and above all with matrimonial problems. This second group is very numerous: there may be question of according permission to near rela- tives to marry, or regularizing invalid marriages, of legalizing the separation (never divorce) of validly married couples, of the annul- ment of valid but unconsummated marriages, of establishing forced or conditional assent, of the legitimization of children, or of obstacles which have grown out of matrimonial blunders. The Congregation seeks to smooth out and to heal whatever it can, but under no circum- stances can the dispensations given by the Church exceed the limits of the law of the indissolubility of a valid marriage (which law is based on divine ordinance) or the boundaries of the natural law. Two of the three departments of the Congregation deal exclusively with matrimonial problems and this is numerically one of the largest Congregations .
A remnant of the old consistorial power is still preserved today in a Congregation which stands at the head of the hierarchical administra- tion proper and ranks immediately below the Holy Office. Like this it is distinguished by the fact that the Pope is personally at its head. The Vice-Chairman of the Holy Office, the Prefect of the Congrega- tion of Studies, the Secretary of the Consistory, and the Cardinal- Secretary of State are cx-officio members. It is known as the Con- sistorial Congregation and concerns itself in part with the preparation of the proceedings of the Consistory (which are in main matters con- cerning the constitution of bishoprics and the election of bishops), and in part with the immediate superintendence of episcopal ad- ministration. Thus it is a centre of the life of the Curia a corps of assistants confided in by the Pope as the supreme shepherd of the faithful, just as he confides in the Holy Office as the supreme teacher.
All episcopal appointments pass through the hands of the Con- gregation of the Consistory, because they require Papal confirmation and must therefore be weighed carefully. Nevertheless, the Con- gregation actually makes the preparations for an election only when the Pope has the exclusive right to name the incumbent of an episcopal see. If as a result of a Concordat with the government of the country in question, or of the rights of the crown, negotiations must precede an appointment, another Congregation, the Congregation for Extraor- dinary Ecclesiastical Concerns to be described later on, deals with the