The Study Day on “Charism and Institution in Ecclesial Movements and Communities” was held on 18th January in Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome. It was organised by the Evangelii Gaudium Centre of the Sophia University Institute in collaboration with the Italian Canonistic Association. The initiative was dedicated to the study of the theological and canonical aspects of the ecclesial movements and communities of today. The day began with a word of welcome from Maria Voce, the president of the Focolare Movement, who spoke on behalf of the movements organising the event, followed by the introduction by Card. Kevin Farrell, the president of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.
Sophia was represented by president Piero Coda, who delivered one of the morning’s lectures, dedicated to a multifaceted analysis touching upon theological aspects, the nature of the charisms, legal matters, governance and the synodality of decision-making processes. The morning’s reflection continued in the afternoon, with a moment of dialogue between representatives of the different movements on issues that remain open, and on the perspectives outlined by canonists.
The Study Day was held in continuity with a journey initiated by Popes Paul VI an John Paul II. The former, in a speech held in 1973 Second International Congress on Canon Law, invited participants “to go deeper into the work of the Spirit that must also be expressed in the Law of the Church”. Ten years later, the latter promulgated the new code of Canon Law and, seven years after that, he promulgated the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.
Over time, new charismatic groups have sought to find their place according to this body of law. They are generically called ‘movements and ecclesial communities’, an expression used to define groups that follow the tradition of the Church, albeit with new and unprecedented characteristics.
However, as the term is not recognized by the two current Codes, these ecclesial groups are legally classified among the associations of the faithful. But are the norms for these associations adapted to the complex relational dynamics that arise from the very nature of ecclesial movements and communities? And what are the canonical implications of the charismatic differences between some of these associations?
These are only some of the issues that were discussed by participants, in line with the apostolic letter Iuvenescit Ecclesia which was addressed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “In the light of the relationship between hierarchical and charismatic gifts”, the letter underlines “those theological and ecclesiological elements whose comprehension will encourage a fruitful and ordered participation of the new groups in the communion and the mission of the Church”.
“It was an interesting opportunity for a meaningful exchange between religious authorities, associations and lay faithful on the reality of new movements – said Piero Coda. “If we look at recent events, we may say that we are now entering a third historical phase, dedicated to the analysis of their institutionalisation, which follows the first phase – a reflection on their origins and dynamics within the life of the Church – and the second phase, during which the reflection focused on how to accompany them towards ecclesial maturity, as John Paul II wished for. The extensive reform of the Church that is the characteristic of Francis’s pontificate urges us to acknowledge that hierarchical and charismatic gifts are complementary and co-essential, and also to pursue the aim of announcing the Gospel through a shared journey of communion among the groups inspired by different charisms and made up of lay and religious faithful”.
He recalls the words pronounced by Francis during the third World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, in November 2014. On that occasion, the Pope told the faithful not to forget that “the most precious good, the seal of the Holy Spirit, is communion”, adding that real communion cannot exist in movements or communities unless these are integrated within the greater communion of the Church, but also that “even if a certain institutionalization of the charism is necessary for its survival, we ought not delude ourselves into thinking that external structures can guarantee the working of the Holy Spirit”.