Pope changes canon law for religious who desert community


Vatican City, March 27, 2019: Pope Francis has amended canon law to create a new mechanism for dismissing a religious who has deserted their community.

Under the new law, promulgated by the Pope in an apostolic letter issued “motu proprio,” superiors can declare a member dismissed ipso facto if they have been illicitly absent from the community for more than a year and cannot be located.

“Community life is an essential element of religious life,” Francis stated in the letter, titled Communis vita (“Common life”) and issued March 26. He cited canon 665 of the Code of Canon Law, which provides that “religious must live in their own religious house observing common life and cannot be absent without permission of their superior.”

Under the current provisions of canon 694, which the motu proprio reforms, the ipso facto dismissal of a member of a religious community can be declared for two reasons: that he or she has “defected notoriously from the Catholic faith,” or “has contracted marriage or attempted it, even only civilly.”

With the change, Pope Francis added the ground of desertion of the community.

Now, if a member of a religious community is “absent from the religious house illegitimately, in accordance with can. 665 § 2, for twelve months without interruption” they too can be declared dismissed from the community, provided that their superiors are otherwise unable to locate or contact them.

Depending on the constitution of the religious order, decrees of dismissal must be confirmed by the Holy See or by the local bishop.

Francis noted that canon law already provides a procedure for dealing with the illegitimate absence of a religious member, whereby a religious superior may begin the process of dismissal after at least six months’ absence, but that this process is difficult to conclude with legal certainty when the religious member’s whereabouts are unknown.

The new norms go into effect April 10, 2019. Diocesan bishops already have the ability in law to petition the Congregation for Clergy to laicize priests who have deserted their ministry and cannot be located, though in the case of a priest he must be absent for five years before any action can be taken.

The pope explained that he made the change for religious “to help the institutions observe the necessary discipline and be able to proceed to the dismissal of the illegitimately absent religious,” especially in cases where they cannot be found.

The existing norms require the superior to contact any absent religious member and to encourage him or her to return to the religious community and to “persevere in his or her vocation,” before taking action to dismiss.

Canon 729 was also expanded to make clear that while members of secular institutes may be dismissed ipso facto for having contracted or attempted to contract marriage, or for having left the Catholic faith, they are not bound to community life in the same way.

Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, the secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, stated that religious superiors had the obligation to protect “the common good that is expressed in common life,” which was a fundamental part of the religious life.

But, he said, love for the absent member remained an obligation.

Rodríguez recalled the 1994 document Fraternal Life in Community, which described the shared responsibility of common life which “pushes us to love our brothers and sisters to the point of assuming their weaknesses, their problems, their difficulties.”

At the same time, he said, the document “recalls the commitment to preserve the sense of a common life ‘built by persons whom Christ has liberated and made capable of loving as he did, by the gift of his liberating love and the heartfelt acceptance of those he gives us as guides.’”

Rodríguez explained that the pope’s reform, making it easier to declare a dismissal, does not excuse superiors from the duty of looking for the absent religious member “with the possible means available.”

The cause for dismissal, he said, is established by “the fact” that the person cannot be found, and “cannot be invoked to discourage the responsibility of investigations and even less to hastily close the ‘case.’”

Source: Catholic News Agency

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7 thoughts on “Pope changes canon law for religious who desert community

  1. I think from cbci (including individual churches) to laity in my openion has lost the basic idea of the difference between the ordained priest and vowed religious. I think ordination is connected with an erasable zeal as with baptism while religious vow is a volunteery in nature from a human act for a deeper Christian life which the laity too are called to be.

  2. As per Section 10(ix) of the Indian Divorce Act 1869 applicable to Christians, desertion by a spouse for at least 2 years becomes a ground for divorce. Canon Law has much to learn from civil laws.

  3. In Govt service if an employee is absent from duty a dependant can get the job only after 7 years, that too after filing an FIR for a missing person, and an advertisement. Canon Law cannot be unilateral

  4. I agree with Satyan that the Catholic Church needs to learn from civil society. The dichotomy of 5 years for a priest and just 1 for a religious is unjust, ill-founded and untenable. Men make laws that favour themselves.

  5. Women religious by nature tend to be more communitarian, but men are loners. That’s why they tend to seek companionship outside, especially diocesan priests who aren’t bound by community life norms.

  6. The proposed amendments to Canon Law are not the solution. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Community life is integral to religious life, just as in a family. Community life and common prayer is essential.

  7. Let us have a look at the new change in the Canon Law regarding the religious and also the existing law regarding the diocesan priests:

    1) Superiors can declare a member dismissed ipso facto if they have been illicitly absent from the community for more than a year and cannot be located. Now, if a member of a religious community is “absent from the religious house illegitimately, in accordance with can. 665 § 2, for twelve months without interruption” they too can be declared dismissed from the community, provided that their superiors are otherwise unable to locate or contact them.

    Questions:
    a) In the first place, the Superior or the Spiritual Director or the Colleague or any one of the community member should have known the “plan of a member to be absent illegitimately”. According to me, this type of plan cannot escape the knowledge of the community. If none the community member knows about the illegitimate plan, then, where is community life?

    b) If a member is absent illegitimately for 12 months (one year), then, a Superior has to act. This sounds really ridiculous. Why a Superior has to wait for one full year. If it comes to the knowledge of the Superior that the absent member has done it intentionally, then, the Superior needs to dismiss even after a few days.

    c) What if the member, after being absent illegitimately comes back on the 11th month or just before the completion of one year? Will the Superior forgive and accept him like the prodigal son’s father?

    d) In this case the Canon Law will encourage the community members to be absent illegitimately for a few months and return back to the community. Is that permitted?

    2) Diocesan bishops already have the ability in law to petition the Congregation for Clergy to laicize priests who have deserted their ministry and cannot be located, though in the case of a priest he must be absent for five years before any action can be taken.

    Questions:

    1) Why the Canon Law is generous in giving 5 years to a diocesan priest?

    2) In what way the diocesan priest is superior to a religious priest?

    3) Is it not a sheer partiality in the Canon Law – one year for a religious and 5 years for a diocesan?

    4) Does it mean that a diocesan priest can roam around illegitimately for almost 5 years and return back to the diocese before the completion of 5 years?

    5) Will the bishop accept such a priest, forgive him and permit him to continue his priestly ministry?

    6) Why can’t a bishop dismiss a priest after the priest’s plan for his illegitimate absence is proven after a few weeks or a few months?

    Well, these clauses in the Canon Law will definitely encourage priests and religious to become “criminals”.

    The Catholic Church needs to learn certain professionalism from the Corporate Sector. Will any Corporate Company wait for its employees who are absent for 1 to 5 years? NEVER. Even a day’s illegitimate absence will not be tolerated. They will be given warnings and then sacked with immediate effect. When will the Catholic Church become professional?

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