Pope Francis’ general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Feb. 9, 2022. | Vatican Media.
Pope Francis unveiled new changes to Church law in an apostolic letter published yesterday, saying that he was seeking to promote “a healthy decentralisation” in the Church.
In the letter issued motu proprio (“on his own impulse”) on Feb. 15, the pope said that his intention with the changes was to “foster a sense of collegiality and pastoral responsibility” on the part of bishops, local bishops’ conferences, and major superiors religious communities, as well as to “support the principles of rationality, effectiveness, and efficiency.”
Among the changes in the motu proprio, entitled Assegnare alcune competenze (“Assigning some competencies”), were articles regarding the establishment of inter diocesan seminaries, the incardination of clerics, the publication of catechisms by bishops’ conferences, and laws concerning temporary professed vows.
Pope Francis explained that with the changes he wanted to encourage “a more rapid effectiveness of the pastoral action of government on the part of the local authority.”
“I have considered it opportune to make changes to the norms hitherto in force concerning some specific matters, attributing the respective competencies,” Pope Francis wrote.
“These normative changes reflect even more the shared and plural universality of the Church, which includes differences without homogenizing them, with the guarantee, as far as unity is concerned, of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome,” he said.
Some of the 10 articles in the decree consist of only small changes in wording.
For example, Article 8 changes canon law so that the Vatican will only need to “confirm,” rather than “approve,” the publication of catechisms by a Catholic bishops’ conference.
Canon 775 §2 previously said: “If it seems useful, it is for the conference of bishops to take care that catechisms are issued for its territory, with the previous approval of the Apostolic See.”
The law now states: “If it seems useful, it is for the conference of bishops to take care that catechisms are issued for its territory, subject to confirmation by the Apostolic See.”
The change from the requirement for Vatican “confirmation,” rather than approval, also applies to Article 1, on the creation of inter diocesan seminaries, and Article 2, on the Ratio (guidelines) of priestly formation.
Pope Francis signed the motu proprio on Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
This is the second motu proprio that Pope Francis has issued this week. On Monday, the pope also decreed the reorganization of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith into a doctrinal section and a disciplinary section.
Pope Francis has published 49 motu proprios since his election in 2013.
Bishop Marco Mellino, the secretary of the Council of Cardinals and a member of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, told Vatican News that he saw Tuesday’s motu proprio as part of “the work of reform that Pope Francis has initiated since the beginning of his pontificate.”
“It responds to the spirit of ‘healthy decentralization’ indicated in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 32, aimed at favouring and enhancing the dynamics of proximity in the Church, without compromising hierarchical communion with this,” he said.
He added: “It is evident, in fact, that when the authority has a direct and closer knowledge of the persons and cases in point that require a pastoral action of government, this action, by virtue of its proximity, can be of more rapid efficacy.”