La Santa Sede



La Curia Romana





Robert Cardinal Sarah                      
Pontifical Council Cor Unum 

Plenary Assembly
of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences
of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM)
(Kinshasa, July 10-14, 2013)

Your Eminences,
Your Excellencies,
Dear Brothers Bishops,

It is with great joy that I greet all of you who are gathered here, in Kinshasa, and who represent the Church of God in Africa. I wish to express my gratitude for inviting me to take part in the meeting of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar and to talk about the recent Motu Proprio Intima Ecclesiae Natura on the service of charity, which Benedict XVI promulgated last year. This is a key text, the first that comes to fill a gap on a canonical level in the area of the responsibility of the Bishop in the service of organized charity both at the national and diocesan or parish level.

It is with great fraternal solicitude that I would like to encourage you in your mission, you who are “the Servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1) in “household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim 3:15).

The Motu Proprio Intima Ecclesiae Natura was published on December 12, 2012 and entered into force on December 10, 2012. In this text, the Holy Father explained from a canonical point of view, certain points concerning the theological-pastoral reflection on the exercise of charity in the Church. This legal document formalizes in a new way the normative framework within which the charitable activity of the Church unfolds. Its sources go back and refer mainly to the practice of the early centuries of Christianity (cf. DCE n. 21-24), and to the first Encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, in which he observed that the Code of Canon Law contained a gap regarding the responsibility of the Bishop in the exercise of charity (cf. DCE n. 32). Surely, the Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, states that the Bishop is “the president of the assembly and minister of charity in the Church” (N. 194), yet there was no systematic legislation to address the different actors of the service of charity. This gap is now filled with the Motu Proprio. This canonical text clarifies not only the responsibility of Bishops, but also the commitment of every baptized person in the exercise of charity. For the love of neighbor, grounded in the love of God, is first and foremost a responsibility for each individual member of the faithful, but it is also a task of the entire ecclesial community at all levels, from the local community to the diocesan one, from the particular Church to the universal Church as a whole. Here, we find an echo of what is said in the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, at n. 20: “Love thus needs to be organized if it is to be an ordered service to the community. The awareness of this responsibility has had a constitutive relevance in the Church from the beginning. ‘All who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need’ (Acts 2:44-5).” Already in 2008, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts has taken on this “legal gap”, to which the solution has finally been found. Several phases followed during its development. Some Bishops’ conferences and Dicasteries were also consulted. This extensive and thorough consultation allowed the Holy Father to offer the universal Church a legal document that he defined in these terms: “…with the present Motu Proprio, I intend to provide an organic legislative framework for the better overall ordering of the various organized ecclesial forms of the service of charity, which are closely related to the diaconal nature of the Church and the episcopal ministry” (Preface).

I. Theological Inspiration of the Motu Proprio

Allow me a few words about the theological inspiration of the Motu Proprio. We find it expressed in its Preface. The Encyclical Deus Caritas Est opens up on the contemplation of the love of God, One and Triune, who became incarnate in Jesus Christ. It highlights the theological and more precisely Trinitarian origin of any charitable activity. “’If you see charity, you see the Trinity’, wrote Saint Augustine.” (DCE n. 19) Christ founded the Church and she expresses her profound nature in a three-fold task: “the proclamation of the Word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable” (cfr. DCE n. 25), if we do not want to distort the Church. This therefore means that the service of charity cannot exist without the preaching of the Word of God and the celebration of sacraments. Let us recall that, at the opening of the Synod for the New Evangelization on October 8, 2012, Benedict XVI reminded us of the eminent role of charity in the evangelization, underlining that the two columns on which the New Evangelization is built are: “confessio” and “caritas”. “’Confessio’ and ‘caritas’ – he said - like the two ways in which God involves us, make us act with him, in him and for humanity, for his creation” (Meditation of the Holy Father during the First General Congregation, October 8, 2012). The charity of the Church reflects this dynamics. It is God who relates with us and moves us to act for the good of every human being created in his image and likeness. That is why the true nature of the Church cannot be limited to social issues or pure human solidarity. It should reflect the love that is kindled by the Spirit of Christ. The Church cannot forget that man is made for communion with God. Benedict XVI said, “For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being” (DCE n. 25a). And it is in the name of the noblest aim that the Church will have to be subversive and critical towards all of the narrow-minded achievements of the world. As she is present in the midst of all human situations, she shows solidarity to the poor and the oppressed, she will not be allowed to identify her hope with one of the hopes of history. Of course, this will not imply de-commitment or easy criticism. The vigilance that the Church needs to exercise is far more costly and difficult. In fact, it is a matter of simultaneously assuming human hopes in order to verify them in the light of the Resurrection. It is both the Resurrection and the Gospel of Jesus Christ that, on the one hand support any real commitment for human liberation. On the other hand, they fight any absolutism in the use of earthly means. This ecclesial dimension of charity linked to the Word and sacrament provides the foundations of the new legislation.

