The international associations of the faithful and their internal government have been the object of particular reflection and a consequent discernment by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, on the basis of its competence.
The Church recognises that the faithful have, because of their baptism, the right of association, and it protects their freedom to found and govern them. Among the various forms in which this right is exercised are the associations of the faithful (cf. cc. 215; 298-329 of the Code of Canon Law), which, particularly since Vatican Council II, have flourished considerably, producing an abundance of graces and apostolic fruits for the Church and the world of today.
The internal government of associations, recognised and protected as indicated above, should, however, be exercised within the limits established by the general norms of the Church, the statutory norms of each association, and in conformity with the dispositions of the ecclesiastical authority competent for their recognition and for the supervision of their life and activities.
The coessentiality of charismatic and hierarchical gifts in the Church (cf. Iuvenescit Ecclesia, 10) indeed requires that government within the associations of the faithful be exercised in coherence with their ecclesial mission, as a service ordered to realising their own purposes and to the good of their members.
Therefore, it is necessary that the exercise of government be properly organised within ecclesial communion and carried out as a means to the purposes that the association pursues.
In the process of defining the criteria for prudently guiding government in the associations, the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life has considered it necessary to regulate the terms of office in government, with regard to their duration and number, as well as the representativeness of governing bodies, in order to promote a healthy renewal and to prevent misappropriations that have indeed led to violations and abuses.
Given these premises, and considering the usefulness of generational change in governing bodies and the appropriateness of promoting change in responsibilities in government;
equally, taking into account the need to provide for terms of government which allow the implementation of projects suited to the purposes of the association;
also, considering the role of the founder in the appropriate configuration, development and stability of associative life, by virtue of the charism that gave rise to the association;
in order to insure the proper functioning of government in all international associations of the faithful;
having consulted experts in this field and other Dicasteries of the Roman Curia as far as their competence is concerned;
given article 18 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus on the Roman Curia, article 126 of the General Regulations of the Roman Curia, canons 29, 30 and 305 of the Code of Canon Law, and articles 1, 5 and 7 § 1 of the Statutes of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life;
the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, in the exercise of its functions and by mandate of the Supreme Authority
with reference to international associations of the faithful recognised or erected by the Apostolic See and subject to the direct supervision of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, as follows.
Art. 1. – The terms of office in the central governing body at international level can have a maximum duration of five years each.
Art. 2 § 1. – The same person can hold positions in the central governing body at international level for a maximum period consecutive period of ten years.
Art. 2 § 2. – After the maximum period of ten years, re-election is possible only after a vacancy for one term.
Art. 2 § 3. – The provision set out in article 2 § 2 does not apply to the person who is elected moderator, this person being able to exercise this function independently of time already spent in other positions within the central governing body at international level.
Art. 2 § 4. – Anyone who has exercised the function of moderator for a maximum period of ten years cannot access this position again. This person can, however, hold other positions in the central governing body at international level after a vacancy of two terms relative to this other position.
Art. 3. – All pleno iure members are to have active voice, direct or indirect, in the constitution of the bodies that elect the central governing body at international level.
Art. 4 § 1. - Associations in which, at the time of coming into force of this Decree, positions in the central governing body at international level are conferred on members who have exceeded the limits referred to in articles 1 and 2, must provide for new elections no later than twenty-four months from the coming into force of this Decree.
Art. 4 § 2. - Associations in which, at the time of coming into force of this Decree, positions in the central governing body at international level are conferred on members who will exceed the limits referred to in articles 1 and 2 during the period of their current term, must provide for new elections no later than twenty-four months from reaching the maximum limit imposed by this Decree.
Art. 5. – Founders can be dispensed from the norms referred to in articles 1, 2 and 4 by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.
Art. 6. – These provisions do not apply to positions in government tied to the application of the norms of clerical associations, institutes of consecrated life or societies of apostolic life.
