Canon Law changed – bishops will now need permission of Holy See to establish religious institutes

At and National Catholic Register

Francis issued a Motu Proprio and changed 1983 CIC can. 579 “which concerns the erection of religious orders and congregations, referred to in Church law as institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life.”

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has changed canon law to require a bishop to have permission from the Holy See prior to establishing a new religious institute in his diocese, further strengthening Vatican oversight over the process.  [“oversight”?  Is that what we are calling it now?]

With a Nov. 4 motu proprio, Pope Francis modified canon 579 of the Code of Canon Law, which concerns the erection of religious orders and congregations, referred to in Church law as institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life.

The Vatican clarified in 2016 that by law the diocesan bishop was required to consult with the Apostolic See before giving canonical recognition to a new institute. The new canon provides further Vatican oversight by requiring the bishop to have the prior written permission of the Apostolic See[Permission… from this Curia.]

According to Pope Francis’ apostolic letter “Authenticum charismatis,” the change ensures that the Vatican will accompany bishops more closely in their discernment about the erection of a new religious order or congregation, and gives “final judgment” over the decision to the Holy See.  [“accompany bishops more closely in their discernment”]

The new text of the canon will go into effect Nov. 10.

The modification to canon 579 makes “the preventive control of the Holy See more evident,” Fr. Fernando Puig, vice dean of canon law at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, told CNA. [NB: “preventive control”… to keep undesirable results from occurring, of course]

“In my opinion, the base [of the law] has not changed,” he said, adding that “certainly the autonomy of the bishops decreases and there is a centralization of this competence in favor of Rome.”

The motivations for the change, Fr. Puig explained, go back to a clarification of the interpretation of the law, requested by the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Religious Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in 2016.  [The same Congregation which helped out the FFIs.]

Pope Francis clarified in May 2016 that, for validity, canon 579 required bishops to consult closely with the Vatican on their decision, even if it did not require them to obtain permission per se.  [But now it isn’t consultation … it’s permission.]

Writing in L’Osservatore Romano in June 2016, Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, the congregation’s secretary, explained that the congregation asked for the clarification out of a desire to prevent the “careless” establishment of religious institutes and societies.

According to Archbishop Rodríguez, crises in religious institutes had included internal division and power struggles, abusive disciplinary measures, or problems with authoritarian founders who feel they are the “true fathers and masters of the charism.”

Inadequate discernment on the part of bishops, Archbishop Rodríguez said, had led to the Vatican needing to intervene in problems which could have been prevented if they had been detected before giving canonical recognition to the institute or society.

In his Nov. 4 motu proprio, Pope Francis said that “the faithful have the right to be informed by their Shepherds about the authenticity of the charisms and about the integrity of those who present themselves as founders” of a new congregation or order.

“The Apostolic See,” he continued, “is responsible for accompanying Shepherds in the discernment process that leads to the ecclesial recognition of a new Institute or a new Society of diocesan right.”

He quoted Pope John Paul II’s 1996 post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Vita consecrata,” which said that new religious institutes and societies “must be evaluated by the authority of the Church, which is responsible for the appropriate examination both to test the authenticity of the inspiring purpose and to avoid the excessive multiplication of institutions similar to each other.”

Pope Francis said: “The new institutes of consecrated life and the new societies of apostolic life, therefore, must be officially recognized by the Apostolic See, which alone has the last judgment.”

So what is now the difference between institutes established by diocesan bishops and those by the Holy See?

I don’t know about what’s going on in Africa, S. America, etc.  However, it seems to me that this is aimed directly at the prevention of the undesirable rise of traditionally oriented religious institutes.   I have a strong sense that just about the only new groups that are being founded are, in fact, tradition leaning.

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  1. Padre Pio Devotee says:

    They’ll take as good care of the new religious institutes as with much care a PA official takes care of a Trump mail in ballot.

