Pope restricts autonomy of Assisi Franciscans

Pope Benedict XVI has sought to curb the independence of the Franciscans in the town of Assisi, issuing a formal order giving jurisdiction over activities at the two Franciscan basilicas to the local bishop.

CLICK HERECatholic News Service reports that his apostolic letter containing new norms for the basilicas of St. Francis and St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi was published on Saturday at the Vatican.

In his brief letter, Pope Benedict said the popes always have had "unique bonds and special concern" for the Basilica of St. Francis, where the saint is buried, and the Basilica of St. Mary, which is built around the small chapel where St. Francis founded his order.

The Basilica of St. Francis is run by the Conventual Franciscans, while the Basilica of St. Mary is run by the Order of the Friars Minor.

The pope said members of both groups have "kept alive the spirit and charism of St. Francis, spreading throughout the world his Gospel message of peace, fraternity and goodness."

"Considering the need for a more effective agreement between the activities" taking place at the basilicas and the pastoral work of the Assisi Diocese, the pope said it seemed appropriate to modify the rules established in the 1960s granting almost full autonomy to the religious communities staffing the basilicas.

Pope Benedict said that eventually he would name a new cardinal delegate for the basilicas to succeed retired Cardinal Lorenzo Antonetti.

While the delegate exercises no jurisdiction over the basilicas, he is charged with using "his moral authority" to perpetuate the close bonds of communion between the basilicas and the Vatican, the pope said.

The bishop of Assisi, he said, "from this moment on, will have the jurisdiction foreseen by (canon) law over churches and religious houses regarding all pastoral activities undertaken by the Conventual fathers in the Basilica of St. Francis and by the Friars Minor of St. Mary of the Angels."

The Franciscans, the pope said, "must, therefore, ask and obtain the consent" of Archbishop Sorrentino for all pastoral activities and must consult with the Umbria regional bishops' conference for initiatives with a regional impact and with the Italian bishops' conference for those having "a wider range."

Recently retired Assisi Bishop Sergio Goretti told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that while a diocese was to be a family gathered around a bishop, "in Assisi it was absurd that there existed autonomous enclaves over which the bishop had no power at all."

"Often I would learn about their initiatives from the newspapers, and my people did not always understand" the projects undertaken by the Franciscans, Bishop Goretti said.

Local bishops generally have authority over the pastoral activities carried out by religious in their dioceses. However, some of the larger shrines in Italy have enjoyed autonomy.

Pope gives jurisdiction of Assisi basilicas to local bishop (Catholic News Service 21/11/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)

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22 Nov 2005