On May 20, the Holy See released a rescript ex audientia regarding canon 579, which reads in relevant part:
Pertanto, seguendo il parere del Pontificio Consiglio per i Testi legislativi, Il Santo Padre Francesco nell’Udienza concessa al sottoscritto Segretario di Stato il 4 aprile 2016, ha stabilito che la previa consultazione della Santa Sede sia da intendersi come necessaria ad validitatem per l’erezione di un Istituto diocesano di vita consacrata, pena la nullità del decreto di erezione dell’Istituto stesso.Therefore, following the opinion of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the Holy Father Francis in the Audience granted to the undersigned Secretary of State, on April 4, 2016, has established that the prior consultation of the Holy See shall be understood as necessary ad validitatem [for the very validity] for the erection of a Diocesan Institute of Consecrated Life, under pain of nullity of the Decree of Erection of the Institute itself.
(Emphasis supplied.) (Translation by Rorate Caeli.) In case you’ve forgotten what canon 579 says,
Diocesan bishops, each in his own territory, can erect institutes of consecrated life by formal decree, provided that the Apostolic See has been consulted.
(Emphasis supplied.) Rorate makes some comments along with its translation of the rescript, including this point:
If this had been the case in the past, many of the Traditional Catholic institutes and congregations first established as Diocesan foundations might never have seen the light of day… It is the centralization (and bureaucratization) of a very important part of Diocesan Life, a grievous wound on the autonomy of Particular Churches in ascertaining the needs of their own spiritual lives.
The Vatican affirmed that it is not a “permission”, but a mere “consultation” (as the mentioned Canon asks for, but which was pro forma and not at all considered a condition for the very validity of the erection)… This may convince the gullible, but any individual who has ever had contact with a stifling bureaucratic apparatus knows that the intent here is to promote centralization in an area that has always been under the great autonomy of each individual Ordinary, who has himself “divinely conferred authority”.
(Emphasis supplied.) Fr. John Zuhlsdorf offers some comments along the same lines.
For our part, we have two comments. First of all, it seems to us that the interpretation of canon 579 implemented in the rescript is objectively pretty reasonable. A diocesan bishop can erect by decree an institute of consecrated life—provided that he consults with the Holy See. Second, this is plainly an attempt by the Congregation for Religious to seize power from the dioceses with the obvious intent of keeping a lid on conservative dioceses. A liberal bishop needn’t erect an institute of consecrated life to establish a liberal enclave in his diocese; he can simply invite any number of existing institutes to his diocese. Conservative bishops on the other hand are more likely to need to establish diocesan institutes. And it is beyond dispute that conservative bishops haven’t had tremendous success setting up traditionalist groups in their dioceses; consider, for example, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, set up with tremendous foresight by Francis Cardinal George in 1999.
What we would be more interested to know—and we might make some discreet inquiries to find out some day—is what put the burr under Cardinal Braz de Aviz’s saddle about this. The rescript makes it clear that the impetus for this clarification came from the Congregation for Religious, and it seems quite unlikely that there isn’t a specific reason that the Congregation wants this.