  2. Does this have any effect on diocesan institutes that already exist? And, does it give us any clues about the future of the SSPX under this pontificate?

  3. Percusio says:

    So confusing. I thought the Church was headed in the direction of the “Synodal”approach and away from the centralization of the Church. Well, I guess in order to figure this out we will have to see what kinds of issues will tend toward the centralization approach and what tends toward the synodal approach. Perhaps it is all the same, focused upon the ridding the “rigid” Traditional element of the Church.

  4. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    So we’re devolving doctrinal positions to bishops conferences and consolidating religious charism/orders in Rome.

    I dont see how this helps spread the Gospel.

  5. Cafea Fruor says:

    “So what is now the difference between institutes established by diocesan bishops and those by the Holy See?”

    I had that same question.

    What happened to subsidiarity?

  6. Jacob says:

    Thinking of a group like the Benedictines of Mary in Missouri, would this prevent them from planting more daughter houses or would that be allowed as they are already established?

  7. ChrisP says:

    The Roman Hive can do this all they like, but they will fail.

    There is nothing to stop good Bishops encouraging proper formation and institutes via PRIVATE means – and then using this process to stop the dodgy ones.

    Time to get creative.

  8. Gab says:

    Yep. It sure looks like blatant insurance against increasing demand for traditional orders.

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    That is BS, begging the Holy Father’s pardon. Why should grown adults, and princes of the Church, be subject directly to the Holy See on matters of free association? More autocratic centralism, more bureaucracy, more standing in the way of the Holy Spirit.

    OTOH, there is nothing stopping anyone from founding a club. With communal life, and group activities that last all year.

  10. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Oh, and the “excessive multiplication” thing is an interesting quote, given that we hardly have a surplus of religious vocations or surviving orders. Maybe they want to shunt all the living vocations into dying orders, so they can tell the kids they have no vocations and then throw them out.

  11. Uxixu says:

    Ah, friend Percussio remember the very first instance of the Synod of bishops was the Missa Normativa which the bishops overwhelmingly rejected… yet was imposed anyway with minimal changes as the novus ordo. Synodality doesn’t mean what we think it means, it means doing what the dreaded progressives want.

  12. haydn seeker says:

    While I wish the present pope health and long life, he won’t be pope forever. Like Democrats changing the Senate rules, these things never work out as intended. If one day we can squash the Association of Catholic Guitar and Tambourine Players then I can live with this.

  13. Sprouting Thomas says:

    For a long time (i.e., since the time of Augustine…), this has seemed to be among an orthodox bishop’s most powerful practical tools. I was always surprised it was allowed to go unmolested so long in the first place.

    I suppose the best we can hope is that it may end up reinforcing and consolidating existing institutes. And that good bishops will know how to present their cases to best advantage. And that the congregation will not be in the same hands forever.

  14. CasaSanBruno says:

    So much for the “decentralization” he has been touting from the start of his pontificate.

  15. HibernianFaithful says:

    Wait to Pope Francis (Worst. Pope. Ever. – give me Pope Stephen VI) requires review of existing establishing religious institutes for accompaniment and then issues dissolution decrees and condemnations.

  16. Jacobus Robertus says:

    Ah, discernment. As the old Jesuit joke goes, “How do you conjugate the verb to discern?” Answer: “I discern, you discern, he decides.”

  17. Cheesesteak Expert says:

    You really have little ground to put up any fuss about this. The Pope has immediate, supreme and universal jurisdiction – if you don’t believe that, you are anathema per Vatican I and Vatican II. What recourse do you have to object or protest?

    [Your comment isn’t relevant to the point.]

  18. FranzJosf says:

    What will the Fishwrap say? Will they protest this as a blow to collegiality?

    Seriously, though, I guess bishops can still establish lay public associations of the faithful; so, at least new institutes can plant seeds for later increase.

  19. Phil B says:

    I guess “accompaniment” is not always as friendly as we were led to believe.

