The Church Just Did for Movements What She Did for Religious in 1978, Only Better

Church Did for Movements art

Catholic Charismatics in prayer (upper left), Catholic monks Praying in Jerusalem (lower left), new Carmelite sisters in prayer.

The Church does not rush to judgement, but reflects and ponders clearly to ascertain what is God’s will. This can take years, even decades. Vatican II renewed many aspects of Catholic life: the sacramental character of a bishop’s consecration, the lay vocation to holiness, the religious life, and the structure of the Church. All of these have brought about a need for further reflection on the relationship between different branches within the Church. In 1978, the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes published Mutuae Relationes, which gave norms for the relationship between bishops and religious in the Church.

On June 14, 2016, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published similar norms for other charismatic elements within the Church, notably movements and new communities, under the title Iuvenescit Ecclesia. (In this essay, “charismatic” will refer to movements of the spirit in general, not specifically to the Charismatic movement.) My intention here is to explore the similarities and differences between the two documents. When Iuvenescit Ecclesia was first announced, many speculated that it would simply update Mutuae Relationes, as Pope Francis had suggested was needed1; however, Iuvenescit Ecclesia applies rules similar to those found in the first document to entirely new types of groups.

Both documents begin with a section on doctrine, and then move to a section on practical application. I will review each of the two sections in parallel, and then talk about some applications of how to facilitate synergy between religious communities or movements, and dioceses or parishes.

Theology of Religious and Movements
Even in its doctrinal points, Mutae Relationes seems more concerned with a good governing of the Church than with a deeper theological understanding of religious life and the sacramental nature of the bishopric. The document describes how the theology of the Church before Vatican II often had a juridical focus. Mutae Relationes does point out that the reciprocal nature of the Church as a social structure of the faithful and the body of Christ “{c}onfers upon the Church her special sacramental nature, by virtue of which she completely transcends the limits of any simply sociological perspective.”2 It also points out that “{t}he religious state is not a kind of intermediate way between the clerical and lay condition of life, but comes from both as a special gift for the entire Church.”3 It explains that every authentic charism has some special initiative for spiritual life in the Church.4 Further, it examines the relationship between the local and universal Church, although, when discussing the universal church, it is not as a sum or federation, but the “total and enlarged presence of the unique universal sacrament of salvation,”5 which seems more concerned with the practical consequences than the theological reality.

Iuvenescit Ecclesia goes much deeper in its reflection. It begins by pointing out the theological meaning of the word “charism” in the New Testament as a spiritual gift. Then, it shows how Paul, “{f}ar from situating the charisms on one side and the institutional entity on the other,” unifies them in his various lists of charisms.6 Iuvenescit continues with a brief history of magisterial teachings since Vatican II, and then it moves on to the deepest section, wherein it gives a theological basis for the relationship between the charismatic and hierarchical elements of the Church in the analogy of the relationship between the missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is seen as an historical fact—“The action of God in history always implies the relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit”7—and, implied by the theology of the Trinitarian missions, adds, “The two divine missions mutually imply each other in every gift bestowed freely upon the Church.”8 This is an imperfect analogy, since we can see elements of the Holy Spirit in the hierarchy, and moments of Christ in charismatic realities.

The deeper theology in Iuvenescit Ecclesia gives it a much higher starting point than Mutae Relationes when it gets to the practical elements. Charisms are not just seen as useful for the Church, but seen as something fundamental to our nature and something which cannot be independent from the hierarchy by nature, rather than do something which, for practical reasons, cannot separate itself.

Practical Elements in the Two Documents
Regarding the practical elements, Mutae Relationes gets very practical with things like how a religious should apply to a bishop for an Imprimatur to publish a book, or how religious and diocesan seminarians should become aware of each other and learn to appreciate each other. Iuvenescit Ecclesia does not get down to that level, but, even in practical elements, prefers to focus on principles.

I will organize this section by themes: specific missions or works, gifts of the Holy Spirit, criteria for discerning, and a gift to the Church.

The specific missions or works of religious or movements is pointed out in both documents. Mutae Relationes states, “The difference existing between the distinctive works of an institute and works entrusted to an institute should be kept in mind by the local ordinary.”9 This refers to how religious will often have specific ministries which are the focus of their community, but bishops may also assign some of the priests to other ministries which are needed in the diocese, like helping with parishes or acting as hospital chaplains. The goal is not to lose one’s religious identity by losing the distinctive works in so many entrusted works. This is important for religious and for movements.

