The new Vatican office for laity, family and life will begin functioning on September 1 and the separate pontifical councils for laity and for the family will “cease their functions," the Vatican announced.
Pope Francis has not named the new officers of the expanded office, but the statutes specify that it will be headed by a cardinal or a bishop, will have a secretary “who may be a layperson" and three undersecretaries who will be laypeople.
The Vatican published the statutes of the new office on June 4 and explained that the office would be responsible “for the promotion of the life and apostolate of the lay faithful, for the pastoral care of the family and its mission according to God’s plan and for the protection and support of human life."
Each section — for the lay faithful, for the family and for life — will be led by an undersecretary, the press statement said.
The Pontifical Council for the Laity, currently headed by Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, had been charged with overseeing the apostolate of the laity and “their participation in the life and mission of the Church," both as individuals and through organisations and movements.
While the new office’s section for the lay faithful will continue the former pontifical council’s mission, it will also “encourage the active and responsible presence of the laity in the advisory organs of governance present in the Church at the universal and particular levels."
The section for the family will continue the mission of the Pontifical Council for Family established by St John Paul II May 9, 1981, to promote pastoral ministries and apostolates aimed at supporting families and the defense of human life. It will also “offer guidelines for courses preparing couples for marriage and for pastoral programs to support families in the education of young people in faith and in ecclesial and civil life, with special attention to the poor and the marginalised."
The current head of the Pontifical Council for the Family is Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia.
The new office’s section for life will co-ordinate activities to encourage responsible procreation and the protection of human life from conception to natural end, the Vatican press release stated. It will also promote “formation on the main issues of biomedicine and of the law regarding human life and the ideologies developing in relation to human life and gender identity."
The Pontifical Academy for Life will continue to exist as a separate entity studying life issues and will refer to the new office in its dealings, according to the new statutes.
Pope Francis approved the statutes “ad experimentum" (on a trial basis) for an unspecified period of time; neither the press release nor the statutes provided the official name of the new office.