  20. Cheesesteak Expert says:

    Wait – you highlight that this is all about:
    “further strengthening Vatican oversight over the process”
    “further Vatican oversight”
    “written permission of the Apostolic See”

    These issues are all about authority; I get that you don’t like that they may be directed against just traditionally religious oriented institutes, but how is it not relevant the Pope has the power to do so? Is it only relevant when he uses that power according to your wishes?

  21. Elbereth says:

    What exactly do people think bishops are anymore? Time for a recovering of the meaning of episcopal orders, and recognizing that the pope derives his authority from being _bishop_ of Rome; conversely, each bishop is in a way “pope” of his diocese, not just another administrator.

  22. JPCahill says:

    De ja vu all over again. In 1274 the 2d Council of Lyon decreed even more draconially (is that a word?) that no order founded after the year 1215 should be allowed to continue to exist. “Excessive multiplication”, donncha know. It put paid to some orders and put the fear of their corporate lives into the Carmelites among others. And yet, here we are. Goodness will out . . . eventually.

    Yes, I know: in the meantime it doesn’t look so good does it. But that’s all the silver lining I’ve got for this particular cloud.

  23. iamlucky13 says:

    If I understand right, Saint Francis of Assisi faced opposition in Rome to founding the Friars Minor, although I’m unclear how much came from Pope Innocent III, and how much from others in Rome.

    I wonder if such a radical, rigid group would be allowed to form an institute today.

  24. Jean2010 says:

    I hope I’m up to this challenge by the grace of God. I think I was probably 5 years old when I saw the last Latin Mass before grade school and New Mass before and around in exactly the year 1970. I just barely remember it. Probably was 1969 or so. I do know for sure I hope saw one vaguely. I wonder if our Lord is using many of us for these times. I hope He gives us some guidance on this score. I’m a student of private Rev. and probably not a good one. I seem to recall in the latter days that a strict order would form. One can only hope. This Pope has stacked the deck for now. The Lord can over rule in some form. Lets pray that some of that private revelation I’m not good at is on the up and up and very informative. Only problem I think is that we are going to have a harsh time of it before it gets better. May the Lord guide me in these times to be of humble assistance. A sinner of course.

  25. Aquinas Gal says:

    I can see the point of this directive. I’ve seen at least one group that was established by a person who was not very balanced. They were in a neighboring diocese and the local bishop of my diocese did not allow them to establish themselves here. I think he made a good decision. Each situation is different but in this case the new order was going to imprudent extremes.

  26. ajf1984 says:

    Did anyone else, upon reading this latest from our Rev’d & Genial Host, rush off to update their copies of the 1983 Code and Commentary (I have the Beal)…albeit in pencil only?

  27. TonyO says:

    the change ensures that the Vatican will accompany bishops more closely in their discernment about the erection of a new religious order or congregation, and gives “final judgment” over the decision to the Holy See.

    Hooo, boy. The Force is strong with this one. (I didn’t say which side of the Force, did I?) Talk about double-speak ! Orwell would be smiling at the irony. “Accompany!” “Discernment!”

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

    Now the lib bishops are getting a taste of their own medicine. The liberal bishops have been saying for many decades now: “collegiality”, and “synodality” (more recently). This is the Vatican being “collegial” all right. We have to remember: in modernist / marxist usage, collegiality means sharing powerwith those not in the official top posts of power – when (and only when) those in the top posts are not leftists. When the leftist have power, collegiality means “do what we say, now, without complaint or question” – it doesn’t mean sharing power. Heads we win, tails you lose, got it? Francis’s style of management has never been about sharing power.

    I don’t exactly advise bishops to do this (not that any bishops would take my advice), but the easiest thing to do is simply make the new entity have a name that doesn’t include the term “Institute” and simply assume that therefore it doesn’t fall under the new restrictions. “What, this li’l ol’ thing? Why, this itty bitty thing ain’t one o’ them nasty ol’ ‘instytutes’, is it? Why, I never woulda known!” This is, after all, exactly what the liberal bishops and priests did to us for 50 years after VII on all the other “rules” that they didn’t think applied.