Iuvenescit Ecclesia points out that various charisms “represent an authentic opportunity to live and develop one’s proper Christian vocation.”10 Regarding possible new charisms, it also warns the hierarchical Church to “[b]ear in mind the unforeseeable nature of the charisms inspired by the Holy Spirit and evaluate them according to the rule of faith with the intention of building up the Church.”11 It states, “Each individual member of the faithful is called to accept and correspond to this grace personally in the concrete circumstances of their lives.”12 Each individual is to maintain and protect his or her charism. But Iuvenescit Ecclesia also gives impetus to charismatic elements in hierarchical structures: “The establishment of good relations between the diverse gifts in the Church requires the real integration of the charismatic entity within the pastoral life of the particular Church.”13

Both documents note that groups originate as a gift of the Holy Spirit for the Church. They neither exist on their own, nor outside the Church; however, Iuvenescit Ecclesia is a little more specific. It says that charismatic gifts may be given to groups building “{a}ffinities, closeness, and spiritual relationships,” making up a spiritual patrimony which “is shared in and deepened, thereby giving life to true spiritual families.”14

They both give criteria for discerning which charisms are authentic. Mutae Relationes focuses on three criteria. The first focus is on a charism’s “special origin from the Spirit, distinct, even though not separate, from special personal talents,” which indicates that the charism comes from God and not the founder. The second focus is on a “profound ardor of love to be conformed to Christ in order to give witness to some aspect of His mystery,” which refers to how religious are supposed to become like Christ through their actions. The third focus is on a “constructive love of the Church, which absolutely shrinks from causing any discord in Her,” which is an ecclesial criterion which will be repeated with movements.15

The eight criteria for movements in Iuvenescit Ecclesia are much deeper and fuller. The two sets of criteria have some overlap and may be used for the opposite reality—a religious community or a movement—as well with slight adaptation. The first criterion in Iuvenescit Ecclesia is “the Primacy of the vocation of every Christian to holiness.” The second criterion is a “commitment to spreading the Gospel,” with the clarification that “authentic charisms ‘are gifts of the Spirit integrated into the body of the Church, drawn to the center which is Christ and then channelled into an evangelizing impulse.’” The third is a “profession of the Catholic Faith,” which simply means within the bounds of orthodoxy. The fourth is “witness to a real communion with the whole Church,” which means the religious or movement must be in communion with the Pope and the local bishop. The fifth is “recognition of and esteem for the reciprocal complementarity of other charismatic elements in the Church,” which refers to the “ability to be integrated harmoniously into the life of God’s holy and faithful people for the good of all.” The sixth is “{a}cceptance of moments of trial in the discernment of charisms,” meaning charisms need “humility in bearing with adversities.” The seventh is having a “{p}resence of spiritual fruits, such as charity, joy, peace and a certain human maturity.” And finally, the eighth criterion is “the social dimension of evangelization,” because “{a}t the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others.”16

The list in Mutuae Relaiones includes the importance of a “special origin from the Spirit,” which is implied in Iuvenescit Ecclesia, as the other criteria only arise out of the Holy Spirit’s action as a presupposition. On the other hand, the list in Iuvenescit Ecclesia is more complete and shows more measurable criteria.

As a final note, both point out that the charismatic elements of the Church are a gift to the Church. Mutuae Relationes states, “The religious state is not a kind of intermediate way between the clerical and lay condition of life, but comes from both as a special gift for the entire Church.”17 Iuvenescit Ecclesia is, for once, more practical, stating, “It is necessary to recognize the goodness of the different charisms that give rise to the ecclesial groups.”18

Harmony between Religious, Movements, Parishes, and Dioceses
We all know of internal conflicts in the history of the Church, and I have been a first-hand witness to internal conflicts in the Church in the 21st century. These two documents provide a framework of how the Church foresees these conflicts being resolved. The general principle is that respect must exist on both sides: those in charismatic elements must show respect for the hierarchy, and the hierarchy must respect those in charismatic elements. Nonetheless, this respect is shown in two different ways. Charismatic elements show respect by submitting to the Church’s approval and by participating in her pastoral plans. The hierarchy shows respect by allowing charismatic elements to perform the missions God has given them as part of the mission of the whole Church. Let’s examine in more detail each of these two ways of showing respect.

