CICLSAL, Erection of a Diocesan Institute, 1993. Private.

A woman religious in perpetual profession in a pontifical institute of apostolic life disagreed with the renewal efforts in her own religious institute. She determined to establish a new foundation of her religious congregation, and made this request of her superior general. The superior general advised the sister that such a permission was beyond her competence. The sister then petitioned the diocesan bishop and wrote to the Holy Father. Her communication to the Roman Pontiff was forwarded by the Vatican Secretariat of State to CICLSAL. The sister was advised by CICLSAL in a rescript written in English of the following facts regarding a new foundation:

The matter of a new foundation remains within the competency of the diocesan bishop who wishes to assist it. There are many preliminary steps before a petition is presented to the Holy See. The new group begins under the bishop as an association of the faithful with a rule of life approved by the bishop. Only when it is well enough established in its capacity for formation of members, in government, in an apostolate in service to the local church, in financial stability, and in size (usually about 40 members), does the diocesan bishop petition the Holy See for the nihil obstat to erect the new group as a diocesan religious institute.

The communication encouraged the sister to live out her religious life infidelity to the spirit of the foundress. She was advised to fulfill her desire in her present circumstances in faith and obedience to her superior. Even if she were awaiting a reply from a bishop, there would be no reason for her to live apart from her institute, unless she had requested and received an indult of exclaustration.

The sister subsequently refused an assignment in her institute. She formed a corporation with herself as president, and purchased property on which there was a building she named a convent. A priest became involved with the sister’s foundation. For unrelated reasons, he had no assignment from the diocesan bishop, but claimed to have received faculties from Rome to celebrate the sacraments. Two sisters from the religious institute to which the sister belonged were attempting

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to “transfer” to this “new foundation.” Efforts by the diocesan bishop and the superior general to intervene in this situation proved futile. The sister declared publicly that she had verbal permission through a woman religious commissioned by Rome to begin the “foundation.”

Both the diocesan bishop and the superior general of the religious institute to which the sister belonged contacted CICLSAL to obtain some clarification of the situation. They received letters in English dated the same day from CICLSAL with basically the same information which is paraphrased below.

1. The sister’s project had no authorization from the Holy See. The procedure for a new foundation had been explained to the sister in a previous communication from CICLSAL.

2. The women religious assisting the sister had no mandate from the Holy See, and was not entrusted with commissions for other persons. She neither received permission to collect funds, nor to open a convent in the said diocese. The practice of the Holy See is to communicate in writing with diocesan bishops and general superiors in such matters.

3. The priest has not been granted faculties by the Holy See, nor has he received any assignment from the Holy See. As a priest incardinated in the diocese, he remains under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop.

4. It would be impossible for any member of the religious institute to “transfer” to the “new institute,” since there is no new institute. The two sisters anticipating a “transfer” together with the sister who initiated the project remain under the authority of the superior general of the religious institute.

5. It is essential that the sister realize that a convent, chapel, and the sacramental celebrations are all matters subject to ecclesial regulation. Sacramental celebrations carried out by a priest without faculties in the diocese are very serious matters and a grave injustice to the sincere people who come seeking prayer and reconciliation.

The communications from CICLSAL closed with a commendation that the diocesan bishop and superior general were working in close collaboration, and with a regret that the activity of the religious and priest caused confusion and scandal in the local church, however well-intentioned. The correspondence further assured the bishop and superior general of the continued communication of CICLSAL in order to bring such a difficult situation to an end.

CICLSAL, Canonical Status of a Would-be Religious Institute of Diocesan Right, RRAO (1993): 5-7.