Pope Francis decreed on Wednesday that diocesan bishops need to secure a written license from the Vatican before new religious groups could be established as "an institute of consecrated life or a society of apostolic life of diocesan right."

Pope Strengthens Vatican Oversight

The Associated Press reported that the decree was due to "the unregulated proliferation in recent decades" of religious groups in the Catholic Church that "allowed spiritual and sexual misconduct to go unchecked" due to " abuses in governance."

Meanwhile, the Catholic News Agency reported that the Pope's Rescript embodied the decree that was approved on February 7 and issued on June 15, which is effective immediately. The media outlet said the decree is the implementation of changes made by the pontiff to the Canon Law last 2020. The changes involved bishops being required to seek the Holy See's written permission before a new religious institute can be established in his diocese.

The Pope particularly amended the Code of Canon Law #579, which prescribes the means religious orders and congregations may be erected under the church's law of instituting consecrated life and societies of apostolic life. The original provisions of the law only required the diocesan bishop to consult with the Vatican before a canonical recognition would be given to the new institution.

In addition, Vatican News highlighted that the Pope's Rescript was released after having an audience with top officials of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which is in charge of processing diocesan requests and issuance of written permits for the establishment of new religious institutions.

The Rescipt, which was published in the "L'Osservatore Romano," is also the result of the ongoing synodality process Pope Francis launched late last year. The synodality process intends "to develop closer collaboration between the offices of the Holy See and diocesan bishops engaging them in 'mutual listening.'"

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Pope Francis also previously spoke about his intentions regarding the Rescript on December 11, 2021 during the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

"This change further strengthened Vatican oversight over the process," CNA said.

The canon law describes religious associations as either private or public groups of the Christian faithful who strive "in a common endeavor to foster a more perfect life, to promote public worship or Christian doctrine, or to exercise other works of the apostolate such as initiatives of evangelization, works of piety or charity, and those which animate the temporal order with a Christian spirit.

Pope Rolls Out Vatican Reforms

The decree comes as part of the reforms Pope Francis has instituted in the Catholic Church. He similarly issued a decree in 2020 that required diocesan-level religious order to secure Vatican approval before receiving canonical status.

Last year, the Pope imposed limits on the term of lay movements to prevent personality cults to surface from charismatic leaders. Pope Francis also introduced several changes in the Vatican's judicial, financial, and pastoral spheres through eight "Motu Proprios" released last year from January to November.

Pope Francis made landmark reforms two months ago by declaring that Vatican offices and departments may now be headed by women and lay Catholics. All the reforms the Pope are implementing are expected to be embodied in the upcoming apostolic constitution, "Praedicate Evangelium."

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