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Pope Francis with members of CHARIS; the Catholic Charismatic Renewal International Service (archive photo) Pope Francis with members of CHARIS; the Catholic Charismatic Renewal International Service (archive photo)  (Vatican Media)

Vatican sets term limits for associations of the faithful

A decree of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, approved by Pope Francis, will regulate the length of the mandates of the leaders of international associations of the faithful. The new provisions are intended to ensure that authority in those associations should be a service to communion, and to forestall the risks of personalism and abuses.

By Vatican News

The Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life has issued a general Decree — which has the force of law – that regulates the duration and number of governing mandates (with a maximum of 10 consecutive years) in international associations of the faithful, both private and public; and the necessary representativeness of the members in the election process of the international governing body. The measure, approved in forma specifica by Pope Francis and promulgated on Friday, will come into force in three months. It will be binding on all associations of the faithful and other entities recognised or erected by the Dicastery.

A healthy turnover

The aim of the Decree is to promote “a healthy turnover” in governing positions, so that authority is exercised as an authentic service that is articulated in ecclesial communion.

An Explanatory Note published by the Dicastery together with the Decree, notes that Pope Francis, “in line with his predecessors, suggests understanding the needs required by the journey of ecclesial maturity of the associations of the faithful from the perspective of missionary conversion” (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 29-30), indicating as priorities “respect for personal freedom; overcoming self-referentiality, unilateralism and absolutism; promoting a broader synodality, as well as the precious good of communion.”

The Note points out that “not infrequently the lack of limits to the mandates of government favours, in those called to govern, forms of appropriation of the charisma, personalism, and centralisation of functions, as well as expressions of self-reference, which easily cause serious violations of personal dignity and freedom and even real abuses. A bad exercise of governance,” the Note states, “inevitably creates conflicts and tensions that wound the communion, weakening the missionary impulse.”

Opportunities for creative growth

On the other hand, experience has shown that “the generational change of governing bodies through the rotation of management responsibilities, brings great benefits to the vitality of the association: it is an opportunity for creative growth and an incentive for formative investment; it reinvigorates fidelity to the charism; it gives breath and effectiveness to the interpretation of the signs of the times; it encourages new and current ways of missionary action.”

At the same time, the Dicastery, “aware of the key role played by the founders,” reserves the right to dispense them from the limits set for mandates (Art. 5 of the Decree), but only “if it deems it appropriate for the development and stability of the association or entity, and if this dispensation corresponds to the clear will of the central governing body.”

Changes necessary

In an article for L'Osservatore Romano, Jesuit Father Ulrich Rhode, dean of the Faculty of Canon Law at the Pontifical Gregorian University and consultant to the Dicastery, points out that, in addition to the 109 entities recognised or erected by the Dicastery, the Decree also applies (with the exception of Art. 3, on election procedures) to other entities subject to the vigilance of the Dicastery, including the Neocatechumenal Way, the International Organism at the Service of the Parish Cell System of Evangelisation, the World Organisation of the Cursillo Movement, and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal International Service (CHARIS).

Father Rhode says it is expected “that many associations will have to convene a general assembly to decide on the changes to be made to the statutes to be submitted to the Dicastery for the necessary approval. A particular urgency exists for those associations in which the limits set by the Decree have already been exceeded or will be exceeded during the current term of office.”

Finally, he emphasised the hope that diocesan and national associations, although not obliged to comply with the Decree, would take them into consideration in the view of a future extension of the rules, or even simply on account of the reasonable nature of the new provisions.

11 June 2021, 12:00