Pope Francis seeks ‘healthy decentralization’ with new changes to canon law

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA


Pope Francis’ general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Feb. 9, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2022 / 07:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis unveiled new changes to Church law in an apostolic letter published Tuesday, saying that he was seeking to promote “a healthy decentralization” 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 interdiocesan 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 interdiocesan 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 favoring 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.”

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  1. Sort of a Francis whim? Or a long contemplated part of an unfolding agenda? Decentralization, territories issuing catechisms with their cultural nuances, or with catechisms that differ canonically on faith and morals? There’s little that’s not already contained in the Catholic Catechism that doesn’t cover regional particularities. As with the universal parish Synod on synodality group talk how many pastors are up front on abortion, homosexuality, judgement, heaven and hell? Few. Expect then a consensus on wide latitude of personal expression of the faith.
    Subsidiarity on faith and morals doesn’t lead to One Body, One Faith. Rather disintegration of what once was a unity of faith and practice. As we continue to become more decentralized we will assuredly find ourselves within a cleverly engineered Protestant Church. Except for the faithful diehards, the storied Remnant.

  2. Sure. So the Germans can go their merry way, making up the church as they see fit, no matter what oddities they come up with. Its a local concern, after all. But certainly what they envision will not be a true Catholic church. No standardization of belief and ritual, just “do your own thing”. That path takes us down the way of Protestantism, where self appointed “ministers “, well-intended folks all, can and do make it up as they go along.You know,those people who act as beer distributors full time and as a minister on the side. Being open and flexible to local concerns is a line of action which a church must approach with conservatism and caution. To do less than that is to risk the loss of the essential truth of the faith, which is to be taught and handed down, in exchange for a sort of bland secular “niceness”. Many actions which pass for ordinary secular behavior today are in fact sins. That nobody wants to hear it, does not make it any less true. The church has been remiss for decades for failing to say so often and clearly. When you stand for everything being ok ( because we dont want to be accused of judging anyone), essentially you stand for NOTHING. With apologies to Trump haters, “niceness” is NOT the most important quality in a leader. The Pope, if he continues down this road, will soon learn he has unleashed a more dangerous Pandora’s box than had been loosed with Vatican II. The church may not be able to withstand this final blow.

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