Pope Widens Bishop's Authority Over Assisi Sites

New Norms for Basilicas of St. Francis and St. Mary

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 21, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI has named a new bishop in Assisi and given him additional authority to oversee more closely the activities of Assisi’s two major Franciscan churches.

The Basilica of St. Francis, which houses the saint’s remains, is entrusted to the Conventual Franciscans; the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, which contains the Portiuncula chapel, is looked after by the Order of Friars Minor.

In an apostolic letter issued “motu proprio” (on his own initiative) and published Saturday by the Vatican press office, the Pope wrote: “In the course of the centuries, the Conventual Friars and the Friars Minor, with their solicitous work and testimony have kept alive the spirit and charism of St. Francis, spreading his evangelical message of peace, fraternity and goodness throughout the world.”

Until now, these churches were “directly subject” to the Franciscans’ jurisdiction, added the document.

Benedict XVI considers this arrangement “useful to modify” because of “the need to carry out a more effective agreement between the activities that are undertaken both in the Basilica of St. Francis (with the Sacred Convent) as well as in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels (and its Convent) and the pastoral endeavor of the Diocese of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino, and also with the pastoral program promoted at the regional and national level by the respective episcopal Conferences.”

The papal letter establishes that henceforth the bishop of Assisi-Nocera “will have the jurisdiction established by the law on churches and religious houses in regard to all the pastoral activities undertaken by the Conventual Fathers of the Basilica of St. Francis and by the Friars Minor of St. Mary of the Angels.”

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The Pope named Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino, 57, to head the Assisi-Nocera Diocese. Since 2003, the prelate was secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. He succeeds Bishop Sergio Goretti, 76, who retired.

Benedict XVI’s new dispositions relative to those two “major Franciscan churches” indicate that, for “all initiatives with pastoral aspects,” “the Franciscan Fathers, Conventuals and Minor, will have to request and obtain the consent of the Bishop of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino.”

Moreover, for his part, Archbishop Sorrentino “will hear the opinion of the president of the Umbra Episcopal Conference for initiatives that affect the Region of the Presidency of the Italian Episcopal Conference for those of a larger radius.”

The Holy Father exhorts the “Sons of St. Francis, to whom the two mentioned Basilicas are entrusted,” to keep to the new norms with “generous willingness” in a “spirit of sincere communion” with the local bishop “and, through him, with the regional and the national Episcopal Conference.”

In addition, the Pope is assigning to the Basilica of St. Francis and to the adjacent monastery, as well as to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, a papal legate.

This will be a cardinal to “perpetuate with his moral authority the close bonds of communion between the sacred places in memory of the Poverello” of Assisi and the Apostolic See.

Although the cardinal — whose appointment is yet to be announced — will not have jurisdiction over the mentioned places, “he will be able to impart the Papal Blessing in celebrations over which he will preside on the occasion of major liturgical solemnities,” the Pope’s letter said.

For their part, the Franciscans of the Sacred Convent of Assisi express “joy and hope” over the appointment of Archbishop Sorrentino at the head of the diocese, said Vatican Radio.

“In his first message, we are happy to find a clear reference to the Franciscan values of Assisi; this is, for us, a reason for joy and hope,” wrote Father Vincenzo Coli, custodian of the convent, to the prelate.

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