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26 May 2016 | by Christopher Lamb

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He has made big strides to ensure that power in the Church is devolved from Rome. But as a pope who likes to keep people guessing Francis is also happy to indulge in a bit of centralisation when he deems it necessary. Last week, it was announced that all new religious communities need to consult with the Vatican before being established at the local, diocesan level.

This, according to the Holy See’s statement, was to ensure that “sufficient discernment” had taken place by local bishops about the new groups. A papal decree, which comes into effect next month, says that any group set up without prior consultation automatically becomes invalid. So why the need for the Pope to be so forceful?

This ruling is clearly targeted at the large number of traditionalist religious orders that have sprouted up in recent years, many of them exclusively celebrating the sacraments in the pre-Vatican II Old Rite. Many of them do good work but there are suspicions about others.
Take the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, a traditionalist offshoot of the Franciscans, founded in Italy in 1990. The order became embroiled in an internal row over the liturgy with concerns they were becoming too exclusively traditionalist and both Benedict XVI and Francis launched inquiries into them. This Pope was particularly tough and banned them from celebrating the Old Rite liturgies without special permission, a move which angered traditionalists.

As a Jesuit who made his vows 56 years ago, Francis has doubts about new groups claiming to be the bona fide expression of religious life. Very often they centre around a charismatic leader, wear distinctive garb and attract lots of young vocations. But how many of them will last the course? What sort of discernment goes on before a twenty-something has a habit thrown over them? And is the leadership of these groups accountable? These are the sort of questions being asked in Rome.





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