Procedure for the Recognition of International Associations of the Faithful

Among the Dicastery’s tasks is the recognition or erection of international associations of the faithful (cf. art. 7, Statutes of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life). The essential prerequisite for recognition is that an association be international in character, with a consolidated presence of members in Particular Churches in different countries. Other elements taken into consideration are the number of members in the association, its nature and the purpose of the association’s activities. As can be seen, these criteria are general and flexible, in order to take into account the specificity of each association. Periodic contact between the association’s leaders and the Dicastery is also an indispensable part of the recognition process, as it provides the Dicastery with a better knowledge of the association.

For recognition of an association of the faithful by the Holy See, it is asked that the association have canonical recognition at the diocesan level. This recognition is generally obtained in the diocese where the association originated. The bishops of the other dioceses where the association is present are requested to write to the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life in support of the association’s request for international recognition. In this way, the Dicastery verifies not only the international character of the association, but also the spiritual and apostolic fruits borne by its members within different dioceses, as attested to by the Pastors of these Churches. This requirement has an important ecclesiological significance since it manifests in a concrete way the mutual collaboration between the Universal Church and the Particular Churches.

Because of the rapid international growth of associations in the Church in recent decades, the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life has engaged an ongoing process of pastoral and juridical discernment and counsel with the newer forms of associative life in the Church, guided by Magisterium and by the canonical norms in force. Based on this experience, this Dicastery has established a specific Praxis Curiæ for the recognition of international associations of the faithful.

The procedure is initiated when the head of the association sends a formal request for international recognition to the Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. The request should be accompanied by draft statutes, drawn up by the association, along with other documentation that helps explain the association’s history, nature, objectives, and activities. Information should also be provided regarding the approximate number of association members, indications of the Particular Churches where the association is present, and testimonies of its relationship with these diocesan bishops. Canonically, this initial request has great significance as it is derived from the lay faithful’s fundamental right to associate for the apostolate.

As a first step, the Dicastery examines the documents it has received, verifying that these basic requirements have been met, before beginning the procedure for recognition as such. It should be pointed out that recognition by the Holy See is not to be considered in any way as a higher dignity or type of association. An association recognized at the diocesan level or the national level is just as much an ecclesial reality in the Church as one recognized at the international level.

After the initial review mentioned above, the Dicastery submits the statutes to consultors of the Pontifical Council who are canon lawyers. Based upon the consultors’ observations, the Dicastery then formulates its own recommendations to the association. During this technical–juridical phase, the association of the faithful is asked to integrate the Dicastery’s observations into the draft text of the statutes, working towards a definitive text that can be submitted for final approval. Once this final revision of the statutes is completed, the final phase of the recognition process is begun. In this phase the Dicastery grants a decree by which it recognizes (or erects) the international association of faithful and approves its statutes ad experimentum for an initial period of five years. At the end of this period the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life issues a new decree for the definitive approval of the association’s statutes. As can be noted, an administrative act by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life is an exercise of the ecclesiastical power of governance, participating in one of the characteristic functions of a Congregation of the Roman Curia.