Art. 7. – This Decree also applies, with the exception of the norm referred to in article 3, to bodies not recognised or erected as international associations of the faithful to which juridical personality has been granted and which are subject to the direct supervision of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.
Art. 8. – From the coming into force of this Decree and until the approval of any statutory changes by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, these provisions abrogate any norms in the statutes of the associations that might be contrary to them.
Art. 9. – This Decree, promulgated through publication in the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, comes into force three months from the date of its publication. The Decree will also be published in the official commentary Acta Apostolicae Sedis.
The Supreme Pontiff Francis, in the Audience granted on June 2nd 2021 to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, has approved this General Decree in forma specifica, having force of law, and the Explanatory Note that accompanies it.
Done in Rome, in the offices of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, June 3rd 2021, Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
Card. Kevin Farrell
P. Alexandre Awi Mello, I.Sch.
1. The General Decree “The Associations of the Faithful” disciplines the internal government of the international associations of the faithful, private and public, and of the other bodies with juridical personality subject to the direct supervision of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. The decree is to be read in the context of the mission entrusted to the Dicastery and with reference to Magisterium concerning the associations of the faithful and the ecclesial movements.
2. In the context of its own competence, the Dicastery has the task of accompanying the life and the development of associations of the faithful and lay movements (cf. Statutes, art. 7). The Dicastery’s activity is animated by the desire to promote growth in the ecclesial entities entrusted to it, and to help Bishops to adequately fulfil their own role in guiding and accompanying these entities.
3. Following on from Vatican Council II, which recognised the lay apostolate as an expression of the vocation and missionary responsibility of the lay faithful (cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 1, 18-19), Saint John Paul II saw the essence of the Church itself realised in the associations of the faithful: “make the mystery of Christ and his saving work present in the world (Message for the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, May 27th 1998). With prophetic intuition, addressing the ecclesial movements during the Pentecost Vigil in 1998, he set them a new challenge: “Today a new stage is unfolding before you: that of ecclesial maturity. This does not mean that all problems have been solved. Rather, it is a challenge. A road to take. The Church expects from you the ‘mature’ fruits of communion and commitment” (Meeting with Ecclesial Movements and New Communities for the Vigil of Pentecost, May 30th 1998).
4. Benedict XVI explored the implications of this new phase of ecclesial maturity pointing, as a path for adequately understanding the associations of the faithful in the light of God’s plan and the mission of the Church, to a more mature communion of all parts of the Church “so that all the charisms, with respect for their specificity, may freely and fully contribute to the edification of the one Body of Christ” (Address to Bishops participating in a Seminar organised by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, May 17th 2008). He also invited the ecclesial movements to submit with prompt obedience and adherence to the discernment of the ecclesiastical authorities, indicating this availability as the guarantee of the authenticity of their charisms and the evangelical goodness of their actions (cf. Message for the Second World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, May 22nd 2006).
5. Pope Francis, in line with his predecessors, suggests understanding the demands that the path of ecclesial maturity makes upon the associations of the faithful in a perspective of missionary conversion (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 29-30). He indicates as priorities respecting personal freedom; overcoming self-referentiality, unilateralism and absolutisation; promoting a broader synodality, and the precious gift of communion. Indeed “real communion cannot exist in Movements or in New Communities unless these are integrated within the greater communion of our Holy Mother, the hierarchical Church” (Address to the Third World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, November 22nd 2014).
With reference to ecclesial maturity, Pope Francis exhorts: “Do not forget, however, that to reach this goal, conversion must be missionary: the strength to overcome temptations and insufficiencies comes from the profound joy of proclaiming the Gospel, which is the foundation of your charisms” (Address to the Third World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, November 22nd 2014). This is the interpretative key that allows us to understand the ecclesial meaning of this Decree, aiming, as it does, to overcome ‘temptations and insufficiencies’ encountered in how government is exercised within associations of the faithful.
