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Founded by Pope Sixtus V on 27 May 1586 with the title Sacred Congregation for Consultations about Regulars, and confirmed by the Constitution Immensa (22 January 1588), the Congregation was joined in 1601 to the Congregation for Consultations about Bishops and Other Prelates. St. Pius X, by the Constitution Sapienti Consilio (29 June 1908) separated the two institutions again and, placing the Bishops under the Consistorial Congregation, made the Congregation for Religious autonomous.

By the Constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae (15 August 1967) of Paul VI, the Congregation for Religious was named the Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes.

The Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus (28 June 1988) of John Paul II changed the title to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

The Congregation is responsible for everything which concerns institutes of consecrated life (orders and religious congregations, both of men and of women, secular institutes) and societies of apostolic life regarding their government, discipline, studies, goods, rights, and privileges. It is competent also for matters regarding the eremetical life, consecrated virgins and their related associations, and new forms of consecrated life. Its competence extends to all aspects of consecrated life: Christian life, religious life, clerical life; the relationship is of a personal character and has no territorial limits; certain determined questions of their members, however, are remanded to the competence of other Congregations. This Congregation also can dispense those who are subject to it from the common law. Further, it is competent for associations of the faithful erected with the intention of becoming institutes of consecrated life or societies of apostolic life, and for Third Orders Secular.

Since 23 October 1951, the Practical School of Theology and Law for Religious has been functioning at the Congregation and the review Informationes SCRIS (in several languages) has been published since May 1975.

The Congregation is located in front of St. Peter's Basilica at Piazza Pio XII, 3 / 00193 Rome.

Pertinent telephone numbers are:
His Eminence the Cardinal Prefect +39. 06. 69884121
His Excellency Archbishop Secretary +39. 06. 69884584
receptionists +39 06. 69884128 and +39. 06. 69892511
FAX +39. 06. 69884526
E-mail: (Prefect) (Secretary) (information)


Religious institutes and secular institutes are the two main categories which constitute the state of consecrated life through profession of the evangelical counsels in the Church. Societies of apostolic life (can. 731.1) have canonical legislation which is in some respects similar to that governing institutes of consecrated life, though they form a separate category.

Consecrated persons are lay persons or clerics who assume the evangelical counsels by means of a sacred bond, and become members of an institute of consecrated life (can. 573.2).

Institutes of consecrated life are societies which are established and approved within the Church, and are governed by means of suitable Church legislation. Some of this legislation covers all institutes; some is proper to the individual Institute (Rules, Constitutions, Statutes). The intention of the legislation is to ensure that the consecrated life can be lived out in a suitable way (can. 576).

Institutes of pontifical right are those erected or approved by the Holy See by formal decree. Institutes of diocesan right are those erected by Bishops and which have not obtained a decree of approval from the Holy See (can. 589). The Annuario Pontificio lists only the institutes of pontifical right.


The religious state is a public and complete state of consecrated life. As well as the precepts which are to be observed by all, religious observe the three evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience. They bind themselves to observe these by means of vows, which are either perpetual or temporary but renewed when they expire (can. 607.2). These vows are always public vows, i.e. recognized as such by the Church (can. 1192.1). This religious state requires fraternal life in community and also a degree of separation from the world in conformity with the character and purpose of the individual institute (can. 607.2 and 607.3).

Some Institutes are called Orders: these are Institutes in which, for historical reasons or because of their character or nature, solemn vows are made by at least some of the members. All members of these orders are called regulars, and if they are women they are called nuns ("moniales"). Other religious institutes are called congregations, or religious congregations. Their members are called religious of simple vows (can. 1192.2). The orders are older than the congregations.

The Code of Canon Law calls some institutes "clerical": these are Institutes which, in accordance with the intentions of the Founder or by reason of legitimate tradition, are governed by clerics, assume the exercise of sacred Orders, and are recognized by the Church as clerical Institutes (can. 588.2). If the spiritual heritage of an institute does not include the exercise of sacred Orders then the institute is recognized by the Church as a lay institute (can. 588.3).

In the Code of Canon Law, religious institutes are regulated by a general discipline. There continue to exist, however, different categories which correspond to varying forms which religious life has taken over the course of history.

There follows a very brief historical note about each type of Institute in order of the date of their foundation.

Canons Regular, who combine the clerical office and state with the observance of community religious life and the evangelical counsels, have their origin in the communities of clergy which lived with their bishop. It was St. Augustine who, at the end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth centuries, gave this form of religious life its most characteristic features.

