberini (1633-1679)
  • Cesare Facchinetti (1680-1683)
  • Alderano Cybo (1683-1700)
  • Galeazzo Marescotti (1700-1716; resigned, died in 1726)
  • Fabrizio Spada (1716-1717)
  • Nicolò Acciaioli (1717-1719)
  • Francesco del Giudice (1719-1725)
  • Fabrizio Paolucci (1725-1726)
  • Pietro Ottoboni (1726-1740)
  • Tommaso Ruffo (1740-1753)
  • Neri Maria Corsini (1753-1770)
  • Giovanni Francesco Stoppani (1770-1774)
  • Luigi Maria Torregiani (1775-1777)
  • Carlo Rezzonico (1777-1799)
  • Leonardo Antonelli (1800-1811)
  • Giulio Maria della Somaglia (1814-1830)
  • Bartolomeo Pacca (1830-1844)
  • Vincenzo Macchi (1844-1860)
  • Costantino Patrizi Naro (1860-1876)
  • Prospero Caterini (1876-1881)
  • Antonio Maria Panebianco (1882-1883)
  • Luigi Bilio, C.R.S.P. (1883–1884)
  • Raffaele Monaco La Valletta (1884–1896)
  • Lucido Parocchi (1896–1903)
  • Serafino Vannutelli (1903–1908) (served until death in 1915 as Regent of Apostolic Penitentiary)
  • Mariano Rampolla (1908–1913)
  • Domenico Ferrata (January 3, 1914 - October 10, 1914)
  • Rafael Merry del Val (October 14, 1914 - February 26, 1930)
  • Donato Sbarretti (July 4, 1930-April 1, 1939)
  • Francesco Marchetti-Selvaggiani (April 30, 1939-January 13, 1951)
  • Giuseppe Pizzardo (February 16, 1951-October 12, 1959)
  • Alfredo Ottaviani (November 7, 1959– December 7, 1965, when he was made Pro-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.

  • Alfredo Ottaviani (December 7, 1965-January 6, 1968)


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:

  • Franjo Šeper (January 8, 1968 - November 25, 1981) (his retirement)
  • Joseph Ratzinger (November 25, 1981 - April 2, 2005) (Pope John Paul II's death) - elected Pope Benedict XVI
  • William Levada (May 13, 2005 – July 2, 2012) (his retirement)
  • Gerhard Ludwig Müller (July 2, 2012 – present)

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 assessor, 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:

  • Archbishop Pietro Parente (7 December 1965 to 1967)
  • Archbishop Paul-Pierre Philippe, O.P. (29 June 1967 to 6 March 1973)
  • Archbishop Jean Jérôme Hamer, O.P. (14 June 1973 to 8 April 1984)
  • Archbishop Alberto Bovone (5 April 1984 to 13 June 1995)
  • Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B. (13 June 1995 to 10 December 2002)
  • Archbishop Angelo Amato, S.D.B. (19 December 2002 - 9 July 2008)
  • Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, S.J (9 July 2008–present)

See also

  • Index Librorum Prohibitorum
  • Archive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
  • Jon Sobrino Basque-Spanish theologian disciplined by the Congregation in 2007
  • Inquisition





External links