Considerations on the motu proprio "Ad charisma tuendum" concerning Opus Dei

Giuseppe Comotti comments on the motu proprio "Ad carisma tuendum" which modifies some aspects of the canonical norms on Opus Dei.

Giuseppe Comotti-August 29, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes
opus dei

Testo originale del articolo in inglese qui

Testo del articolo in inglese qui

A correct interpretation of the real portata of the recent motu proprio "Ad charisma tuendum"riguardante l'Opus Dei requires the use of two ermeneutic keys provided by Pope Francis himself in the document.

The first key is the express reference that is made in the motu proprio alla costituzione apostolica "Ut sit", with which St. John Paul on November 28, 1982 became the personal Prelature of the Holy Cross. It seems important to me to point out that the new motu proprio does not abrogate the apostolic constitution, but limits itself to adapting it to the new organization of the Roman Curia, which now provides in general for the competence of the Dicastery for the Clergy and no longer of the Dicastery of the Vows for all that concerns the Apostolic See regarding personal prelatures. 

For the rest, the apostolic constitution "Ut sit" rimane intatta nel suo impianto e nel suo contenuto, incisivamente riassunto da san Giovanni Paolo II stesso nel Discorso tenuto il 17 marzo 2001 ai partecipanti ad un incontro promosso dalla Prelatura dell'Opus Dei. In this speech, the Holy Father, with unmistakable expressions, not only described the Prelature as "organically structured", that is, composed "of priests and lay faithful, men and women, with the Prelate himself at the head", but also reiterated the "hierarchical nature of the Prelature".Opus DeiThe Prelature, established in the apostolic constitution with which I have erected the Prelature".

From this hierarchical nature, St. John Paul II brings up a point "for pastoral considerations rich in practical applications," underlining "that the belonging of the lay faithful both to the particular Church itself and to the Prelature, to which they are incorporated, so that the particular mission of the Prelature is part of the evangelizing commitment of each particular Church, as foreseen by the Second Vatican Council in the auspices of the figure of the personal prelatures.

This request to the Second Vatican Council is extremely significant and constitutes the second ermeneutical key of the motu proprio "Ad charisma tuendum".where the need to refer to "the teachings of the Council's ecclesiology on personal prelatures" is expressly emphasized. 

It is noted that the last Council, in providing for the possibility of establishing "special dioceses or personal prelatures or other institutions of the same kind" in order to facilitate "not only a functional distribution of priests, but also the implementation of particular pastoral initiatives in favor of different social groups, in certain regions or nations or even throughout the world" (decree Presbyterorum Ordinisn. 10), it was to be traced in the precise contours, preferring to leave room for future ecclesial dynamism and articulated discipline, "according to norms to be established for any of these institutions, and always respecting the rights of the Ordinaries of the place". 

The successive interventions of the Roman Pontiffs, in line with the prospects indicated by the Council, made these areas open: so it was with the Most Rev. Ecclesiae Sanctae of St. Paul VI (August 6, 1966) and especially with the 1983 Code of Canon Law of St. John Paul II, where a few provisions are dedicated to personal prelatures (cann. 294-297), subject to diversified implementations, according to requirements identified by the Holy See, to which only the erection of personal prelatures refers. 

It should be noted, however, that the CIC of 1983 (unlike the preceding Code, which admitted the existence of the simple onorifice title of prelate), uses the term "prelate" only to indicate subjects other than diocesan priests, but, like these, it uses the term "prelature" only to indicate subjects other than diocesan vestries, but like these, the power of ordinaries proper to areas of exercise of the power of government called "prelatures", further specified by the qualification of territorial or personal, according to the criterion respectively adopted to identify the federates to whom the power is exercised. The above mentioned, the CIC leaves for the rest space for a wide variety of configurations that could concretely receive the single prelatures in the statutes given to each one by the Supreme Authority of the Church. 

In this wide area of freedom, the CIC does not foresee the need, but does not exclude, that the Prelate be appointed to episcopal dignity, such a choice being exclusively subject to an evaluation by the Roman Pontiff, to whom alone the nomination of the bishops is entrusted in the Latin Church; the astounding compatibility of the nature of a personal prelature with the episcopal dignity of the person who is placed at the head is inversely confirmed by the decision of St. John Paul II to nominate the two previous Prelates of theOpus DeiEgli himself personally conferred episcopal ordination on them, among others. 

D'altro canto, there are ecclesiastical circumscriptions of territorial nature at the head of which there are certainly prelatied holders of governing power of a gerarchical nature, which however are not usually insignia of episcopal dignity (if we think of the apostolic prefetures in mission territory). To this it is added that - as it is noticed  – in the perspective of an exercise of governmental functions not limited to the bishops alone, the pontifical inscriptions are not reserved by canon law exclusively to the latter, but their use is foreseen for a much wider category of subjects, even if not elevated to the episcopate, such as, for example, cardinals and legates of the Roman Pontiff, priests and prelates who have jurisdiction over a territory separated from a diocese, apostolic administrators permanently constituted, apostolic vicars and apostolic prefects, and abbots of monastic congregations.

Although it is peaceful that the functions of prelate can be entrusted to a priest, this does not mean that personal prelatures always involve the exercise of the power of ecclesiastical governance, because, as foreseen in can. 295, §1, the personal prelate "has the right to erect a national or international seminary, as well as to incardinate the students and to promote them to the orders with the title of the service of the prelature".

The fact that Pope Francis has justly proposed to protect the origin".charismatic" dell'Opus Dei, "The Prelature as such has been erected with an apostolic constitution, which is the instrument of which the Roman Pontiff usually makes use for the establishment of ecclesiastical circumscriptions, which is the instrument that the Roman Pontiff usually uses for the institution of ecclesiastical circumscriptions, by means of which the exercise of the power of governance that pertains to the hierarchy is regulated and disciplined. 

Consequently, il motu proprio "Ad charisma tuendum".in respect to the conciliar magisterium, far from imposing a clear separation between the charismatic dimension and the institutional-gerarchical one of theOpus DeiIt will be read as an invitation to live with "new dynamism" (cfr St. John Paul II, Lett. Ap. Novo millennio ineunte(n. 15), the fidelity to the charism of St. Josemaría, which the Supreme Authority of the Church, by means of the apostolic constitution "Ut sit"It has resulted in the establishment of a personal prelature, that is to say, an instrument of a gerarchical nature.

Ad essa è affidato quello che papa Francesco nel motu proprio defines "pastoral commitment", to be carried out "with the guidance of the prelate" and is that of "spreading the call to holiness in the world, through the sanctification of work and of family and social commitments by means of the priests incardinated in it and with the organic cooperation of the laity who dedicate themselves to apostolic works": a commitment that, just because it is pastoral, cannot but be shared with the Pastors of the Church and, in terms of content, does not involve specific categories of subjects, but involves all the faithful, called to holiness by force of the Battesimo and not by reason of a particular life choice. 

The authorGiuseppe Comotti

Professor of Canon Law and Ecclesiastical Law

University of Verona

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