Dear Father | Local bishop's recognition needed by Catholic entities
Before Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, He sent His apostles forth, reminding them that full authority had been given unto Him. Then, as He was about to leave the earth, He passed that authority on to His Church, that she would be able to teach, govern and sanctify the faithful in His name and with His authority.
That authority remains in the Church and resides in the person of the local bishop (called the "ordinary" in the Church's canon law). Canon law gives the local bishop, therefore, great latitude and discretion to exercise that authority for both the edification and maintenance of the flock under his care (and that means all Catholics). He was given this authority so that he may defend the flock from the "savage wolves" of which Our Savior warned us, -- those who would pollute or corrupt the faith.
Before any Catholic entity can function as a Catholic entity in a diocese, it must first obtain the ordinary's permission and recognition. If it does not, then it is not acting as an agent of the Catholic Church.
There are, therefore, no Catholic entities that are simultaneously Catholic and fully independent of the ordinary. There are, however, Catholic organizations that are directly under the control of the ordinary and others that he controls indirectly. The difference is that the ones he directly controls are, in every sense, his; he established them, he supports them, he raises the money to operate them and they are answerable directly to him.
Such is not the case with institutions founded and operated by, say, a religious order. They function with the approval of the ordinary, but they hold title to their property, raise their own operating revenue and manage their affairs apart from his direct control. These would include most Catholic hospitals and universities.
Every Catholic entity within a diocese is empowered by the Church to do the work of Christ, as defined and promoted by the Catholic Church. It's the ordinary's job to see that this is done as harmoniously as possible. When that doesn't happen, he must act. When an agency directly under his control is not doing things right, he can very easily and effectively remedy the situation. He has the same responsibility for those indirectly under his authority, but he must enlist the cooperation of whomever is directly in charge, whether a religious order, lay institute, etc.
Ultimately, the ordinary has the power to interdict a Catholic organization that has wandered astray, either by stripping them of their Catholic identity or through excommunication, but that is done sparingly and only as a last resort. Bishops, shepherds of the flock, prefer to work toward "pastoral" solutions -- those in which justice is tempered with mercy and every path toward reconciliation is pursued, in the charity of Christ, the Good Shepherd.
Msgr. Mitas is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Union and dean of the Washington Deanery. Send questions for a priest to: St. Louis Review, 20 Archbishop May Drive, St. Louis, MO 63119 or to letters@stlouis review.com.
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