VATICAN CITY - Warning that Catholic charitable activity must
not become "just another form of organized social
assistance," Pope Benedict XVI issued new rules to strengthen
the religious identity of Catholic charities and ensure that
their activities conform to church teaching.
The pope's apostolic letter on the "service of charity,"
issued "motu proprio" (on his own initiative), directs
bishops in overseeing charitable works in their dioceses. The
document, dated Nov. 11, was released by the Vatican Dec. 1.
Charities approved by the church or supported by church funds
"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," the pope wrote.
The staff members of such charities must therefore "share, or
at least respect, the Catholic identity" of their agencies,
and exemplify "Christian life" and faith. Bishops are to
provide these employees with "theological and pastoral
formation" through special courses and "suitable aids to the
Catholic charities are forbidden to "receive financial
support from groups or institutions that pursue ends contrary
to the church's teaching," or to "accept contributions for
initiatives whose ends, or the means used to pursue them, are
not in conformity with the church's teaching."
To ensure that the church's charitable agencies reflect
"Christian simplicity of life," each bishop is to set their
salaries and expenses at levels "in due proportion to
analogous expenses of his diocesan curia."
When "the activity of a particular charitable agency is no
longer being carried out in conformity with the church's
teaching," Pope Benedict wrote, the responsible bishop must
inform his flock and "prohibit that agency from using the
The document is the Vatican's latest measure aimed at
reinforcing the religious identity of Catholic institutions.
In May 2012, the Vatican issued rules strengthening its
control over Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 164
Catholic relief, development and social service agencies
around the world, including Catholic Relief Services in the
In the apostolic letter, the pope praised Caritas for its
"generous and consistent witness of faith and its concrete
ability to respond to the needs of the poor."
He also instructed bishops to foster the establishment of a
"local Caritas service or a similar body" in every parish
under their authority, not to only to provide aid to the
needy but to educate the community in a "spirit of sharing
and authentic charity."
Pope Benedict specified that the Pontifical Council Cor Unum,
the Vatican office in charge of coordinating and promoting
charitable giving, would be primarily responsible for
"promoting the application of this legislation and ensuring
that it is applied at all levels."