On the service of charity

“The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her threefold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God, celebrating the sacraments and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable” (Deus Caritas Est, 25).

The service of charity is also a constitutive element of the Church’s mission and an indispensable expression of her very being (ibid.); all the faithful have the right and duty to devote themselves personally to living the new commandment that Christ left us (Jn 15:12), and to offering our contemporaries not only material assistance, but also refreshment and care for their souls (Deus Caritas Est, 28). The Church is also called as a whole to the exercise of the diakonia of charity, whether in the small communities of particular Churches or on the level of the universal Church.

With regard to this diakonia of charity, in my Encyclical Deus Caritas Est I pointed out that “in conformity with the episcopal structure of the Church, the Bishops, as successors of the Apostles, are charged with primary responsibility for carrying out in the particular Churches” the service of charity (32).

Nevertheless, to the extent that such activities are promoted by the Hierarchy itself, or are explicitly supported by the authority of the Church’s Pastors, there is a need to ensure that they are managed in conformity with the demands of the Church’s teaching and the intentions of the faithful, and that they likewise respect the legitimate norms laid down by civil authorities. … While it was necessary to lay down norms in this regard, there was also a need to consider the requirements of justice and the responsibility of Bishops before the faithful, with respect for the legitimate autonomy of each institution.

Consequently, upon the proposal of the Cardinal President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, and after consultation with the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, I establish and decree the following:

§ 3. In addition to observing the canonical legislation, the collective charitable initiatives to which this Motu Proprio refers are required to follow Catholic principles in their activity and they may not accept commitments which could in any way affect the observance of those principles.

Art. 4. § 1. The diocesan Bishop (cf. canon 134, § 3 CIC and canon 987 CCEO) exercises his proper pastoral solicitude for the service of charity in the particular Church entrusted to him as its Pastor, guide and the one primarily responsible for that service.

§ 3. It is the responsibility of the diocesan Bishop to ensure that in the activities and management of these agencies the norms of the Church’s universal and particular law are respected, as well as the intentions of the faithful who made donations or bequests for these specific purposes (cf. canons 1300 CIC and 1044 CCEO).

Art. 7, § 1. The agencies referred to in Article 1, § 1 are required to select their personnel from among persons who share, or at least respect, the Catholic identity of these works.

§ 3. It is the duty of the diocesan Bishop and the respective parish priests to see that in this area the faithful are not led into error or misunderstanding; hence they are to prevent publicity being given through parish or diocesan structures to initiatives which, while presenting themselves as charitable, propose choices or methods at odds with the Church’s teaching.

§ 3. In particular, the diocesan Bishop is to ensure that charitable agencies dependent upon him do not receive financial support from groups or institutions that pursue ends contrary to Church’s teaching. Similarly, lest scandal be given to the faithful, the diocesan Bishop is to ensure that these charitable agencies do not accept contributions for initiatives whose ends, or the means used to pursue them, are not in conformity with the Church’s teaching.

Art. 11. The diocesan Bishop is obliged, if necessary, to make known to the faithful the fact that the activity of a particular charitable agency is no longer being carried out in conformity with the Church’s teaching, and then to prohibit that agency from using the name “Catholic” and to take the necessary measures should personal responsibilities emerge.

I order that everything I have laid down in this Apostolic Letter issued Motu Proprio be fully observed, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, even if worthy of particular mention, and I decree that it be promulgated by publication in the daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano and enter into force on 10 December 2012.

Apostolic Letter of Pope Benedict XVI, issued “Motu Proprio:” On the service of charity, given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 11 November 2012. Reprinted with permission from Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

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