Pope Benedict’s new decree on Catholic charities covers adoption agencies and CAFOD

Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio on Catholic charities and the role of episcopal oversight establishes new decrees that apply to adoption agencies associated with the Catholic church and the Bishops Conference international development agency CAFOD.

What’s important about this Motu Proprio is that it closes off a loop hole in Canon Law that has meant that some Catholic charities act as if they’re independent of their local bishop.  The Holy Father’s new decrees establishes for the first time that the bishop has the duty and authority to oversee Catholic charities alongside his role as teacher of the faith and authority about the celebration of sacraments:

During the crisis over Tony Blair’s Equality legisalation forcing Catholic adoption agencies to accept homosexual persons as adoptive parents the lack of canon law on the authority of bishops over Catholic charities in their dioceses was an acute problem.

In the Diocese of Lancaster Bishop O’Donoghue insisted that the diocese’s social care charity, Catholic Caring Services obey the Church’s teaching on the immorality of allowing homosexual persons to adopt children. He was told in no uncertain terms that his was only one voice among members of the charity’s board, and that he had only one vote among the votes of other members of the board.

Bishop O’Donoghue appealed to Catholic Caring Services’ board that they had a duty to fight government legislation, personally writing to each member. Catholic Caring Services’ board, including some priest members, voted against Bishop O’Donoghue directive that they defend Church teaching, accepting to abide by the Equalities legislation and continue receiving government funds.

As a consequence, Bishop O’Donoghue demanded that they remove the title ‘Catholic’ from their name and gave the instruction that no parishes or schools in the diocese could give donations to the new Caritas Care.

If only Pope Benedict’s Motu Proprio had been issued earlier this sorry story of betrayal and disobedience could possibly have been avoided.

Here are the key parts of De Caritate Ministranda that apply to all charities that have Catholic trust deeds and still receive funding and support from Catholic dioceses, even if they’ve changed their names to drop the word ‘Catholic’.

Nevertheless, to the extent that such activities are promoted by the Hierarchy itself, or are explicitly supported by the authority of the Church’s Pastors, there is a need to ensure that they are managed in conformity with the demands of the Church’s teaching and the intentions of the faithful, and that they likewise respect the legitimate norms laid down by civil authorities.

[Protect the Pope comment: Notice that the Holy Father uses the phrase 'the legitimate norms laid down by civil authorities'. The coercion of Catholic charities to go against Church teaching and informed conscience over gay adoption was not a legitimate norm]

Art 1#3

In addition to observing the canonical legislation, the collective charitable initiatives to which this Motu Proprio refers are required to follow Catholic principles in their activity and they may not accept commitments which could in any way affect the observance of those principles.

[Protect the Pope comment: This would mean that Catholic development charities could not accept commitments to provide condoms or fund healthcare programs that promoted the use of condoms]

Art. 4. § 1. The diocesan Bishop (cf. canon 134 § 3 CIC and canon 987 CCEO) exercises his proper pastoral solicitude for the service of charity in the particular Church entrusted to him as its Pastor, guide and the one primarily responsible for that service.

§ 3. It is the responsibility of the diocesan Bishop to ensure that in the activities and management of these agencies the norms of the Church’s universal and particular law are respected, as well as the intentions of the faithful who made donations or bequests for these specific purposes (cf. canons 1300 CIC and 1044 CCEO).

[Protect the Pope comment: This appears to suggest that the bishops retain ultimate authority of charities in their dioceses even if they have dropped the name 'Catholic' but retain Catholic trust deeds and continue to receive financial and other support from the local Church.]

Art 7

§ 2. To ensure an evangelical witness in the service of charity, the diocesan Bishop is to take care that those who work in the Church’s charitable apostolate, along with due professional competence, give an example of Christian life and witness to a formation of heart which testifies to a faith working through charity. To this end, he is also to provide for their theological and pastoral formation, through specific curricula agreed upon by the officers of various agencies and through suitable aids to the spiritual life.

[Protect the Pope comment: Again, this suggests that bishops have ultimate authority over the theological formation and work of the charities under their authority. This raises the question of CAFOD's theological advisory group and its membership.]

Art. 11. – The diocesan Bishop is obliged, if necessary, to make known to the faithful the fact that the activity of a particular charitable agency is no longer being carried out in conformity with the Church’s teaching, and then to prohibit that agency from using the name “Catholic” and to take the necessary measures should personal responsibilities emerge.

[Protect the Pope comment: This confirms, for example, Bishop O'Donoghue's decision to strip Catholic Caring Services of the title 'Catholic' and instruct the Diocese of Lancaster to, sadly, no longer support the work of Caritas Care.]

13 comments to Pope Benedict’s new decree on Catholic charities covers adoption agencies and CAFOD

  • John Dare

    Does this mean that charities don’t require a board now, just the bishop running things himself?

    • Bob Hayes

      Of course not, John. But it does mean bishops have a duty, and authority, to intervene if charities violate their Catholic purpose. If you like an ecclesial equivalent of a ‘regulator’.

    • Eric

      Does this mean that charities don’t require a board now, just the bishop running things himself?

      - no, that would require a change to UK law. All that has been changed is canon law. In practice I suspect that the difference will be that the Bishops will hopefully feel more empowered to speak out in the knowledge that they will have the Church’s support. In civil law they get no more power. If they are ignored, the civil law won’t intervene but maybe canon law will were it once would not have done.

  • Bob Hayes

    This is a welcome development that will hopefully close a troubling loophole. Thanks for this update deacon Nick.

  • Fr Francis

    I find it surprising that apparently the board of the (former) Catholic Caring Services in Lancaster were not appointed by the Bishop – in the same way that the Foundation Governors of Schools are appointed and for a fixed term of office. If the Foundation Governors prove to be unsatisfactory, then they are not re-appointed.

  • George Gregory

    Significant too is the use of the word “Catholic” perhaps the Tablet should be questioned about using the phrase “International Catholic Weekly Newspaper”.

  • Karla


    Pope’s latest Motu Proprio signals an end to dissent in the Church — misguided ‘love’ will no longer be an excuse for error

  • It is really sad that the Pope now has to write a piece of legislation on things which should have been self evident.

    It says a lot about the current state of affairs in the Church.

    Little wonder that the Catholic Faith has ended up being seen as just a matter of giving and following rules. Pretty sad really.

  • As Fr. Ray points out, the Tablet belongs to a charitable trust whose object is to pass on knowledge and understand of the Catholic Faith, in that sense it is an agency.

  • Bob Hayes

    Unsurprisingly, The Tablet takes a rather different view of Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio.

    The editor writes, ‘It is also worrying that the Vatican appears to think that the main reason for engaging in work with those in need is to promote the Catholic brand image as an aid to evangelisation, rather than simply because the need exists. If you meet the need, your image takes care of itself’. So, the party line from The Tablet now identifies the Body of Christ – the Church – as no more than a ‘brand image’, and in the Year of Faith its editor explicitly seeks to undermine the New Evangelisation.

    The Motu Proprio specifically cautioned, ‘The Church’s charitable activity at all levels must avoid the risk of becoming just another form of organized social assistance (cf. ibid., 31)’ – yet that is precisely what The Tablet advocates.

    The editor also writes of, ‘the relationship of trust and co-operation [in Britain] between bishops and charitable organisations of a Catholic character’. We need to be sure that the ‘trust and co-operation’ is real and not of the illusory sort that the conman creates between himself and his victim. It is also worth noting the editor’s careful use of the phrase, ‘charitable organisations of a Catholic character’. We all need to be on guard.

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