Pope Francis has created a new Vatican office dedicated to Catholic laity and families, merging existing departments to make clear his emphasis on the crucial role that families play in the Catholic Church and society at large.

Francis announced the new office Thursday as he and bishops from around the world wrapped up a three week meeting debating how to better minister to Catholic families today.

The new office has been in the works for two years. It is one of the reforms approved by Francis and his nine cardinal advisers, who are working on an overall reform of the outdated Vatican bureaucracy. The new department will merge existing pontifical councils for laity and family and the Vatican's bioethics think tank.

A commission is preparing the office's legal framework.