The responsibility of safeguarding the deposit of faith primarily rests on the hierarchy, so those in movements or religious communities must submit to the hierarchy for approval in order to ensure that they conform to the deposit of faith. This submission should be humble and straightforward, and might include, for example, submitting details like a rule, a mission, and examples of current apostolates. In response, the hierarchy can use the three and eight rules of discernment listed above with simplicity, acknowledging the possibility of new movements of the Holy Spirit.

Certain circumstances may require re-evaluation by the hierarchy. This re-evaluation can go either way: for example, an Italian group was initially supported by the local bishop but was excommunicated years later after “oblig[ing] the faithful not to receive sacraments.”19 The Jesuits were suppressed for about 30 years (1773-1815), and then their charism was re-evaluated, and they were approved once again. However, once a group is approved, it should not need to be approved constantly or repeatedly; rather, a bishop should respect the approval. Lower levels of hierarchy should also respect the judgments of higher levels: if a bishop approves a group, the pastor need not necessarily re-evaluate it; if the Vatican approves a group, a bishop need not re-evaluate. So, for example, once a charism is approved by Rome, it is improper for a pastor or member of a different community to speak against its authenticity as a charism of the Holy Spirit.

As far as approvals, one great distinction exists between those in a religious state and those in a lay state, such as the lay movements. A bishop may legitimately accept or reject a religious community’s petition to start in his diocese, based on the needs he sees in his diocese. However, a bishop does not have the same authority over lay people and cannot restrict their membership to lay movements, sodalities, confraternities, third orders, or other similar groups. Furthermore, once a lay movement has approval from a superior authority, it would seem that the authority gives the movement permission to accept whichever members it wants, and to carry out its specific ministries wherever doing so is proper. Since such organizations generally revitalize parishes, pastors should not restrict their operation within the parishes. Pastors should not let lay movements do whatever they feel like, but they should not place any restrictions on them. Here are two examples of how this might work: if an approved lay movement asks for a meeting room for their prayer group, it should generally be given them unless it is already occupied at that time, or if they ask for it at a time when the building is not open; if an approved lay movement wants to start a parish youth group, they should be allowed, if no other group for that age and gender exist. If another similar group already exists, the pastor has discretion to determine whether such a group would be in too much competition with the existing group. Many great initiatives in the Church do not happen because pastors restrict the initiatives of the lay people in their parish, especially lay people with charisms, either individual or members of a charismatic family.

At the same time, new charismatic groups need to respect the hierarchy’s role and attempt to collaborate with their initiatives and plans. If a group is constantly working contrary to a bishop’s pastoral plan, they should not be surprised if the bishop is against them. Even if they try to help, they cannot expect that pastors and bishops will go beyond simply accepting them, to actively promoting them. Many pastors and bishops have tons of great initiatives in their parishes or dioceses and have to choose what they consider to be the most fruitful initiatives for their particular situations. Those in a particular charismatic group will tend to see everything through the lens of each one’s own charism, and thus tend to see how each’s charism can help many different situations. A bishop or pastor has a different perspective and might see some other initiative as more fruitful in the circumstances. We need to be accepting of this. Some charismatic families which may think they have the final word of the Holy Spirit’s work or are the solution to every problem in the Church, may be tempted not to accept this reality.

When a bishop or pastor asks a charismatic group—like a movement or religious community—to take on something, the bishop or pastor should examine the specific charism of that group. If a diocese needs a pastor and a university chaplain, and a religious community is starting a high school, it makes more sense to give them the chaplaincy, as that corresponds with their charism. Likewise, a bishop might entrust a homeless shelter to the Community of Sant’Egidio, for example, but should not ask them to take over forming Catholic business leaders because they focus on serving the poor.

