The CDF Letter “Iuvenescit Ecclesia” released today

Today, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has released Iuvenescit Ecclesia, a letter dealing with the relationship between the hierarchy and charismatic groups within the Church. The document is available in English, but, even though it has a Latin incipit, has not been released in Latin (in keeping with the recent practice of the Curia). However, the prepared remarks from the press conference presenting the document, including the remarks of Cardinal Müller and Cardinal Ouellet, are available only in Italian. Edward Pentin, at the National Catholic Register, has released a summary of the document.

We are a little bit in the dark, and some of the commentaries have not elucidated the issue: was there some concrete situation that led to this guidance? Have the bishops of the world been seeking guidance from the Holy Office on these matters for some time? While the theological questions are interesting and the letter’s resolution of them no less interesting, one doubts very strongly that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does anything needlessly. Thus, one wonders why it did this. If someone “in the know” wants to shoot us an e-mail explaining this (assuming anyone “in the know” reads Semiduplex, which is perhaps a big assumption), we would, of course, be thrilled to pass it along to our readers—anonymity guaranteed, of course.

It is interesting to note, if briefly, how quickly the Congregation bypasses Pius XII’s discussion of charismatic groups in Mystici Corporis in favor of the Vatican II teaching, contained in Lumen Gentium. Of course, given that this letter has a practical bent to it, intended, as it is, to address concrete issues in the Church today, one cannot expect a conspectus of the whole magisterium on these issues. But it would be nice, we think, if something that, to be fair, happened essentially the day before yesterday in the life of the Church got more than a mere mention. It is indicative of a forgetting that has happened and continues to happen since 1965, despite the best efforts of popes like John Paul and Benedict and prelates like Cardinal Müller.

Furthermore, while the document contains an at-times-dense exploration of the theological relationship between the hierarchy and charismatic groups, it also contains a list of criteria “to help the recognition of the authentically ecclesial nature of the charisms.” As we said, there is a concrete trajectory to the letter. Three such criteria are particularly interesting:

d) Witness to a real communion with the whole Church. This requires a “filial relationship to the Pope, in total adherence to the belief that he is the perpetual and visible center of unity of the universal Church, and with the local bishop, ‘the visible principle and foundation of unity’ in the particular Church”. This implies a “loyal readiness to embrace the[ir] doctrinal teachings and pastoral initiatives”, as well as “a readiness to participate in programs and Church activities at the local, national and international levels; a commitment to catechesis and a capacity for teaching and forming Christians”.

e) Recognition of and esteem for the reciprocal complementarity of other charismatic elements in the Church. From this arises a readiness for reciprocal cooperation. Truly: “A sure sign of the authenticity of a charism is its ecclesial character, its ability to be integrated harmoniously into the life of God’s holy and faithful people for the good of all. Something truly new brought about by the Spirit need not overshadow other gifts and spiritualities in making itself felt”.

f) Acceptance of moments of trial in the discernment of charisms. Because a charismatic gift may imply “a certain element of genuine originality and of special initiative for the spiritual life of the Church” and in its surrounding “may appear troublesome”, it follows that one criteria of authenticity manifests itself as “humility in bearing with adversities”, such that: “The true relation between genuine charism, with its perspectives of newness, and interior suffering, carries with it an unvarying history of the connection between charism and cross”. Any tensions that may arise are a call to the practice of greater charity in view of the more profound ecclesial communion and unity that exists.

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.)

We remember, perhaps unnecessarily, the debate over the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate who were, once upon a time, a hot-button issue among traditionally minded Catholics. (The intense focus on the FFI has, we think, subsided a little bit, both because of intervening events and because the Holy Father has made his dealings with the Society of St. Pius X no secret.) However, one of the arguments in support of the authoritarian intervention by the Congregation for Religious was that the FFI did not include devotion to the Forma Extraordinaria in its founding charism. As its founder, Fr. Manelli, began promoting the Forma Extraordinaria with the society, tensions arose. The rest is well known.

And with that experience in mind, it seems to us that these criteria could well be claimed by bishops who do not want to grant recognition to new groups claiming the traditional Latin Mass as part of their charism. The commitment to the local bishop’s pastoral initiatives and participation in his programs could well be a major problem when a group with a traditional charism runs into a progressive bishop. And the group has to accept the difficulties created by that encounter, since genuine charisms require patience in times of trial. (Likewise, a group with a progressive-but-still-orthodox charism could run into the mirror image of the problem if they wanted to establish themselves in a diocese with a more conservative bishop.)

Father Matthew Schneider, L.C., observes that Iuvenescit Ecclesia is aimed more at new movements and groups of the laity rather than religious, and, therefore, perhaps some of the concerns arising from the experience of the FFI are inapplicable to this situation. (Mutuae relationes would govern, one imagines, issues with the religious.) However, it is worth noting that the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, to take an example at random, is not an Institute of Consecrated Life or Society of Apostolic Life, cf. Iuvenescit Ecclesia no. 2, but instead a Public Association of the Christian Faithful (cf. can. 298 § 1). Indeed, Iuvenescit Ecclesia specifically states, in footnote 116,

The most simple juridical form for the recognition of ecclesial entities of a charismatic nature at the present time appears to be that of a private association of the Christian faithful (cf. CIC, canons 321-326; CCEO, canons 573, §2-583). Nonetheless, it is worthwhile considering the other juridical forms with their proper specific characteristics, for example public associations of the Christian faithful (cf. CIC, canons 573-730; CCEO, canons 573, §1-583), clerical associations of the Christian faithful (cf. CIC, canon 302), Institutes of Consecrated Life (cf. CIC, canons 573-730; CCEO, canons 410-571), Societies of Apostolic Life (cf. CIC, canons 731-746; CCEO, canon 572) and Personal Prelatures (cf. CIC, canons 294-297).

(Emphasis supplied.) Thus, it seems to us, given the experience of some groups, to say nothing of the explicit text of the letter, pace Fr. Schneider, that Iuvenescit Ecclesia is not specifically aimed at the laity. In other words, traditionalist groups, even clerical groups, ought to weigh carefully Iuvenescit Ecclesia moving forward.

Or be prepared to respond to criticism founded on Iuvenescit Ecclesia.