By Francis X. Rocca
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis said he has ordered a revision of what he called outdated Vatican norms on the relations between religious orders and local bishops, in order to promote greater appreciation of the orders’ distinctive missions.
The pope’s words were published Jan. 3 in the Italian Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica. He made the comments Nov. 29 at a closed-door meeting with 120 superiors general of religious orders from around the world.
Pope Francis referred to “Mutuae Relationes,” a set of directives issued jointly by the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for Religious in 1978. The document said that religious orders are part of the local church, though with their own internal organization, and that their “right to autonomy” should never be considered as independence from the local church.
“That document was useful at the time but is now outdated,” the pope said. “The charisms of the various institutes need to be respected and fostered because they are needed in dioceses.”
The pope, who until his election in March 2013 served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and formerly served as a Jesuit provincial, said he knew “by experience the problems that can arise between a bishop and religious communities.” For example, he said, “If the religious decide one day to withdraw from one of their works due to a lack of manpower the bishop often finds himself suddenly left with a hot potato in his hand.
“I also know that the bishops are not always acquainted with the charisms and works of religious,” he said. “We bishops need to understand that consecrated persons are not functionaries but gifts that enrich dioceses.
“The involvement of religious communities in dioceses is important,” the pope said. “Dialogue between the bishop and religious must be rescued so that, due to a lack of understanding of their charisms, bishops do not view religious simply as useful instruments.”
During his three-hour meeting with the religious superiors, as quoted in the 15-page La Civilta Cattolica article, the pope also discussed a variety of other topics, including sex abuse and the challenges of evangelization in different cultures.
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