A story in today’s EatPrayLive section refers to the Roman Curia, or papal bureaucracy, and the work that Pope Francis is doing to change what is often thought to be a source of problems for the church.

But what is the Curia?

The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion says it is “The agency of the pontifical government of the Roman Catholic Church. All members and activities of the Curia are subject to the Pope, who appoints the heads, usually cardinals of the curial offices.”

The word is Latin from the middle 19th century and meant a division of an ancient Roman tribe, and the senate of cities other than Rome. It would eventually be used to mean a court of justice.

The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions points out it can also be used to refer to the administrative support for a local bishop.

Components of the Curia include:

The Secretariat of State : The secretariat is headed by the secretary of state and has two sections. The General Section handles the day-to-day activities of the papal office, including media relations and statistical gathering, and publication and distribution of official documents, encyclicals and apostolic letters to various parties. It also handles matters not handled by other parts of the Vatican. The Section for Relations With States is the Vatican’s diplomatic corps.

Congregations: These are departments within the Vatican that handle specific topics. Some of the many bodies include the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Congregation for the Causes of Saints and Congregation for Bishops.

Tribunals: These are essentially church courts.

Pontifical Councils: These are committees in the Curia that promote ideas and work is areas such as the laity, Christian unity, dialogue with non-believers, culture and family.

Sources: The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, Keith Crim, editor; The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, Jonathan Z. Smith editor; catholic-pages.com/vatican/curia.asp