A public association of the faithful wishing to become an institute of consecrated life or an apostolic society under diocesan right will now have to have the green light from the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and not the sole agreement of the local bishop, according to a rescript that the Pope promulgated on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.
During an audience granted last February 7 to the João Braz de Aviz, the Cardinal Prefect of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Francis specifically approved the following provision, explains the rescript published on Wednesday, June 15:
“The diocesan bishop, before erecting a public association of the faithful with a view to its becoming an Institute of Consecrated Life or a Society of Apostolic Life under diocesan right, must obtain written authorization from the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.”
These public associations of the faithful awaiting religious status or apostolic life are said to be “in itinere,” en route. According to a source from cath.ch, the specific case of the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon – whose ordinations have just been suspended – is not at the origin of this edict.
“Some associations had become an “out of control” reality, because the bishops could set them up without asking anything from Rome. And they were not necessarily equipped to ensure respect for the specificity of consecrated life,” it explains.
The Vatican affirms that the rescript fits into the synodality promoted by Francis, to develop a closer collaboration between the Curia and diocesan bishops, as the Pope had emphasized in his address to the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life on December 11th.
In many countries, the flowering of new communities since the 1970s has been accompanied by abuses concerning respect for the internal forum and the profession of faith.
An increasing regulation of these communities of diocesan right by Rome was gradually put in place. Pope Francis’ motu proprio Authenticum charismatis of November 4, 2020 made the authorization by the Holy See mandatory for any recognition of a new Institute of Consecrated Life within the diocesan framework. Previously, Rome’s opinion was only advisory.
A note dated June 11, 2021 from the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, imposed a rotation of mandates within associations of the faithful, limiting the mission of executives to two five-year terms, to avoid abuse of power.
The June 15, 2022 Rescript concerns the case of associations of the faithful moving towards religious life, which is not the case for all these associations: the text does not concern Catholic action, or even cultural or sporting movements.
The Rescript seeks to avoid the multiplication of small communities of ill-defined canonical status, with few members, often not very viable. In addition, authority is not based there in an institutional way, which encourages excesses.
The possible wearing of the religious habit, the variable integration of these communities into the life of parishes and dioceses, and the personality of the founders, who are sometimes religious detached from their order of origin, can constitute sources of confusion for the faithful.
According to cath.ch, Pope Francis is seeking to establish stricter regulation and confirms a “strengthening of Rome's control over the discernment of bishops in matters of consecrated life,” explains a canonist.
However, the term “written authorization” is “distinct from an approval which would be a sharing of the responsibility for the decision. In this case, it is a question of a verification of discernment,” the bishop therefore remaining, in diocesan law, the ultimate person responsible for the decision.
First, the reality is that the text clearly limits the autonomy and authority of bishops, which are practically nullified by the authority of the Holy See in the area concerned. But that is not surprising. The bishops were the big losers of the Council and of the post-conciliar reforms.
It must be admitted, however, that the Roman Curia, through its universal vision of the Church, and through the daily treatment of the difficulties that arise from almost everywhere, has a great deal of experience. So it is helping to deal with these issues. It remains that, for the moment, the decentralization desired by Francis is seriously undermined.
And secondly, the extravagant post-conciliar freedom, which made it possible to do anything and everything in various fields, produced diocesan growths similar to tumors. How long did it take, for example, to rein in the members of the charismatic foundations who had no training and who quite often professed real heresies?
Only the bishops and the Roman Curia could paint a picture of this disaster: the scattered forces of the faithful, without a shepherd and without a guide, in the name of a poorly understood freedom, and the incapacity – or sometimes the complicity – of the bishops before this tumor expansion. These two realities are hidden behind the motu proprio.