On the other hand, charismatic groups should be generous in accepting the missions which the Church’s bishops entrust to them. For example, many religious communities were founded for other ministries but accept parishes from bishops (my own community, for example, states in our constitution that we rarely work in parishes,20 but we accepted a parish when starting our newest house in Calgary, Canada).21 Finally, bishops and pastors need to be aware of the need for the Church to go out, as Cardinal Bergoglio said just before he became Pope Francis:

The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries…When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick…When the Church is self-referential, inadvertently, she believes she has her own light … Thinking of the next pope {his own vision for his papacy}: He must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother, who gains life from “the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”22

A lot of postulating has gone into how much this four-minute speech helped him become pope, but I will focus on how this speech offers a paradigm for any bishop or pastor.23

The paradigm is not of a pastor who sits in his office and waits for people to come, but of a pastor who motivates his lay congregation to go out. However, in most parishes, it will be difficult for a pastor to reach out to every person within his parish boundary. This is where lay movements often come in, stretching the pastor’s resources by reaching out to the peripheries in various different ways, according to their particular charisms. Let me offer a concrete example. I am a religious priest, and social media is part of my assignment. I can reach out to people via Twitter in ways which other priests simply do not have time for, due to their pastoral duties. Other lay Catholics also use social media to evangelize. Lay movements often form the faith in parishioners who then go out, apart from that movement.

For both elements of the Church to flourish, we need a mutual recognition of roles. The pastor or bishop is an authority, and the religious community or lay movement invigorates the Church. Neither can take the role of the other. A good application of Mutuae Realtiones and especially Iuvenescit Ecclesia would cause a flourishing both in parishes and in charismatic communities, which would build each other up. If we all seek the good of Christ and the Church, such application is not difficult; but if we seek the good of our particular group, we easily engage in turf wars. Let us all pray that these lead not to discord but to harmony within the Church.

  1. “Pope encourages reform of relations between religious, bishops” in Catholic News Agency, January 4, 2014 (Accessed June 15, 2016).
  2. Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, Mutuae Relationes, May 17, 1978 {hereafter MR}, §3.
  3. MR §10.
  4. MR §12.
  5. MR §18.
  6. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Iuvenescit Ecclesia, June 14, 2016 {hereafter IE}, §7.
  7. IE §11.
  8. IE §11.
  9. MR §57.
  10. IE §22.
  11. IE §17.
  12.  IE §15.
  13. IE §20.
  14. IE §16.
  15. MR §51 (all quotations in paragraph).
  16. IE §18 (all quotations in paragraph). If you want more details on these eight criteria, along with five related criteria in Christedfidelis Laici, check out my post “Where Did the Eight Criteria the Vatican Just Gave for Discerning Charisms Come From?” on Catholic Stand
  17. MR §10.
  18. IE §22.
  19. Andrea Gagliarducci, “Pope Francis excommunicates schismatic Italian sect” on Crux, June 8, 2016, (Accessed June 15, 2016).
  20. Constituciones de la congrecagión de los legionarios de Cristo (2014), §5 (Accessed: June 15, 2016).
  21. “Legion founds new community in Calgary, Alberta,” Regnum Christi and the Legionaries of Christ, May 20, 2016 (Accessed June 15, 2016).
  22. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, “Bergoglio’s Intervention: A diagnosis of the problems in the Church,” Vatican Radio, March 27, 2013 (Accessed June 15, 2016).
  23. For an example, see Jimmy Akin, “The 4-Minute Speech That Got Pope Francis Elected?” in Catholic Answers, April 23, 2013 (Accessed June 15, 2016).
Avatar About Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, LC

Fr Matthew P. Schneider, LC is most well-known for his presence on Twitter and Instagram (@FrMatthewLC) where he has over 50,000 followers between the two platforms. He is a religious priest with the Legionaries of Christ ordained in 2013. He is currently enrolled at the STL program out of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He lives in the Archdiocese of Washington where he helps at Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat Center and produces material for Regnum Christi.


  1. Avatar Ivorysnow3567 says:

    Father: You put much time on all you gave in words to help us. It is time of Mercy. Yes we are to show mercy. At the same time we must know and give the enemy a name. It felt very much like a betrayal. The things done were done by a name. Of all the Martyred & murdered, we do know their names. Yes, when people are wiped out by a group, it’s called genocide. When a priest has his throat slashed after Holy Mass, he’s martyred. This doesn’t mean we don’t forgive, we do. Jesus taught us to know the enemy and feel this; was not a good feeling. There is more, but it will be in vain. I feel as though my father left for another family.


  1. […] speculated that it would simply update Mutuae Relationes, as Pope Francis had suggested was needed1; however,Iuvenescit Ecclesia applies rules similar to those found in the first document to entirely […]