► What does Pope Francis’ decree contain?
A motu proprio (a kind of papal decree) published on Tuesday August 8 reforms the part of canon law governing the status of personal prelatures, an ecclesial institution inherited from the Second Vatican Council composed of priests and lay people whose objective is to meet a specific pastoral need. and for which some flexibility is granted. In this short text, Pope Francis initiates three main changes.
First of all, the status of the prelate at the head of the institution. In the continuity of the apostolic constitution Predicate Evangelium, the pope affirms that from now on, personal prelatures are “equated with public clerical associations of pontifical right (like the community of Saint-Martin for example, editor’s note) with the faculty of incardinating clerics”, indicates the decree. The prelate at its head is now designated as a “moderator”.
Moreover, the motu proprio puts on paper for the first time the primacy of the link of the laity towards the territories, before the personal prelature. “In this text, the pope insists on the fact that the nature of the bond of the faithful with their parish and their parish priest remains unchanged when the faithful is a member of a personal prelature, analyzes Father Patrick Valdrini, former president of the international society of canon law and comparative religious legislation. It is therefore an insistence on an element of the status of lay people who belong to a personal prelature that deserves to be recalled. »
► What does this change for Opus Dei?
Opus Dei is the only personal prelature to have been erected under this status in 1982 by Pope John Paul II. The institution, which has 90,000 members and promotes holiness through work, leisure and family, thus sees its statutes modified for the second time by the pope in a year. In July 2022, Francis had in the motu proprio Ad charisma tuendum placed Opus Dei under the responsibility of the dicastery for the clergy and no longer that for the bishops. He had established that the prelate of Opus Dei would no longer be ordained a bishop in this capacity, as was the case previously.
The current papal decree does not directly mention the institution, although it does touch on the statutes of its legal structure. “For a year, Opus Dei has already begun work to revise its statutes to comply with the directives that the pope had sent to them in 2022, notes Father Patrick Valdrini. The new text will not essentially change the work of the institute. But in a way, she sees her position in the Church defined in another way. »
The text aroused several strong reactions after the new Vatican measure. For its part, the institution reacted two days later by calling on its members to unity and obedience. “I write these words to share with you that we accept with sincere filial obedience these provisions of the Holy Father, and to ask you that we all remain very united on this point as well,” Archbishop Fernando Ocáriz said in a statement. prelate of Opus Dei.
► What consequences beyond Opus Dei?
While most commentators have noted the repercussions of this new decree on Opus Dei, others see it as a clarification in view of the possible erection of new structures of this type. “There is another possible reading,” said another canonist at La Croix. The pope may want the status of a personal prelature to be clearer as the creation of new such institutions is being considered. »
For this same specialist, “with the Opus Dei, we had the impression of a tailor-made suit”. “It is doubtful that the pope’s intention is to touch the institute,” he continues. In essence, Francis could give the Church a reformed instrument that he could use to create institutions with specific missions and goals. »