Because it is truly an activity of the Church herself, as well as an essential dimension of the Church, this charitable activity must be directly reconnected to the episcopal ministry. Because of the Church’s episcopal nature, diocesan Bishops have the “primary responsibility for carrying out in the particular Churches the program set forth in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42-44)” (DCE n. 32). The Motu Proprio explains the general mandate given to the Bishops, according to canon 394. However, the bishop cannot work without that body which he presides over. For this reason, all the faithful are to be educated in the spirit of sharing and genuine charity. Every Christian community must have a “heart which sees” the misery that exists around it (cf. DCE n. 31b).

I would like to quote another passage of the Preface of the Motu Proprio, where the Holy Father establishes a fundamental criterion for our Catholic organizations: “It is important, however, to keep in mind that ‘practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ” (DCE n. 34). In carrying out their charitable activity, therefore, the various Catholic organizations should not limit themselves merely to collecting and distributing funds, but should show special concern for individuals in need and exercise a valuable educational function within the Christian community, helping people to appreciate the importance of sharing, respect and love in the spirit of the Gospel of Christ. The Church’s charitable activity at all levels must avoid the risk of becoming just another form of organized social assistance (cf DCE n. 31)” (Preface of the Motu Proprio). It is important not to mix or confuse the Church’s charity with the ideologies and politics that aspire to change, to transform societies and eradicate poverty. “Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs” (DCE n. 31b).

It is therefore a matter to understand the text as the constant concern to keep alive the fundamental inspiration that is at the basis of the Church’s charitable activity, that is to say, the reason of service that Christ has inspired us. Our Pontifical Council wishes to spread this awareness in the first place with the diocesan Bishops and the Bishops’ Conferences, but also the charitable organizations.

II. Who is directly affected by the Motu Proprio?

1.) This text is addressed to three types of subject: those who exercise authority in the Church, the community of the faithful and the different charitable organizations.
a. Those who exercise authority in the Church: Article 3 § 1 is an application of canon 312 in that it regards the concept of “competent authority” and aims at highlighting the respective levels of responsibility: at the diocesan level, the competence belongs to the Bishop; at the national level to the Episcopal Conference and at the international level to the Holy See. When the Motu Proprio refers to the “responsibility of the Bishop”, these three levels are to be kept in mind.
b. The community of the faithful and every faithful: It reiterates what is stated in Canons 215 and 216, that is to say the right to form charitable organizations or create foundations to fund concrete charitable initiatives. In addition, the Motu Proprio emphasizes the participation of the Christian community, which must be educated “in the spirit of sharing and authentic charity” (Art. 9 § 1). Thus, we are in an area that promotes and encourages the freedom of the faithful.
c. Finally, Catholic organizations that operate at the service of charity. There are different types, among which we can at least identify four of them:
a. The Caritas, which require a separate mention, because they are considered as the official instrument of the Bishop in the pastoral of charity, as can be seen also in the recent legislation regarding Caritas Internationalis.
b. Other organizations established by the Church’s authority to deal with social situations and fund projects for the promotion of human development.
c. Organizations established by Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (Art. 1 § 4)
d. Organizations born from the initiative of the faithful. They are subject to the new legislation, if they have been recognized in one way or another by the competent authority, if they bear the name “Catholic”, if they are related clearly to the Church, for example, because they make collections in the church, and finally, if in their statutes, they declare themselves subject to the Church and her doctrine.

Let us now examine the responsibility of these various subjects.

2.) What are the responsibilities of the Bishop?

