Fr. Josemaría Escrivá. Founder of Opus Dei. Photo: Opus Dei

Opus Dei and Pope’s Modification of Canon Law Numbers: How Did It Get to This Point ?

Pope Francis modified two numbers of Canon Law. Given that they say it relates to the only Personal Prelature that exists at present in the Church, what chronology has led to this modification?  

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(ZENIT News / Rome, 09.08.2023).- On Tuesday, August 8, the Holy See made known a Motu Proprio of Pope Francis (number 67 of this pontificate) with which two Canons are modified of the Code of Canon Law, specifically numbers 295 and 296, which relate to Personal Prelatures. At present there is only one entity recognized as such: the Personal Prelature of the Opus Dei.

The modification is as follows (translation of Pope Francis’ original Motu Proprio in Italian):

* * *

Personal Prelatures were mentioned for the first time by Vatican Council II in the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 10, in regard to the distribution of Presbyters, in the context of a request by all the Churches.

This spirit was taken up again by the same Council in the Decree Ad Gentes, in which it is affirmed that in order “to facilitate specific pastoral works for the different social classes, the erection is foreseen of Personal Prelatures, as required by the correct exercise of the apostolate”(note 105).

The Motu Proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae (August 6, 1966), in the article dedicated to the “Distribution of the clergy and aids that must be given to the dioceses,” in regard to Prelatures it recalls: “to foster special pastoral or missionary activities in favour of specific regions or social groups, in need of particular aid, the Apostolic See can erect fruitfully Prelatures made up of priests of the secular clergy, possessors of a particular formation, endowed with their own Statutes and under the direction of their own Prelate” (l, 4). 

In line with this vision, in the Code of Canon Law of 1983, the Personal Prelatures are situated in Book II, in Title IV of Part I, where they care for “the Christian faithful,” among the “sacred ministers or clergymen” (Title III, and the Associations of the faithful” (Title V). 

Considering that with the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium (March 19, 2022), art. 117, competence over Personal Prelatures was transferred to the Dicastery for the Clergy, of which public Clerical Associations also depend, with the faculty to incardinate clergymen (art. 118, 2); 

Considering Canon 265 and art. 6 of the M.P. Ad Charisma Tuendum (July 14, 2022)

I decree the following:

Article 1

To Canon 295, § 1, regarding the Statutes and the Prelate, is added that the Personal Prelature is assimilated to the public Clerical Associations of Pontifical Right with the faculty to incardinate clergymen,” that their statutes can be “approved or issued by the Apostolic See” and that the Prelate acts “as Moderator, endowed with the faculties of an Ordinary,”  resulting with the Canon in question being formulated as follows:

Can. 295, § 1. The Personal Prelature, which is assimilated to the public Clerical Associations of Pontifical Right with the faculty to incardinate clergymen, is governed by Statutes approved or issued by the Apostolic See, and to which a Prelate is appointed as Moderator, endowed with the faculties of the Ordinary, who has the right to establish a national or international Seminary, as well as incardinate the students and promote them to Sacred Orders under the title of service of the Prelature. 

Art. 2

In Can. 295 § 2, regarding the responsibilities of the Prelate in relation to the formation and sustenance of the incardinated clergymen of the Prelature, it is specified that he acts “as Moderator, endowed with the faculties of the Ordinary, and the same Canon is formulated thus:

Can. 295, § 2. Given that the Prelate is endowed with the faculties of the Ordinary as Moderator, he must watch over the spiritual formation of those he has promoted with the mentioned title as well as their adequate sustenance. 

Art. 3

To Can. 296, regarding the participation of the laity in apostolic activities of the Personal Prelature, is added the reference to Can. 107, resulting in the mentioned Canon:

Can. 296. Keeping the prescriptions of Canon 107, the laity can be dedicated to the apostolic works of the Personal Prelature through the Agreements established with the same; however, the form of this organic cooperation, as well as its main functions and the rights linked to it, must be adequately determined in the Statutes. 

What has been deliberated in this Apostolic Letter in the form of a Motu Proprio, I order that it be firm and stable while in force, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, even if it is worthy of special mention, and that it be promulgated in L’Osservatore Romano, coming into force on the day of its publication, and then included in the official commentary of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. 

How did it get to this point? Recent chronology up to this modification

Speaking chronologically, in March 2022 the new Constitution that reformed the Roman Curia made Personal Prelatures pass from the Dicastery for Bishops to the Dicastery for the Clergy. Although the Opus Dei isn’t mentioned, it was the Opus Dei that was affected by this change as it is the only Personal Prelature in the Church. 

