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Pope amends canon law for establishment of diocesan-right congregations

La Croix International staff | Vatican City - Fri, Nov 6th 2020

Bishops must now obtain written permission from the Holy See if they want to establish religious congregations in their dioceses.

New institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life must receive written approval by the Holy See, which alone has final judgment as regards their erection, decreed Pope Francis.


Bishops who want to establish religious congregations in their dioceses must now first obtain that written permission, Pope Francis said in an Apostolic Letter issued motu proprio and entitled "Authenticum Charismatis" ("The Authenticity of a Charism"), released November 4 at the Vatican.

It is no longer enough for a bishop to consult the Vatican before approving the creation of a new order in his diocese.

This modifies Canon 579 of the Code of Canon Law concerning the erection of institutes of consecrated life which now reads, "Diocesan bishops, each in his own territory, can erect institutes of consecrated life by formal decree, with prior permission in writing from the Apostolic See."

Previously, that same canon read: Diocesan bishops, each in his own territory, can erect institutes of consecrated life by formal decree, provided that the Apostolic See has been consulted.

The new law will be promulgated by publication in L'Osservatore Romano. It will enter into force on 10 November 2020 and will be subsequently published in the official commentary of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.

By its nature, every institute of consecrated life or society of apostolic life, even if it arose in the context of a particular church, is a gift to the universal Church, the pope said.

The Apostolic Letter said "it is right to respond to the gifts which the Spirit inspires in particular Churches, welcoming them generously with thanksgiving" but that it is also necessary to "avoid the imprudent emergence of institutes which are useless or lacking sufficient vigor" (Decree Perfectae caritatis, §19).

Discernment about the ecclesiality and reliability of charisms is an ecclesial responsibility of the pastors of particular churches. This is expressed in "care for all forms of consecrated life and in the task of evaluating the necessity of establishing new institutes of consecrated life and new societies of apostolic life", the Apostolic Letter states.

The Apostolic See has the responsibility to accompany the Pastors in the process of discernment leading to the ecclesial recognition of a new institute or society of diocesan right, it said.

Pope Francis said this is in line with the Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata §12, which affirms that the vitality of new institutes and societies "must be judged by the authority of the Church, which has the responsibility of examining them in order to discern the authenticity of the purpose for their foundation and to prevent the proliferation of institutions similar to one another, with the consequent risk of a harmful fragmentation into excessively small groups."

Also, "The act of canonical erection by the bishop transcends the diocesan sphere alone and makes it relevant to the wider horizon of the universal Church," and "is at the heart of the Church, a decisive element of her mission" the Apostolic Letter notes.

Local congregations, approved by a diocesan bishop, are called congregations of "diocesan right" while large, international religious congregations answering directly to the Vatican are called congregations of "pontifical right."

Some recent diocesan-right congregations such as the French Community of St. John have had problems with regard to sexual abuse and psychological domination of members. Benedict XVI in 2013 dissolved the community's branch of contemplative nuns.

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