The goal here is to highlight the responsibility of the Bishop in the charitable work as ecclesial mission. Indeed, the Bishop is called “pastor, guide and the one primary responsible” for that service of charity. Of all the main responsibilities related to his ministry, he has the task of encouraging the faithful to live an active charity and of participating in the mission of the Church (Art. 4). This implies for the Bishop the paternal obligation to feel close to the poorest and from a pastoral point of view, a special attention that the Church at the diocesan and parish level lives the diakonia of charity according to the example of Christ. Here we find the need to ensure that the essence of the Church, which is manifested by the interdependence of the three ecclesial tasks of diakonia, leitourgia and martyria-kerygma, is fully observed and put into practice. The Bishop is to educate the faithful in the spirit of sharing and genuine charity by Catechism and Christian formation, but also by sacraments. Every Christian community must have a “heart which sees” the miseries which, tragically persist around it (cf Art. 1 and 9) and can attend to them. It needs to know how to bring comfort and consolation to the poor and suffering. The Bishop is to encourage the faithful to work in charity, either individually or in an organized form in groups of Catholic volunteers.

This responsibility of the Bishop also implies that he is the guarantor of the communion. In his person the unity of the three tasks of the Church exists in as much as he constitutes an absolute certainty and assurance of their authenticity and interdependence. This responsibility also entails that the Bishop is also the guarantor of dialogue that must exist within the charitable organizations that want a Christian affiliation or even for those who work in his diocese and come from other ecclesial entities. The guarantee of this unity also includes the right to consent to initiatives of Catholic organizations to ensure that the activities are carried out in accordance with ecclesiastical discipline and therefore, the competence to accept or not a charitable organization in his diocese (cf Art. 13).

It is clear that the Bishop cannot preside alone over the service of charity; this is why it is suggested to create an “ad hoc” office, which deals on his behalf and under his watchful supervision with the service of charity. This could be the task of Caritas whose specificity is different from other organizations created within secular associations or religious institutions. Its specificity consists in the fact that it is the official body of the Bishop for the pastoral of charity. Its peculiarity is also to exercise an educational and awareness function within the Christian community (cf. Art. 9).

However, it is not realistic or opportune to limit the Church’s pastoral of charity to Caritas alone. Charitable organizations, throughout the world but also in Africa, are extremely numerous and reflect the variety of charisms in the Church. The task of the Bishop is to support this plurality of works and not to suffocate or level out peculiarities, remembering that the duty of coordination is not that to eradicate the various existing forms, but to be at their service (cf. Art. 9 § 2) and to encourage among them a fraternal and fruitful collaboration (cf Art. 6). This seems particularly important to me because, thanks God, many charitable initiatives are emerging, but they often ignore each other. The Bishop is therefore to promote among them, but also within the local Church, that communion and ecclesial harmony existing around his person. He is indeed the “Father of the family”, who must keep alive the spirit of the Gospel and the ecclesial communion in his diocese.

On the other hand, it is also clear that the Bishop is to avoid unnecessary and harmful proliferation of charitable works.
I would also like to reflect on the responsibility of the Bishop in the training of those who work in the service of charity. Often we are simply satisfied by the fact that a person offers time and energy for others. It is obvious that it is not only a matter of doing good, but also doing it well. Following the example of Christ, those who work in the service of charity ought to be humble like Him, not considering themselves as the center of their action, but rather being able to bear witness of their relationship with God. The crucial point concerns the selection and training of collaborators: they must have a real sensus ecclesiae and live in faith and charity. This allows them to confront and judge the most difficult or the most obscure situation. This is why their training should be taken as seriously as both professionally and spiritually, because as we have seen, charity has its origin in God and fosters union with Him. It is man as a whole, created in the image and likeness of God that we want to serve. Art. 7 § 2 of the Motu Proprio requires the diocesan Bishop to ensure that all those working in the Church’s pastoral of charity not only have the necessary professional training, but also an authentic Christian life, and that they agree to progress in their faith, in order to become true witnesses of Christ and the Gospel, and thus so that their faith manifests itself through love (cf Gal 5:6).

Another aspect also deserves to be mentioned: the Bishop is to ask civil authority to guarantee that Church freely exercises the service of charity, and he himself is to guarantee the respect of civil legislation by all the organizations working in his diocese (Art. 5).

Finally, with regard to the ecclesiastical authority, I would like to underline that the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has strengthened the competences of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. Now, Cor Unum is responsible for:
1) overseeing the application of the Motu Proprio at all levels;
2) secondly, ensuring that the service of charity at the international level is always in communion with the Holy See and all the particular Churches (cf Article 15).
3) Finally, Cor Unum has the authority and faculty to canonically erect the organizations of charitable service on an international level.

