Amendments to canon law grant more authority to bishops

VATICAN CITY — Saying he wants to promote a “healthy decentralization” of certain aspects of Church life, Pope Francis has made several changes to Church law, granting greater authority to individual bishops, at the episcopal conferences and at the synods of the bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

The changes, the Pope said, should “foster a sense of collegiality and pastoral responsibility” of bishops and religious superiors who are closest to the issues being decided and therefore have a better understanding of what is appropriate. .

Pope Francis’ amendments to the Code of Canon Law of the Latin Rite Church and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches were published by the Vatican on Feb. 15, the day they were to come into effect.

The changes, the pope said, “further reflect the shared and plural universality of the Church,” which includes many legitimate differences, but preserves its unity in communion with the pope.

At the same time, he writes, the changes “promote a more rapid effectiveness of the pastoral action of governance of the local authority, facilitated by its very proximity to the people and the situations which require it”.

For the creation of an interdiocesan seminary, the development of a training program for priests or the publication of a national catechism, with the new law, the episcopal or episcopal conferences concerned only have to obtain a ” confirmation” from the Vatican and are no longer required to seek “approval” from the Vatican.

In Church law, “approval,” as opposed to “confirmation,” implies a greater commitment and involvement” of the Roman Curia. “Therefore, it is obvious that the change from the requirement of “approval” to the requirement of “confirmation” is not only a terminological change, but a substantial change, which goes precisely in the direction of decentralization “said Archbishop Marco Mellino, a member of the Pontifical Church. Council on Legislative Texts, Vatican News said Feb. 15.

In another change, Pope Francis has given local bishops the power to determine when there is “just and necessary cause” to reduce the number of masses to be said in fulfillment of a will or inheritance left to the public. ‘Church. Previously, such a decision was reserved for the Vatican.

Mellino told Vatican News that the law still insists that gifts left to the Church be used for the intentions of the donor, but recognizes that over time, especially if the money was left decades ago, adjustments may be necessary.

Pope Francis also added a new paragraph to the canon dealing with consecrated virgins to clarify that a bishop can establish an association for consecrated virgins in his diocese and an episcopal conference can do the same at the national level.

Furthermore, it gave religious superiors, when acting in consultation with their councils, wider authority to authorize long absences from the community or to reject or accept a request from a member in temporary vows to leave the community permanently. community.