Monks, from a historical point of view, were the first religious to live in community. In the first half of the fourth century, the desert areas of northern Egypt were populated by colonies of hermits, whose sayings (dicta) were gathered together in the Apophthegmata Patrum. Some of these hermits gathered around themselves groups of disciples, and gave rise to the Pachomian cenobitical communities, characterized by a strong, and sometimes harsh, discipline. During the fourth century in Asia Minor, cenobitic life developed under the guiding influence of St. Basil, based on the notion of community as the Church and Body of Christ.

In the west, monasticism appears with many variations in most countries during the fourth century. From the eighth century on, however, Benedictine monasticism prevailed.

Although, as time went on, the priesthood and different forms of apostolic work were frequently joined to the monastic life, monasticism as such does not necessarily require the priesthood or any individual apostolate.

Monastic organization is not centralized, with each abbey and conventual priory being autonomous (sui iuris). This means that the local superior (abbot, prior) has wider powers and less dependence on a superior general (if there is one), and each house will have its own novitiate.

Modern monasticism is of five main types: two western (Benedictine and Carthusian) and three eastern (Pauline, Antonian, and Basilian).

The Mendicant Orders started in the early part of the thirteenth century. Their name comes from the corporate poverty which they practice in addition to individual poverty, which means that the Institutes as such cannot possess anything.

Circumstances have required that this severe poverty be mitigated to a greater or lesser degree for almost all the orders. In addition to poverty, the mendicants have another common characteristic, namely, combining religious life with various forms of priestly, apostolic, missionary, or charitable ministry. Another feature common to the mendicants, introduced by them and then subsequently handed on to later forms of religious life, is the centralization of government with a single general superior having wide powers, and also a division of the Institute into provinces.

Clerks Regular appear in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. They make the religious life the foundation of their priestly apostolate. They adapt religious life to the changing needs of the times, though without making it less strict.

At the end of the sixteenth and in the seventeenth centuries, Clerical Religious Congregations appear in the Church. Some of these are pious associations of clerics; later, associations of laymen started up. These live in community and have no desire to become true religious orders. In addition to dedicating themselves to their own sanctification, they are also dedicated to the apostolate and to works of charity.

At the end of the seventeenth century, Lay Religious Congregations appear. These are communities of lay persons dedicated principally to teaching children (education and catechesis) and young adults. Other areas of concentration include the care of the sick, the imprisoned, the unemployed. Usually their own members may not become priests; some of them, however, allow some members to receive priestly Orders in order to function as chaplains to the lay community. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the majority of lay religious communities have been communities of women.


The historical origins of these institutes go back to the end of the sixteenth century, even though their juridic recognition as a state of consecrated life approved by the Church took place only on 2 February 1947, with the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia.

Christians consecrated to God in Secular Institutes follow Christ by undertaking to observe the three evangelical counsels by means of a sacred commitment, and they dedicate their life to Christ and to the Church, by devoting themselves to the sanctification of the world, particularly by working within the world (can. 710).

The word "secular" is meant to underline the fact that the persons who make profession in this state of consecrated life do not change the status they have as in the world, and they continue to live and to work in the midst of the people of God in the normal conditions of their own social setting (can. 711; can. 713.2) according to the secular style of life which is proper to them.

Secular institutes may be clerical or lay, male or female.


Societies of apostolic life, called in the 1917 Code of Canon Law "societies of men or women who live in common without vows," are defined by can. 731.1 and 731.2 in the 1983 Code of Canon Law as follows:

"Comparable to institutes of consecrated life are societies of apostolic life whose members without religious vows pursue the particular apostolic purpose of the society, and leading a life as brothers or sisters in common according to a particular manner of life, strive for the perfection of charity through the observance of the constitutions. Among these there are societies in which the members embrace the evangelical counsels by some bond defined in the constitutions.

St. Philip Neri can be considered the father of men's Societies of Apostolic Life, as we now know them, and St. Vincent de Paul of women's Societies.

Societies of Apostolic Life can be clerical or lay, male or female.


The first general congress of the states of perfection, held in Rome at the beginning of December in the Holy Year 1950 invited religious institutes and secular institutes, male and female, from each nation to join in federations, conferences or councils of major superiors. This kind of organization very soon extended to almost every nation (can. 708). These conferences of major superiors have their own statutes approved by the Holy See, by which they are erected (can. 709)., There are also worldwide conferences (of men and women superiors general) and continental conferences (Latin America and Europe), also erected by the Holy See.

On 23 May 1974, the Holy See gave juridic personality to the World Conference of Secular Institutes.