3.) Duties of charitable organizations:

a.) Charitable organizations
One of their primary responsibilities is to submit to the competent authority the statutes that need to be approved. These must contain, in addition to the institutional roles and structures of governance, also the guiding principles and objectives of the Organization, the management of the funds and the profile of its workers (Article 2 § 1).
They should not only focus on their social impact but present themselves as instruments of our identity and our being Christian.

b.) The personnel and respect for ecclesiastical discipline
Art. 7 § 1 deals with the profile required for those who work in the sector of charity. It requires that charitable organizations employ people who agree with the criteria of the Church’s mission, or at least that they respect them. This does not mean that people who are not Catholic cannot be employed in Catholic charitable organizations. However, they must not only have a good knowledge of the Church’s doctrine, but also be capable faithfully respecting the principles and criteria that define the Church’s charitable mission.

Another point that seems important to me is found in Article 13. It also demands the communion with the Bishop of the place where the charitable activity is being carried out. In fact, the Motu Proprio states: “The local ecclesiastical authority retains the full right to give permission for initiatives undertaken by Catholic agencies in areas of his jurisdiction, with due respect for canonical legislation and the specific identity of the individual agencies. It is also the duty of the Bishop to ensure that the activities carried out in his Diocese are conducted in conformity with ecclesiastical discipline, either prohibiting them or adopting any measures needed in cases where that discipline is not respected” (Art. 13).

III. Some considerations on finances

In particular, I would like to offer a comment on this because this issue has generated some confusion after the publication of the Motu Proprio. The Motu Proprio states in Article 10, a particular vigilance on the destination of the proceeds of collections. These should be destined to the specific purposes for which they were collected, for the sake of transparency of the organization. And we are well aware that financial transparency is a particularly sensitive issue for today’s public opinion. Article 9 § 3 already states that it is not permitted to raise funds or promote activities that are contrary to the doctrine of the Church through parochial or ecclesial structures.

Article 10 § 3 requires that the Bishop is to avoid that the Church’s charitable organizations accept funds from institutions whose pursued institutional aims or whose identity – as inscribed in their statutes – are contrary to the teaching of the Church. He is also to avoid that the Church’s charitable organizations accept funding from governments or private foundations to promote initiatives that in their aims or means to achieve them, are not in conformity with the Church’s doctrine. In other words, if the proposed funds are subject to morally unacceptable conditions, then these contributions can in no way be accepted, and this is also to avoid causing scandal for the faithful.

Finally, I wish to emphasize the simplicity that should characterize the management of charitable initiatives and to which you are already attentive. I quote: “In a particular way, the Bishop is to see that the management of initiatives dependent on him offers a testimony of Christian simplicity of life. To this end, he will ensure that salaries and operational expenses, while respecting the demands of justice and a necessary level of professionalism, are in due proportion to analogous expenses of his diocesan Curia” (Art. 10 § 4). This simplicity is also one of the reasons for confidence in our organizations by the faithful. In fact, the administrative expenses are always carefully examined by donors and are subject to comparison.

IV. Some indications

This Motu Proprio creates a new legal situation upon which we must reflect and also find practical applications. This concerns not only the Bishops, but also the organizations themselves. It will certainly be necessary to give a special attention to the following points, which I here present you.
a.) The urgency or the need for an examination and possible revision of the statutes to ensure compliance and application of the new legislation at its various levels to better express for example the link with the Church and the fidelity to the Doctrine and the teaching of the Magisterium.
b.) The organizations have the filial and ecclesial duty to preserve communion with the Bishops. They should not interpret this as a disciplinary issue, but as an expression of our belonging to the Church. This must also be seen in the activities that are carried out abroad, where we are called to interact with the local pastoral and thus enter into a relationship with the Bishop of the place.
c.) The creation of places of meeting and reflection at the diocesan level to redefine the criteria used in charitable activity, to clarify and schedule the training offered, to narrow down the guidelines that must be given to the activities and, at the parish level, to consider the activities that need to be promoted and organized (Art. 6 and 8).
d.) It is also essential to regularly promote reflection on professional and Christian training, which is a key issue today, for those who work in Catholic charitable organizations.
e.) Attention to the situation of the organizations created by religious institutes that at times do not have an institutional connection with those from which they originated.

Dear Friends, it is a great joy to have received this document. It shows us how Benedict XVI is attentive to the service of charity and thereby encourages and strengthens us in our mission. Pope Francis also reminded us how the Bishop has to be close to his sheep and be impregnated with their smell. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about this important document and I assure you of our availability to help you implement this legislation.