The Dicastery for the Service of Charity, also known as the Apostolic Alms Office, is an administrative unit of the Roman Curia. It began operations on 5 June 2022 as established by the apostolic constitution Praedicate evangelium promulgated on 19 March 2022. Before the reform of Praedicate evangelium it was named the Office of Papal Charities.
The origin of the office of papal almoner goes back to the first centuries of the church when deacons, then close associates of the pope, were responsible for distributing alms. A bull of Pope Innocent III cites the almoner as an existing position while the post of apostolic almoner was formally erected by Pope Gregory X in the 13th century.
Since the time of Pope Leo XIII, the almoner has also been responsible for selling apostolic blessings on parchment, authenticating them with his signature. Sales of these documents provide the almoner's office with funds to be distributed as alms.
It took on the responsibilities previously managed by the Office of Papal Charities, which had functioned as part of the papal household rather than as a curial department and was closely identified with the role of the Almoner of His Holiness, more commonly known as the papal almoner. The almoner's post had been used to reward senior prelates until Pope Francis made its transformation "a flagship initiative" of his papacy, increasing its budget and visibility, elevating his almoner to the rank of cardinal, and transforming the role of almoner into a curial office.
Discussing Praedicate evangelium when it was promulgated, Marco Mellino, secretary of the Council of Cardinal Advisers, said that it reorganized the Roman Curia to orient it to service rather than administration and that elevating the church's almsgiving function was a key part of this. While the Secretariat of State retained its preeminent role, the Dicastery for the Service of Charity was one of the three top-ranking units that followed in the Curia's hierarchy to reflect its core mission: evangelization, doctrine, and charity.
Like the other dicasteries under this constitution, the Dicastery for the Service of Charity is headed by a prefect, though in this instance the prefect also has the traditional Almoner of His Holiness or papal almoner. The prefect enjoys an additional distinction: it is one of only two curial prefects who retain their authority during the sede vacante, the period between the end of one papacy and the beginning of the next.[a] The principle is that the service of charity is never to be interrupted.
The dicastery's work is rooted in "the option for the poor, the vulnerable and the excluded". It is authorized to provide assistance "anywhere in the world". The pope is expressly authorized to personally direct allocations "in cases of particular poverty or other necessity". The dicastery's remit extends as well to responding "in the event of serious calamities".
It is authorized to accept and to solicit donations to support its distribution of charity. One particular source of funding is the dicastery's authority to sell customized parchments that document papal blessings granted on special occasions, such as weddings, baptisms or priestly ordinations.
The Alms Office - both before and after its incorporation into the Curia as a dicastery - has been led since 2013 by Konrad Krajewski, a cardinal since 2018. The office has been managed by Francesco Mazzitelli since his appointment on 27 November 2021.