News Headlines > Catholic religious orders must succumb to church's hierarchical authority

14 June 2016 | by Christopher Lamb

Catholic religious orders must succumb to church's hierarchical authority

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Vatican insists that charismatic groups must not be seen to run parallel to the church

Charismatic groups in the Church must ensure they come under hierarchical authority, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog has said. A document released by Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the first under Pope Francis’ pontificate, stresses that such groups need to respect the ecclesiastical structures of the Church.  

Traditionally the charismatic tradition of Catholicism have been seen in religious orders and more recently in new movements who sometimes operate outside of traditional structures. Such groups in the history of the Church have often been in tension with the hierarchical authorities: the most famous example being the suppression of the Jesuits by Pope Clement XIV. 

This tension is now seen in Pope Francis, a Jesuit who named himself after St Francis of Assisi, who comes from the charismatic tradition of the Church yet is now the institutional leader of Catholicism. 

But presenting the new letter to journalists on Tuesday, the prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, stressed that the hierarchical and charismatic gifts are “co-essential” and need one another. 

The letter, titled “Iuvenescit Ecclesia”, states charismatic new movements or groups should respect the “ecclesial regimen” in order to avoid “any danger that the charismatic entities might be considered in some way as running parallel to the ecclesial life or not ordered in relation to the hierarchical gifts.”

At the same time the new groups should not be put in “juridical straitjackets” and must be seen as a resource for the whole Church. The letter stresses a “falseness of any contradiction” between hierarchical and charismatic gifts while it is up to ecclesiastical authorities to discern the “authenticity of charisms” and “accompany them with vigilant paternity”. 

Also presenting the document was Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who runs the Vatican’s bishop-making department who pointed out that the Church today has a Pope from the charismatic tradition. 

When asked by The Tablet if Francis emphasised the charismatic over the hierarchical, Cardinal Oullet said: “I believe that the Pope’s example helps us adapt…to respond to a need of the Church.” Cardinal Muller, however, declined to volunteer an answer. Both cardinals are theological conservatives who have sometimes been at odds with Francis. 

Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, who is in charge of the Vatican’s department for religious, told The Tablet that Francis is bringing together both the authority of the “Petrine” ministry and the charisma of the “Pauline” tradition of the papacy. 

Read the letter from the Vatican on charismatic gifts

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