The last meeting of the head of dicasteries of the Roman Curia took place last May 29. Among other issues, the meeting discussed the possibility of priests being incardinated directly into ecclesial movements rather than into a diocese.
Pope Francis made the issue a central topic of his regular meeting with the head of dicasteries, though these kind of meetings usually deal with topics related to the government and the organization of the Roman Curia.
Via “incardination,” a member of the clergy is placed under the jurisdiction of a bishop or, in the case of a religious, an ecclesiastical superior.
Aside from dioceses and religious institutes, only personal prelatures and ordinariates can incardinate priests.
Some ecclesial movements have been asking for some time to have priests directly incardinated.
The request of the movements is based on the fact that there are priests whose vocation is born and nurtured within a specific ecclesial movement.
According to their argument, these priests should not be bound to a diocese, and should be free to live their vocation within the movement, moving from place to place according to the needs or the requests of their particular movement.
Under the current situation, bishops and the priests of movements who are under their jurisdiction have had to find a balance between the movement’s charism and the needs of the diocese.
During the May 29 meeting, Pope Francis largely listened, and did not express an opinion. However, his thought may be deduced from his recent words in other contexts.
At a meeting on April 27 with Catholic Action – a movement founded in Italy 150 years ago – the Pope
said the movement’s charism is “profoundly incarnate in the here and now of every diocesan Church,” and that it “takes on true vigour by responding to, and making its own, the pastoral outreach of each diocesan Church.”
“Nor can you be like those groups that are so universal that they are not based anywhere, answer to no one, and are always on the lookout for what they suits them wherever they go,” he told them.
Pope Francis reiterated the importance of dioceses a month later, during his May 27 visit to Genoa.
Speaking with the clergy and religious of the city, Pope Francis underscored the importance for charisms of staying attached to the concrete realities of a diocese or project.
While a congregation might be “universal” in the sense that it has houses throughout the world, the “concreteness” of involvement in the diocese helps give the order “roots,” allowing it to remain and also to grow as they see different needs come up, he reflected.
The incardination of priests to movements would have a significant impact on such groups as the Focolare Movement, Communion and Liberation, Cançao Nova, or Shalom.
Some have speculated that the Neocatecumenal Way might also benefit from the possibility of incardinating its own priests.
The incardination problem in fact leaves open several questions: if a priest is directly incardinated in the movement, will he refer to a bishop or to the leader of the movement? And what happens if the leader is a lay person?
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said at a book presentation June 1 that the incardination issue “is not about building parallel Churches. It is rather a matter of working together. We are called to a further reflection, being very careful not to lose the Church’s sacramental structure.”
Cardinal Müller hinted at the possibility of a communion of movements. The need, however, is to make it evident that priests are of the Church and not of the movements. Otherwise, the same movements risk to remain closed to the universal Church.
Referring to the possibility of a community of movements, Cardinal Müller talked about charismatic movements, which “can enrich the Church with their spirituality, with the tradition of the territories they live in, with choosing a certain spirituality. This spirituality must anyway favor the Church. It must not be stuck in the temptation to stay within a group, to build a too much enclosed and selective identity. Masses are not private. They must be open to all Catholics.”