When this implicit dependence was made known, Monsignor Fernando Ocáriz, Prelate of the Work, sent a message to the faithful addressing this matter (also at that time Professor Eduardo Baura explained some aspects of that change.) The change of dependence was preceded, months before, by a private audience of the Pope with the Prelate of the Opus Dei

On July 22, 2022 Pope Francis issued a Motu Proprio entitled “Ad Charisma Tuendum” with six specific provisions, namely:

  1. Modification of an article of the Constitution Ut Sit, which made effective the change of the dependence of the Opus Dei: from the Dicastery for Bishops to the Dicastery for the Clergy;
  2. Modification of the article of the Constitution Ut Sit by which the Prelate is to present an annual Report to the Dicastery for the Clergy;
  3. Requested is the Adaptation of the Statutes of the Prelature of the Opus Dei;
  4. Established is that the Prelate “will not be honoured with the Episcopal Order”;
  5. Regulated is the use of pontifical insignias; and
  6. Noted is that the Dicastery for the Clergy will address and decide on pending matters of the Opus Dei  with the Dicastery for Bishops. 

After the publication of this document, established by the will of the Pope, the Prelate sent a letter to the faithful of the Prelature underscoring that they “accepted it filially.”

At the beginning of October 2022, the Opus Dei convoked an Extraordinary General Congress to introduce  the changes requested by the Pope to the Statutes of the Prelature. At the end of November of the same year Pope Francis received once again Monsignor Fernando Ocáriz in private audience. The audience coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Opus Dei as Personal Prelature. 

Two weeks later, on December 18, the ABC newspaper published an interview with Pope Francis. One of the questions posed to the Pontiff was precisely the relation with the Work. Given that some of the media had presented everything as a “punishment” of the Opus Dei, journalists asked the Pope how they should interpret what he had up to that moment requested of the Work. To which the Pope answered: 

“It’s not only a question of the Opus Dei, but of Personal Prelatures. In the scheme of the Curia, the Opus Dei depended on the Congregation for Bishops, but in the Code of Canon Law, Prelatures are framed in another way, and the criteria had to be unified. The matter was studied and it was said that “the Prelature should go to the Congregation for the Clergy.” I did it dialoguing with them. Moreover, I have been a friend from Argentina of Mariano Fazio (Vicar General of the Opus Dei). It was a serene and normal thing done by canonists. Even canonists of the Opus worked in the process. On one hand, some said “At last the Pope has given it to those of the Opus . . . ! I didn’t give them anything! And others, on the other hand, said ”Ah, the Pope is invading us!” None of that. The measure is a resituating that had had to be resolved. It’s not right to magnify the matter, or to make them victims, or to make them culprits who received punishments. Please, I’m a close friend of the Opus Dei, I love them very much and they work well in the Church The good they do is very great.”

Following the chronological path, in April 2023 the Opus Dei held its Extraordinary General Congress in Rome. At the beginning of June 2023, Pope Francis received in private audience again the Prelate of the Opus Dei who, according to a note of the Prelature itself, informed  him that they had begun to work with the Dicastery for the Clergy on the document resulting from the Congress, for the decision the Hoy See would take. Among the Pope’s words to ABC and that last audience, which manifested a gesture of confidence to the Prelature, was the appointment of Monsignor Ocáriz as Consultor of the Dicastery for Evangelization

Just over two months later, this second Motu Proprio arrived with which the Canons are modified that, although they do not mention the Opus Dei by name, affect it as it is the only existing Personal Prelature. In this context, the additional information given by the Pope to ABC should be taken into account:

  • “It’s not only a question of the Opus Dei, but of Personal Prelatures.”
  • “I did it dialoguing with them  (. . . ) it was a serene and normal thing done by canonists, even canonists of the Opus worked in the process.”

What Was the Opus Dei’s Answer? 

Through a publication on its institutional Website, the Personal Prelature of the Opus Dei has noted that that they will study “what consequences these modifications might have for the legal configuration of the Opus Dei, also in the framework of the works being carried out with the Dicastery for the Clergy on the adaptation of the Statutes required in the Motu Proprio Ad Charisma Tuendum, in an atmosphere of communion with the Holy Father.”

The key position can be summarized in a few words: “communion with the Holy Father.” In tune with a July 2022 letter in which the Prelate anticipated “we accept it filially.” Going back to the ABC interview, it illuminates the decision made clear by the Pope: “I’m a close friend of the Opus Dei, I love them very much and they work well in the Church. The good they do is very great.”

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