6. In its service of accompanying the more than one hundred international associations and other entities over which it exercises direct supervision, the Dicastery has been able to observe a broad variety of methods in carrying out the responsibilities of government. This experience has led to study and discernment on good government within these associations.
7. Within associations of the faithful, authority is attributed by the free will of the members as set out in the statutes, and is exercised as a service for the good government of the association, with reference to specific purposes, in the fulfilment of an ecclesial mission. Indeed, the charisms that are at the origins of many associative entities have been given by the Holy Spirit for the benefit not only of those who receive them but of all the People of God (cf. Iuvenescit Ecclesia, 5-7). Consequently, the backdrop against which all dimensions of the life of these associations is to be understood remains the Church itself, and not the more limited sphere of the international association or, even less so, of its local groups. Therefore, government in an association of the faithful is also to be understood in a perspective of ecclesial communion, and is to be exercised according to the norms of universal law and the association’s own norms, under the supervision of ecclesiastical authority (cf. cc. 305, 315, 323 Code of Canon Law; Lumen gentium, 12 b; Iuvenescit Ecclesia, 8).
8. In the context of its role of supervision, the Dicastery – after an attentive study of Magisterium and of the law of the Church, and after prudent inter-dicasterial consultation – has identified several reasonable criteria concerning two necessary aspects of good government: regulating the terms of office in governing bodies at international level, and the representativeness of these bodies. The General Decree promulgated today – which has been approved in forma specifica by the Supreme Pontiff – disciplines the length and number of these terms of office and, for the associations, the participation of its members in the constitution of its central governing bodies.
9. Not infrequently, for those called to govern, the absence of limits in terms of office favours forms of appropriation of the charism, personalisation, centralisation and expressions of self-referentiality which can easily cause serious violations of personal dignity and freedom, and even real abuses. Furthermore, bad government inevitably creates conflicts and tensions which injure communion and weaken missionary dynamism.
10. Equally, experience has shown that a change in generations inside governing bodies through a rotation of responsibilities benefits the vitality of the association. It provides an opportunity for creative growth and stimulates investment in training. It reinvigorates faithfulness to the charism, breathes new life and efficacy to the interpretation of the signs of the times, and encourages new and updated paths of missionary action.
11. The decree abrogates any norm contrary to it, contained in the statutes of the associations and entities concerned.
12. With regard to representativeness, the decree provides that pleno iure members of an association are to participate, at least indirectly, in the process of electing the central governing body at international level (art. 3).
13. With regard to the renewal of positions in government, the decree limits to five years the maximum length of each term of office in the central governing body at international level (art. 1), to a maximum of ten consecutive years the exercise of all positions in this body (art. 2 § 1), with the possibility of re-election only after a vacancy of one term (art. 2§ 2), except for the case of the moderator, whose functions can be exercised independently of the time already spent in other positions within the central governing body (art. 2 § 3). The position of moderator can be held for a maximum of ten years in total, after which it is not possible to access this position again (art. 2 § 4).
14. Acknowledging the key role played by founders in many international associations or entities, in approving statutes, the Dicastery has often granted stability to the positions in government exercised by these founders. In doing so, the Dicastery has sought to allow sufficient time to ensure that the charism received by them might be appropriately received in the Church and be faithfully assimilated by members. By virtue of this decree, the Dicastery reserves the power to dispense founders from the limits set out in it (art. 5), if it considers this opportune for the development and stability of the association or entity, and if a dispensation corresponds to the clear will of the central governing body.
15. The Dicastery is confident that this decree will be received in the appropriate spirit of filial obedience and ecclesial communion that so many international associations of the faithful and international entities demonstrate in exemplary fashion, and that the pastoral motivation for this decree will be fully understood, born as it is from the desire of Mother-Church to help its children progress towards full ecclesial maturity. The Dicastery gives thanks to the Lord for the precious gift of these international entities, committed to announcing the Risen Christ and to transforming the world according to the Gospel.