The Vatican

What has changed in personal prelatures?

On August 8, 2023, Pope Francis promulgated a motu proprio modifying some norms of the 1983 Code of Canon Law concerning personal prelatures. What changes in this figure, and what is the significance of the reform?

Luis Felipe Navarro-August 8, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes
personal prelature

Photo: Pope Francis on the plane returning from WYD ©CNS photo/Lola Gomez

Following in the direction marked by the Apostolic Constitution "Praedicate Evangelium"The reform of the Roman Curia, article 117, confirms the dependence of the Roman Curia on the personal prelatures of the Dicastery for the Clergy. It should be recalled that since the law regulating the Roman Curia in 1967 (Apostolic Constitution "The Roman Curia is a Roman Curia"), the law has been in force since the beginning of the Roman Curia in 1967.Regimini Ecclesiae Universae"of St. Paul VI, Article 49, § 1) to the recent reform of the Roman Curia (19 March 2022), the prelatures depended on the Dicastery for Bishops.

The main novelties of this motu proprio are twofold: it provides that personal prelatures are assimilated, without identifying themselves, to clerical associations of pontifical right endowed with the faculty of incardination; and it recalls that the laity obtain their own pastor and their own Ordinary by means of domicile and quasi-domicile.

Let's take a general look at both aspects.

Clerical associations with power to incardinate

1. Clerical associations are regulated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law (CIC) only by canon 302. It is a very brief canon, the only survivor of a set of canons drafted during some stages of the elaboration of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. This canon reads as follows: "Those associations of the faithful which are under the direction of clerics, make the exercise of sacred orders their own and are recognized as such by the competent authority are called clerical".

This residual canon does not explain all that clerical associations are, or were intended to be. In it, a technical concept of clerical association is forged that is distinguished from clerical associations (canon 278). In the project it was thought that some of these associations would have the faculty to incardinate clerics, that among their members there would be lay faithful, and that they would often have an evangelizing function in places where the Church was not yet present. They were associations endowed with a strong missionary character that demanded the exercise of Holy Orders to carry out this mission of evangelization. For this reason, they had to have a public character in the Church (there is no room for associations that take possession of Holy Orders and are of a private nature). Taking into account the role of the ordained ministry, it was foreseen that the government would fall to priests (cfr. my Commentary to canon 302, in Martin de Azpilicueta Institute, Faculty of Canon Law, University of Navarra, Exegetical commentary to the Code of Canon Law, Vol. II/1, Pamplona, third edition, 2002, p. 443-445).

After a few years, some clerical associations felt the need to be able to incardinate some or all of their members, depending on the case, in order to ensure the stability of their charism and the operational effectiveness of their structures. In response to this need, on January 11, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI granted the Congregation for the Clergy the privilege of granting some clerical associations the faculty to incardinate members who request it. Subsequently, in the motu proprio "Competentias quasdam decernere"As of February 11, 2022, these clerical associations are included among the incardinating entities (cf. the new canon 265).

There are currently several clerical associations with the faculty to incardinate: some are very autonomous, such as the Saint Martin Community ("Communauté Saint Martin") or the Jean-Marie Vianney Society ("Société Jean-Marie Vianney"). Although they were already clerical associations before, it was only in 2008 that they received the faculty of incardination. Also among the clerical associations is the Brotherhood of Diocesan Priests (erected as a clerical association in 2008, although it had a different juridical configuration before).

There are three that are born and linked with greater or lesser intensity to a movement: the clerical association of the Emmanuel Community (2017), linked to the Emmanuel Community; the clerical association "Opera di Gesù Sommo Sacerdote" (2008), of the movement "Pro Deo et Fratribus - Familia di Maria" ("Opera di Gesù Sommo Sacerdote" Pro Deo et Fratribus - Famiglia di Maria, approved in 2002), and the Missionary Fraternity of St. Egidio, approved in 2019 (currently the Moderator is a priest: cfr. Annuario Pontificio 2023, p. 1692; previously it was a Bishop, Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia: cfr. Annuario Pontificio 2021, p. 1657). In these cases, the Moderator or Responsible is attributed the faculties of Ordinary, as this motu proprio does (articles 1 and 2).

Pastoral care for the laity

2. Another novelty of this motu proprio is that it confirms that canon 107, § 1 applies to the lay faithful linked to prelatures: "Both by domicile and quasi-domicile, each person has his own pastor and Ordinary", also to those who belong to prelatures and other hierarchical or aggregate entities (on the other hand, this provision has little relevance with respect to clerics: the fundamental juridical bond of the cleric is incardination).

 At this point, the new canon makes explicit what already existed and was applied before. The laity of the Prelature were and are also faithful of the dioceses. to which they belong because of their domicile or quasi-domicile. This is a general provision whose purpose is to guarantee that each member of the faithful has someone to whom to go to receive the sacraments and the Word of God.

Indeed, in its pastoral care of the faithful, the Church wants to ensure that each member of the faithful has his own pastor and Ordinary.

The first criterion used is very simple: the domicile, that is, the place of habitual residence. Since the organization of the Church follows fundamentally a territorial criterion, it is provided that by the habitual residence the faithful have someone to turn to: they belong to a parish or to a diocese.

Of great interest is that the Church and its law are concerned to attribute not only one Ordinary, but that a faithful can have several Ordinaries and parish priests at the same time, according to the place of residence (a less stable residence comes into play: the quasi-domicile, which is acquired with three months of residence: cfr. canon 102, § 2). It is even possible for a person to have an Ordinary or parish priest based on non-territorial criteria (a military man will have the Ordinary of the Military Ordinariate(or, if a member of a personal parish, he will have as pastor the pastor of that personal structure). But this personal Ordinary and pastor are added to the Ordinary and pastor for the territory.

In this area it is clear that the faithful enjoy great freedom. For the celebration of certain sacraments, he can choose the parish priest or the Ordinary from among the various possibilities offered by the law.

The authorLuis Felipe Navarro

Rector of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Professor of Personal Law, Consultant to the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life.

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