With a new motu proprio published on Tuesday, Pope Francis has modified canon law for both the Latin Church and the Eastern Churches, changing the areas of competence for various bodies within the universal Church. Specifically, with the Apostolic Letter Assegnare alcune competenze (“Assigning certain competencies,” taken from the opening words, or incipit” of the document), Pope Francis transfers certain responsibilities from the Vatican to local bishops.
The new norms deal with different areas of Church life, in each case specifying the authorities competent to make decisions with regard to those issues. “The intention,” of the changes, writes Pope Francis at the beginning of his Letter, “is above all to foster a sense of collegiality and pastoral responsibility on the part of Bishops […] as well as Major Superiors, and also to support the principles of rationality, effectiveness, and efficiency.”
The Pope explains that “assigning certain competencies” – that is, giving direct decision-making authority – “to the executive power of the local Churches and ecclesial institutions corresponds to the ecclesial dynamic of communion and enhances proximity.” He notes that “a healthy decentralization cannot but favour this dynamic, yet without jeopardizing the hierarchical dimension” of the Church.
Pope Francis explains that the changes “reflect the shared and pluralistic universality of the Church,” which allows for differences without attempting to make everything uniform. At the same time, “the ministry of the Bishop of Rome,” guarantees unity in the midst of diversity. The modifications to canon law are also aimed at helping local church authorities respond to pastoral issues more rapidly and effectively, precisely through their closeness to the people and circumstances involved.
Among the specific areas touched upon by the changes are the erection of inter-diocesan seminaries, the plan of priestly formation produced by episcopal conferences, the order of consecrated virgins, the dismissal of professed religious from their communities, the publication of regional catechisms, and the reduction of the obligation of Masses attached to legacies or donations.