The Vatican on Friday began to impose term limits on its secular leaders and demand internal elections, the Associated Press reported.
Vatican leaders hoped the move would curb scandals such as recent reports of several cases of founders of secular movements allegedly sexually abusing their members and cases of founders refusing to relinquish control over their communities.
An essay published in the Vatican newspaper on Friday, L’Osservatore Romano, said the application of term limits and other governance measures would prevent “an arbitrary, if not abusive,” use of power used by church authorities.
For more Associated Press reporting, see below.
The Vatican’s office of the laity has cracked down on the largely unregulated world of international associations of the faithful after some cases of abuse of authority and poor governance were reported.
Canonical jurists and theologians have said the crackdown was perhaps a sign that other secular movements, which have flourished over the past half century but have been largely left to fend for themselves, might be similarly targeted. way. This follows the recent Vatican decision to rewrite its sexual abuse laws to also punish lay Catholics in positions of authority in the church who commit abuse, rather than focusing exclusively on clerics.
The Vatican’s lay office oversees some 109 international lay associations, including the Neocatechumenal Path, Communion and Liberation, the Focolare Movement and the Sant’Egidio Community.
In the decree released Friday and an explanatory note approved by Pope Francis, the office said rules of governance were needed to discourage personality cults from developing around the founders of these groups. The objective is also to reduce conflicts between members and to encourage the renewal of generations within the communities.
The decree imposes a five-year term renewable once in leadership positions and requires all members to have a direct or indirect vote in community elections.
The laity’s office said the standards were necessary because the lack of term limits had fostered “personalization, centralization and expressions of self-reference which can easily cause serious violations of personal dignity and freedom and even real abuse “.
Massimo Faggioli, theologian and author of “The Rising Laity” and “A Brief History of New Catholic Movements,” said the Jesuit Pope knows well that members of small religious communities can be manipulated by charismatic leaders.
“It’s very big,” Faggioli said of the new regulation. While the decree only applies to groups that report to the Vatican’s lay office, “it sends a message to everyone,” he said.
Faggioli noted that under the papacy of Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, secular religious movements were often seen as the future of the Catholic Church and were largely on their own as long as they remained Orthodox and faithful. to the Holy See.
But he said recent years have shown that such communities can foster an unhealthy culture and “power dynamic” surrounding their charismatic founders, with little recourse for members who might be injured.
Reverend Ulrich Rhode, dean of the canon law department at Pontifical Gregorian University, said the new standards deal with the “perhaps excessive” freedom that secular religious movements have enjoyed to date. Romano said he hoped they would serve as a model for other lay associations that fall under other Vatican departments.
Bishops and even the Pope have intervened on a case-by-case basis in individual communities, sometimes prompting complaints of unfair or ideologically motivated repression.