Decreases in religious life could prompt canon law reform

Vatican City, Nov 2, 2013 / 06:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the context of a discussion on the exodus of religious and priests, the heads of the congregation for religious have said that Pope Francis is open to a reformation of the Code of Canon Law.

At a conference on “vocational perseverance” held at the Pontifical University Antonianum in Rome Oct. 29, Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, noted that in the last five years the congregation dispensed nearly 12,000 people from religious life.

Archbishop Rodríguez discussed reasons for this vocational crisis, and lamented that “the Code of Canon Law does not allow us to have longer novitiates in order to permit a better discerning.”

According to the current code, novitiates in the religious life must last from a minimum of 12 months up to a maximum of two years.

Archbishop Rodríguez told CNA, “we could need even more time for discerning.”

During the conference he had asserted that he would “hope (for) a change to the Code of Canon Law” so as to better manage vocational paths.

At that point, Cardinal Joao Bráz de Aviz, prefect of the congregation, interrupted him, saying that “this is what the Pope told us.”

Archbishop Rodríguez responded, “yes, when I was pointing this out, I was thinking about what the Pope told us.”

He later shared with CNA that “Pope Francis' words were not only about the novitiate, but they dealt with the Code of Canon Law over-all.”

In any case, the Roman Pontiff's words were merely a “declaration of principles,” since at the moment there are reportedly no studies about a possible reform of canon law.

During the conference, Archbishop Rodríguez noted that the congregation for religious dispensed from religious life 11,805 persons from 2008 to 2012 – an annual average of 2,361.

During the same period, he said, the Congregation for the Clergy dispensed 1,188 men from their priestly duties, and 130 from their diaconal duties.

“By adding this data with others, in five years, 13,123 people left the religious life.”

These data do not include the specific cases which are under the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In conclusion, Archbishop Rodríguez underscored that “a little more than 3,000 religious brothers and sisters left annually the consecrated life.”

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