VATICAN CITY — In a new apostolic constitution, Vultum Dei Quaerum, Pope Francis has laid out extensive reforms to cloistered female religious life in the Church, repealing a number of laws from before the Second Vatican Council, and preparing the way for more extensive legislation from the Roman Curia.
The Holy Father asks enclosed female religious to review their internal life in 12 key areas (formation, prayer, the word of God, the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, fraternal life in community, autonomy, federations, the cloister, work, silence, the communications media and asceticism).
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A concern to centralize the control of the Holy See over religious life has already surfaced during this pontificate with Pope Francis’ recent requirement that the Holy See be consulted prior to the foundation of any new diocesan religious communities.
In this new document, the Holy Father appears concerned about the tendency for declining first world religious houses to be revived by the infusion of new members from the more successful developing world. This practice is prohibited in article 3, section 6 of the regulations issued in Vultum Dei Quaerum.
The Holy Father is keen for contemplative female religious houses to be more tightly organized into federations to facilitate the re-education of their finally professed members, the more uniform formation of new recruits and commissions for the closure or revival of houses struggling to maintain their numbers.
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Pope Francis situates the vocation to contemplative religious life in the context of the universal longing of humanity for unity with “the Absolute.” He returns to a theme mentioned in Amoris Laetitia (n. 161), saying that “contemplative communities … do not propose a more perfect fulfilment of the Gospel.”
The communities covered by the Apostolic Constitution will now examine their current forms of life, formation, and enclosure in a manner reminiscent of the analogous exercise conducted after the renewal of the Second Vatican Council.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.