By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Diocesan bishops must consult with the
Vatican before establishing a diocesan religious order, Pope Francis ruled.
The consultation “is to be understood as necessary for
the validity of the erection of a diocesan institute of consecrated life,”
said the rescript or ruling approved by Pope Francis April 4 and published by
the Vatican May 20.
The English translation of the Code of Canon Law states:
“Diocesan bishops, each in his own territory, can erect institutes of
consecrated life by formal decree, provided that the Apostolic See has been
However, some bishops and canon lawyers had argued the
consultation was advised, not required, and that a lack of consultation did not
make the order’s establishment invalid.
The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and
Societies of Apostolic Life said in a statement that the consultation is
necessary because “every new institute of consecrated life, even if it
comes into the light and develops within a particular church, is a gift given
to the entire church.”
The congregation said it is necessary “to avoid new
institutes being erected on the diocesan level without sufficient discernment
of the originality of the charism,” which determines the way the members
will live out the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Sister Sharon Holland, a member of the Sisters, Servants of
the Immaculate Heart of Mary and a canon lawyer who worked at the congregation,
said there had been “much discussion” for years over whether
consultation with the Vatican was necessary. With the Vatican involved from the
beginning, she told Catholic News Service, when a congregation grows to the point
of asking for status as a pontifical — rather than a diocesan — institute,
the Vatican can be sure the community had “firm foundations from the
Especially if the founder of a diocesan order, whether a
bishop or someone else, is not a member of a religious order, outside
consultation can help ensure that the new order nourishes a true sense of
consecrated life and provides for the protection of individual members, she
Like religious orders in general, most diocesan orders are
communities of women and are found all over the world.
The U.S.-based Sisters of Life, founded by the late Cardinal
John J. O’Connor of New York in 1991, “is a good example of a group that
went through the proper channels in the right way” before being officially
approved as a religious institute of diocesan right in 2004, Sister Holland
For several years in its annual report in “The Activity
of the Holy See,” an official yearbook, the congregation for religious has
included a line about its “copious correspondence with diocesan bishops in
response to requests regarding the task of discernment” of new communities
of consecrated life.
In the report for 2013, the congregation said it gave
favorable opinions to three bishops — one each in Italy, Brazil and Mexico —
asking about setting up diocesan orders. It also said it expressed
“negative opinions” in three cases, although it did not specify
where. The 2014 report said favorable opinions were given regarding a men’s and
a women’s order in South Korea and orders of women in Angola and Mexico. Four
negative opinions also were given.
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