Today’s document from the Congregation for Clergy follows the 1997 Interdicasterial Instruction, Ecclesia de Mysterio, “On certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the ministry of priests”, and the 2002 Congregation Instruction entitled, “The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community.”

In his presentation of today’s document, Monsignor Andrea Ripa, undersecretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, notes that, “As was the case in 1997 and 2002, this Instruction does not contain ‘new legislation’; this is outside the remit and possibilities of an Instruction, the aim of which is to “set out the provisions of a law and develop the manner in which it is to be put into effect” (can. 34 §1, C.I.C.).

“Instead, this document proposes means to apply the law already in force in a better way, drawing on the experience of the Congregation for the Clergy in its service to the particular Churches. The current Instruction, therefore, is intended for the benefit of certain pastoral choices, some of which pastors have already introduced and have already been ‘experienced’ by the People of God for some time. This text aims to contribute to the evaluation of such choices, to correct and rethink them where necessary, with a view to improving upon the journey undertaken thus far, by harmonising particular law with universal law, while at the same time laying the foundations for a future path for pastoral care.”

The document is an answer in particular to those bishops who, facing decreased numbers of priests, therefore pastors, and the merging of parishes, have written over recent years to the Vatican for guidance.

In fact, Msgr. Ripa writes of the topic of grouping parishes together: “Taking the above-mentioned possibilities for diocesan restructuring into consideration, namely, the various ways of assigning and sharing in the exercise of pastoral care, the establishment of pastoral regions or units, together with the consequent union or suppression of Parishes, this Instruction is intended to offer Bishops and their collaborators, clerics and laity, the pastoral and canonical tools to work together for the greater good of the ecclesial community.”

The following is a summary of the 22-page Instruction, “The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church.”


The Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy released a new document to help guide the reform of parish communities. It is entitled “The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church.”

By Isabella Piro (

The Church offers space for everyone to find their place while respecting the vocation of each individual. This idea forms the core of the Instruction on the parish, which the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy released on Monday.

The document does not promulgate any new legislation, but proposes methods to better apply existing rules and canonical norms. The aim is to encourage the co-responsibility of the baptized and to promote pastoral care based on closeness and cooperation between parishes.

What emerges most forcefully from the Instruction is the urgency of missionary renewal, a pastoral conversion of the parish, so that the faithful may rediscover the dynamism and creativity which allows the parish to be always “going forth”, aided by the contribution of all the baptized faithful.

The Instruction consists of 11 chapters and can be divided into two parts: the first (chapters 1-6) offers a broad reflection on pastoral conversion, missionary outreach, and the value of the parish in the contemporary context. The second part (chapters 7-11) dwells on the subdivisions of parish communities, various pastoral roles that make them up, and the ways in which the governing norms are applied.

The parish: “A house among houses”
The Instruction describes the parish as “a house among houses” – a permanent sign of the Risen One in the midst of His people, according to the first part of the document.

The missionary nature of the parish is fundamental for evangelization. Globalization and the digital world have altered its specific link with the territory it encompasses. Therefore, the parish as such is no longer just a geographical space, but an existential space. It is precisely in this context that the parish’s “flexibility” emerges, allowing it to respond to the demands of the times and to adapt its service to the faithful throughout history.

Missionary renewal
The Instruction, therefore, stresses the importance of a missionary renewal of parish structures. Such renewal should steer clear of self-referentiality and rigidness. Rather, it should focus instead on spiritual dynamism and pastoral conversion based on the proclamation of the Word of God, the sacramental life, and the witness of charity. The “culture of encounter” should provide the necessary context for promoting dialogue, solidarity, and openness to all. In this way, parish communities will be able to develop a true “art of accompaniment”. In particular, the Instruction recommends the witness of faith in charity and the importance of caring for the poor which the parish evangelizes.

Every baptized person must be an active protagonist in evangelization. Therefore, a change of mentality and interior renewal is essential in order to carry out a missionary reform of pastoral care.

Naturally, these processes of change must be flexible and gradual, since every project must be situated in the real life of a community, without being imposed from above and without “clericalizing” the service of pastoral care.

Diocesan subdivisions
The second part of the Instruction opens with the analysis of the subdivisions within the diocesan territory.

First, the document explains, parishes should follow the key factor of proximity, while taking into account the similarities of the population and the characteristics of the territory. The document then dwells on the specific procedures relating to the incorporation, merging or division of parishes, and on those relating to the Vicariates Forane (also known as a Deanery), which bring together several parish units, and the pastoral units that group several Vicariates Forane.

Parish priest: “pastor” of the community
The Instruction then delves into the theme of assigning the pastoral care of parish communities, both in ordinary and extraordinary ways.

First of all, the role of the parish priest as “pastor” of the community is underlined. He is at the service of the parish, and not the other way around. His role “involves the full care of souls.” The parish priest must therefore have received the Order of the Presbyter, excluding any other possibility.

He is the administrator responsible for parish property and is the juridical representative of the parish. He ought to be appointed for an indefinite period of time, since the good of souls demands stability and implies knowledge of the community. However, the Instruction recalls that a Bishop may appoint a parish priest for a determined period, provided it is not less than five years and that the Episcopal Conference has established this by decree.

When he has reached the age of 75, the parish priest has the “moral duty” to present his resignation, though he does not cease from office until the Bishop has accepted it and communicated his acceptance in writing. In any case, acceptance will always be for a “just and proportionate cause”, so as to avoid a “functionalistic” conception of the ministry.

Deacons: ordained ministers, not ‘half-priests and half-laymen’
A portion of the eighth chapter is dedicated to deacons. They are collaborators of the Bishop and the priests in a singular mission of evangelization. Deacons are ordained ministers and participate to a degree of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, especially in the area of evangelization and charity, including the administration of goods, the proclamation of the Gospel, and service at the Eucharistic table.

