Pope Issues Letter on Catholic Charities
A surprise letter from Pope Benedict XVI released at noon (Rome time) Saturday has some strong words and strong directions for Catholic charities.
Issued “motu proprio” — or from his hand — the Apostolic Letter is called “On the Service of Charity” (De Caritate Ministranda). Less solemn than Apostolic Constitutions, motu proprio letters address a legislative topic, unlike Encyclical Letters, which address topics of faith. They are binding on all Catholics.
The letter establishes a new framework for Catholic charities, asserting that while charitable organizations and foundations are generally run by lay people, they carry out the Apostolic work of the Church and so need to be approved by their local Bishops and to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Using Caritas Internationalis (Catholic Relief Services is its US branch) as an example, Pope Benedict says that Catholic charities must be carried out for the love of Christ and in order to share 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,” he says.
To this end, Pope Benedict says, all charities and charitable foundations must follow Catholic principles. None may accept “commitments” that would affect their following Catholic principles, and none may accept donations from people or organizations that are at odds with those principles either in their aims or the way they carry out their aims.
These rules apply, the pope wrote, to charities and foundations run by religious brothers and sisters (such as, locally, the SC Ministry Foundation and Franciscan Haircuts from the Heart), and to those run by Societies of Apostolic Life (local Societies include Glenmary Home Missioners and the Oratory of St. Phiilp Neri), as well as to those run by non-religious lay men and women. Catholic charities, he said, should hire only people who share “or at least respect” the Catholic identity of the charities.
Furthermore, the pope said, charities may only call themselves “Catholic” with the permission of the local bishop, and bishops must withdraw that permission if a charity acts against Catholic teachings. Bishops must also ensure that Catholic parishes and publications don’t publicize charities that oppose Catholic teachings, and that Catholic foundations don’t give money to them.
Pope Benedict also said that every bishop should, when necessary, establish an office to coordinate charity in his name. Bishops should also ask that every parish in his diocese establish a chapter of Caritas or a similar charity or charities, and establish both faith formation that helps all catholics learn about charity as a Christian obligation, and faith formation that specifically helps leaders of charitable organizations understand their responsibilities as Catholics.
Pope Benedict encourages that parishes and dioceses coordinate their charitable activities when it is practical, and also encourages Catholics to work with other Churches and ecclesial communities “respecting the property identity of each.”
“The service of charity is… a constitutive element of the church’s mission and an indispensable expression of her very being,” the Pope said in the letter’s introduction. “All the faithful have the right and duty to devote themselves to living the new commandment that Christ left us and to offering our contemporaries not only material assistance, but also refreshment and care for their souls.”
Last May, Robert Cardinal Sarah, President of Cor Unam (“One Heart,” the Pontifical Council in charge of charities) told the General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis that a “silent apostacy” was going on in the Western Church, one that was affecting charities by replacing true charity, which is done out of love for Christ, with “a humanism without God.” The pope’s letter is the latest and most decisive move from Rome to keep Catholic charities and foundations oriented toward Christ.
The letter takes effect on Dec. 10 in every diocese in the world.
For the complete text of the letter, click here.
Photo courtesy Stock.xchng.
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