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A Guide to...Papal Documents & Church Research

This guide is a starting point for research focused on the Catholic Church, including its history, its theology, and, most significantly, documents issued by Popes and the various sections of the Roman Curia.

About the Roman Curia

The Roman Curia is, essentially, the government of the Catholic Church. The Curia is made up of an assortment of offices, congregations, and councils which oversee the various areas of the church's work. The structure of the Curia has undergone many changes over time. The graphic below shows the structure of the Curia today (click to see a larger image).  

For more information, you may want to examine the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonusissued by Pope John Paul II in 1988, which sets the current structure and norms of the Roman Curia. 

Note that changes to the Roman Curia are anticipated to be announced sometime in 2020,
as part of the forthcoming encyclical Praedicate Evangelium Stay tuned! 

Other useful resources include: 

  • Noonan, James-Charles. "Sacred College" and "Roman Curia." In The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church​, 3-64 and 65-86. New York: Viking, 1996. Dinand Ref. BX1969 .N66 1996 OR check out online from the Internet Archive
  • Reese, Thomas J. "The Roman Curia." In Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church​, 106-139. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996. BX1802 .R44 1996 OR check out online from the Internet Archive
  • "Inforgraphic: Understanding the Hierarchy." Denver Catholic, February 25, 2016. Link

Different sections of the Curia may variously issue publications or other important documents. Click the links below or scroll down to explore documents issued by.... 

Documents of Church Councils

Councils (also sometimes known as synods in the Roman Catholic tradition) are gatherings of clergy, usually bishops, convened to make an important decision or decisions related to the faith. These councils are often gathered in cases of emergency. There are many different kinds of councils and synods. In addition to councils convened on special occasions, the Curia also includes pontifical councils, headed by Cardinals, which meet regularly to work on specific projects of the church. 

One of the more commonly-known types is the ecumenical council. These councils, sometimes also called general councils, are "assemblies of bishops and other invited persons who meet with and under the authority of the Roman Pontiff to discuss and determine matters of faith, morals, and discipline for the entire Catholic Church" (New Catholic Encyclopedia). While ecumenical councils are not convened very frequently, they often produce critical church doctrine and documents due to the high-stakes nature of their content. One of the most well-known ecumenical councils was the Second Vatican Council, but you may be familiar with the seven ecumenical councils of the early Church -- 1st Nicaea, 1st Constantinople, 1st Ephesus, Chalcedon, 2nd & 3rd Constantinople, and 2nd Nicaea.

Unlike ecumenical councils, which are universal, plenary councils usually pertain to specific nations, while provincial councils or synods pertain to specific provinces within the church (and, as you might guess, diocesan councils/synods relate to specific dioceses and are convened by the bishop of that diocese). 

Council documents tend to be published in compilations. You will see some of the compilations available in Dinand listed on the other tabs of this box. Many conciliar documents may also be found online. 

Ecumenical Councils (General) 

Council of Constance 1414–1418 

Council of Basel–Ferrara–Florence–Rome (1431–1445) 

Council of Trent (1545-1563) 

First Vatican Council (1869-1870) 

See the First Vatican Council tab. 

Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) 

See the Second Vatican Council tab. 

Second Vatican Council -- Vatican II (1962-1965)

Official Documents

Personal Accounts & Other Sources

Documents of Congregations

Congregations are departments within the Roman Curia, composed of cardinals and bishops assisted by other administrators, which are devoted to specific tasks or issues of the church. They and the other offices of the Curia "study the major problems of the present age...promote initiatives for the good of the universal Church...[and]review matters that the Christian faithful, exercising their own right, bring to the attention of the Apostolic See."(see Pastor Bonus Art. 13). Generally speaking, congregations defer to the authority of the Pope and must submit to their decisions to him for approval.

The congregations meet regularly, at least once per year and sometimes more, and will, on occasion, produce documents publishing their decisions, discussion and other important material. You can see a selection of these publications which are available in Dinand by visiting the other tabs on this box. Many documents may also be found online. 

Congregation for the Bishops (Congregatio pro Episcopis) 
Previous names: Congregation for the Erection of Churches and Consistorial Provisions, Consistorial Congregation / Congregatio Consistorialis

No holdings at this time. Click the   icon above to visit the Congregation's page on the Vatican website for more information and documents. 

Congregation for Catholic Education (in Seminaries and Institutes of Study) (Congregatio de Seminariis et Studiorum Universitatibus) 
Previous names: Congregatio pro universitate studii romani, Congregatio studiorum, Sacra Congregatio pro institutione Catholica

Congregation for the Clergy 
Previous names: Sacra Congregatio Cardinalium Concilii Tridentini interpretum, Sacred Congregation of the Council / Congregatio Concilii

Congregation for Divine Worship & the Discipline of the Sacraments (Congregatio de Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum) 
Previous names: Sacred Congregation of Rites (separated from the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1969); Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments/Sacra Congregatio de Disciplina Sacramentorum; Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship/Sacra Congregatio pro Cultu Divino; Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Congregatio de Doctrina Fide)  
Previous names: Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition, Congregation of the Holy Office / Congregatio Sancti Officii

Titles specifically pertaining to the Index of Prohibited Books (Index Librorum Prohibitorum) 

Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples 
Previous names: Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith / Congregatio pro Propaganda Fide

Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life & Societies of Apostolic Life 
Previous names: Sacred Congregation for Consultations about Regulars, Congregation for Religious / Congregatio de Religiosis, Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes

Congregation for the Oriental Churches (Congregatio pro Ecclesiis Orientalibus) 
Previous names: Congregatio de Propaganda Fide pro negotiis ritus orientalisCongregatio pro Ecclesia Orientali​

Congregation for Indulgences & Holy Relics [defunct] 
Merged with the Congregation of Sacred Rites as of 1904. 

Sacred Congregation of Rites (Congregatio Sacrorum Rituum) [defunct] 
Divided into the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments as of 1969.