Pope cracks down on new Catholic religious startups

Pope cracks down on new Catholic religious startups

ROME (AP) – Pope Francis has taken another step to rule in new religious groups in the Catholic Church after their unregulated proliferation in recent decades led to abuses in governance that allowed spiritual and sexual misconduct to flourish remained uncontrolled.

Francis released a new decree on Wednesday that requires prior Vatican approval for the establishment of new associations of the faithful, which is often the first step in founding a new apostolic society or institute of consecrated life.

The decree follows a similar decree in 2020 that required prior Vatican approval for religious orders at the diocesan level, suggesting the Vatican is now going even further to better regulate the origins of these new forms of religious life and to make the decisions about it from the hands of the local bishops.

Francis has taken a series of disciplinary and regulatory actions in recent years after some founders and leaders of religious orders and new lay institutes were found to be religious imposters who had sexually and spiritually abused their members.

Some groups were suppressed, others were taken over by the Vatican for periods of reform, while all came under greater Vatican oversight.

In 2021, the Vatican also imposed term limits on the leaders of lay movements, which proliferated after Vatican II in the 1960s as a new way for ordinary Catholics to engage in church activities beyond typical congregational life. The Vatican said the term limits were necessary to prevent personality cults from developing around charismatic leaders.

One lay group targeted by the new reform was Communion and Liberation, an influential group in Italy that has a consecrated branch with some members helping run the household of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Last year’s term limits forced the Spanish head of Communion and Liberation, Rev. Julian Carron, who had been in charge since 2005.

Just this week, the head of the Vatican’s lay office, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, wrote to Carron’s successor, complaining that Carron and his supporters were still lobbying against Vatican reforms. According to a copy of the letter, Farrell criticized what he said was the “wrong doctrine” Carron was propagating and claimed the group’s unique spirit passed from the founder to leaders like him.

Farrell said the new leadership of Communion and Liberation must accept the Vatican line and “recognize the problems and review the doctrines, practices, methods of government and internal organization that have proved inadequate or even harmful.”