  28. B says:

    What about newly existing communities of diocesan rite? How does this affect them?

  29. Sportsfan says:

    The Legion of Christ, the gift that keeps on giving.

  30. Cafea Fruor says:

    @Suburbanbanshee: It’s actually important for a community to be able to be of pontifical right if it has an intention of expanding beyond one diocese. The way it usually works is that new communities start out as diocesan right, and the when they’ve grown and become stable and well-established, they usually petition to become pontifical right communities. If the community expands beyond one diocese, the original diocese’s bishop can’t have jurisdiction over those not in his diocese, so pontifical right makes more sense. Per subsidiarity, he’s no longer the most appropriate person for the community to be under. If 2+ different houses of a community were in 2+ different dioceses, they would then be under 2+ bishops, and then things can get messy. Let’s say a community has one house in Topeka, one in Vancouver, and one in Mexico City. If that community wanted to update its constitutions, which of the three bishops would approve them? Would the constitutions have to be approved separately by each bishop for each local house? None of them could approve them for the entire community. And if each the bishops all insisted on differences in the constitutions specifically in his diocese, then how could a community at will move its members from one house to the other if they’re potentially subject to different constitutions? Another example: a community has a motherhouse in Iowa and a daughterhouse in Illinois, and Sr. M. Cuthbert, a fully professed sister, is sent to the house in Illinois. Sr. M. Cuthbert starts doffing her habit, going to bars on Friday nights, and starts causing scandal. Mother M. St. Swithin in Iowa wants to impose exclaustration on Sr. M. Cuthbert for a year so she can discern whether petitioning Rome for dispensation from her vows and returning to lay life is perhaps the best route for her. The bishop in Illinois, however, disagrees, finds nothing wrong with Sister’s behavior, and insists she should stay. Pontifical right gives Mother the authority to exclaustrate Sister. I believe this is not true were the community of diocesan right.

    So becoming pontifical right allows a community effectively more autonomy and flexibility as it grows. There can be burdens at times, but it’s mostly for autonomy and protection.

    Where this news is a problem, however, is that it means that newer communities are going to have a much harder time getting started at the diocesan level. I’d think it’s much easier for a community to start under a bishop, get going with his support and guidance, and then start growing. The community already exists, so even if it doesn’t grow, it can exist if the bishop allows it. Until now, when the Vatican, far removed from the situation, can say yea/nay on whether the community can get going in the first place. That’s going to make getting going much harder.

  31. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Cheesesteak Expert — The point is that the popes have certain powers, but the bishops are also heirs of the apostles, just like priests and deacons and laypeople all have their own specific spheres and powers. The bishops are the eyes of the Church, as St. Fulgentius and many others have said. The pope is supposed to let the eyes do their thing, and he is only supposed to step in if there is a problem. Since most bishops don’t even want to fool around with new religious orders and all the paperwork, adding an extra, long, Curia bureaucracy step makes it very unlikely that any new religious order will ever be formed while this law is in force.

  32. Matthew says:

    If I never again hear about accompanying people on their journey it will be too soon, unless of course they’re car pooling.

    First the homosexuals had to be accompanied, now the bishops need to be accompanied. Vagueness annoys me.

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  34. Dominicanes says:

    The foundation of new monastery requires the approval of the Holy See. This has been required for the past 100 years.

  35. Dominicanes says:

    Mo. It is about starting new ones.

  36. aiello01 says:

    Spiritual discernment isn’t confined only to the hierarchy. It is present in all those who have the Spirit of Truth (1Corinthians 2:9-16, 1John 2:20, 27, and Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium 12).
    This enables us to individually discern truth from error, even when it comes from the hierarchy.

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