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La Curia Romana Pontifici Consigli





Approval of Statutes: guidelines


Procedures required for the recognition
of international associations of the lay faithful


Among the tasks of the Dicastery is that of the recognition (also know as canonical erection) of international associations of the faithful (cf. art. 134 of the Apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus  of the Roman Curia). The essential prerequisite for such recognition is that the association have an international character which consists in the actual presence of members from the petitioning association in the local Church in different countries throughout the world.

Other elements that need to be taken into consideration are the number of members in the association, as well as the nature and purpose of the activities of the association. As it can be seen, this criteria is very general and has the necessary flexibility in order to be applicable y to the reality of each association. Periodic contact with the Dicastery on the part of the heads of the association is also an indispensable part of the recognition process as it provides the Council with an adequate knowledge of the association.

The recognition of an association of the lay faithful by the Holy See presupposes that the association has been previously recognized by the Church at the local level. This recognition at the diocesan level is ordinarily obtained  in the diocese where the association originated. The bishops of the other diocese where the association is present are also requested to send to the Pontifical Council for the Laity a letter of recommendation supported the association’s request for International recognition. In this way, the Dicastery verifies not only the international character of the association, but also the spiritual and apostolic fruit of its members on the local level as verified by the very same shepherds of the particular Churches. This requirement is charged with an important Ecclesiological significance, since it manifests in a concrete way the mutual collaboration among the universal Church and the particular Churches.

Due to the rapid diffusion of associations in the Church at the International level, especially at the end of the 20th century, the Pontifical Council for the Laity has been engaged in an ongoing  process of discernment and of pastoral and juridical accompaniment of the new forms of associative life in the Church, guided by the light of the Magisterium and the canonical norms in force. Based on this experience, this Dicastery has established a specific praxis Curiæ procedure for the recognition of an international association of the lay faithful.

This procedure is initiated when the head of the association sends a formal request for international recognition to the president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The request should be accompanied by a draft of the statutes as elaborated by the association, along with other documentation that help explain the history of the association, its goals and objectives, and the activities that it  carries out. Information should also be provided regarding the approximate number of members of the association and where the association is present at the local Church level and its relationship with the local ordinaries of these dioceses. Canonically, this initial request has great significance as it is derived from the right of free association of the lay faithful.

As a first step, the Dicastery will examine the documents it has received in order to verify if all of the necessary requirements are met so as to initialize the procedure for recognition. It should be pointed out that the recognition on the part of the Holy See is not to be considered in any way as a type of honorary title. An association that is already recognized at the diocesan level or the national level is just as much an ecclesial reality in the Church as one that is recognized at the international level.

After an initial review, the Dicastery will submit the statutes to a group of canon lawyers who are consultants of the Pontifical Council for their review. Based upon their findings, the dicastery will then formulate its own observations and recommendations. During this technical–juridical phase, the association of the faithful will be asked to integrate the observations made by the Dicastery into the text of the statutes so that a definitive text can be submitted for final approval. Once a final revision of the statutes is reached, the final phase of the recognition process is begun. The Dicastery will then formulate a decree by which it recognizes (canonical erection) of the international association of faithful and approves its statutes ad experimentum for an initial period of five years; at the end of this period the Pontifical Council for the Laity will issue a new decree of the definitive approval of the statutes of the association. As it can be noted, these administrative acts of the Pontifical Council for the Laity are an exercise of Church authority that is akin to those functions characteristic of a Congregation of the Roman Curia.