They are not to be considered as “half-priests and half-laymen”, according to the Instruction which quotes Pope Francis, nor is their vocation to be considered from the perspective of clericalism or functionalism.

Witness of consecrated persons and generous commitment of laity

The Instruction published by the Congregation for the Clergy also reflects on consecrated men and women, as well as the laity, within parish communities.

Consecrated men and women contribute in the first place from their “‘being’, that is, from the witness of a radical following of Christ.” Lay faithful participate in the evangelizing action of the Church. They are called upon to make a “generous commitment” through the general witness of their daily lives, lived in conformity with the Gospel, while placing themselves at the service of the parish community.

Lay faithful can also be instituted as Lectors and Acolytes (i.e. for service at the altar) on a stable basis, by means of the relevant rite. But they must be in full communion with the Catholic Church, have received adequate formation, and lead exemplary personal lives.

In addition, in exceptional circumstances, they may receive other assignments from the Bishop, “at his prudent judgement”. These include celebrating the Liturgy of the Word and funeral rites, administering Baptism, assisting at marriages – with the Holy See’s permission – and preaching in a Church or oratory in case of need.

Under no circumstances, however, may lay people give the homily during the celebration of the Eucharist.

Bodies of ecclesial co-responsibility
The Instruction also reflects on parish bodies of ecclesial co-responsibility, including the Parish Finance Council, which is constituted as a consultative body, is presided over by the pastor, and is formed of at least three members.

The document says the administration of a parish’s goods is “an important area of evangelisation and evangelical witness, both in the Church and in civil society.” All goods belong to the parish and not to the parish priest, the Congregation for the Clergy reaffirms. The task of the Parish Finance Council will therefore be to foster a “culture of co-responsibility, of administrative transparency, and of service to the needs of the Church.”

The Parish Pastoral Council is also consultative in nature, and is “highly recommended”. “Far from being simply a bureaucratic organ, the Pastoral Council highlights and realizes the centrality of the People of God as the subject and active protagonist of the evangelizing mission, in virtue of the fact that every member of the faithful has received the gifts of the Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation.”

Its main function is to offer practical proposals for the parish’s pastoral and charitable initiatives, in harmony with the objectives of the diocese. Proposals require the favorable acceptance of the pastor in order to become operative.

No ‘tax on the Sacraments’: an offering is a free act
The final chapter dwells on offerings for the celebration of the Sacraments.

They must be “a free act” on the part of the one offering, and should not be requested as if it were a tax or a fee. Priests are urged to offer a virtuous example in their use of money, through a sober lifestyle and transparent administration of parish goods. In this way, the faithful will be encouraged to contribute willingly to the needs of the Parish, which are also their own.



Following is my translation of an article that appeared yesterday in the online edition of the Italian daily, La Stampa, in its section called “Vatican Insider.” The piece is by Salvatore Cernuzio and is entitled, “If there is doubt about homosexuality, better not to enter the seminary.”

(A little footnote for history: In June 2011 when La Stampa wanted to inaugurate its new section about the Vatican, the papacy and Catholic Church, they wanted to name it “Vatican Insider.” However, we at EWTN had copyrighted that name with my weekend radio show “Vatican Insider,” and thus they had to ask us for permission to use that name.)

I took the time to translate this piece because I feel that what the Pope has said in the past about homosexuality, and what Church documents say, especiallyt vis-à-vis homosexuality and candidates to the priesthood, might calm the waters that have reached boiling temperatures over words allegedly spoken by Pope Francis to Juan Cruz, a victim of clerical sex abuse in Chile, when he was in Rome with two other victims as a guest of the Holy Father earlier this month. Cruz had quoted the Holy Father in a recent interview.

Neither Pope Francis nor the Holy See Press Office has confirmed or denied the words the pontiff allegedly said to Cruz.

Re: the Vatican Insider article: Pope Francis’ opening remarks to the CEI, the Italian Episcopal Conference, as it met Monday in the Vatican, have been reported in several languages. Following his opening remarks in which he spoke of three areas of “concern” for the Church in Italy, there was a give and take, a question and answer session. The author of this piece does not explicitly say so but I am surmising that what he writes (he says at one point “Vatican Insider has learned”) occurred during the Q&A session as these words are not in the formal papal address.

Here is my translation:

On Monday, May 21 Pope Francis spoke to the bishops of the CEI, the Italian Episcopal Conference, during a three-hour session of their 71st General assembly. Pope Francis faced the delicate theme of admission of homosexual young men into seminaries.

Pope Bergoglio expressed his opinion on the question, in fact repeating what he affirmed several years ago, though in a manner more implicit. “An eye on seminary admissions, open eyes,” is what he told the Congregation for Clergy.

Vatican Insider has learned that, with the Italian bishops Francis, speaking of the decline in vocations – one of his “three preoccupations for the Italian Church,” was clearer on this and he invited the prelates to take care of the quality of future priests over quantity. He explicitly mentioned the cases of homosexual persons who wish for various reasons to enter the seminary and he therefore invited the bishops to an attentive discernment, adding “If there is doubt about homosexuality, better not to enter the seminary.”

This indication by the pope expresses his great concern: these tendencies, when they are “deeply rooted” and the practice of “homosexual acts” can compromise the life of the seminary, in addition to that of the young man and his eventual future priesthood. And these acts can generate those “scandals” about which the pope spoke in his speech opening the CEI general assembly in the New Synod Hall, saying these acts disfigure the face of the church

Between the lines one can read what Pope Francis wrote in his letter of meditation given to the bishops of Chile during their meeting in the Vatican. In a note added to that text, the pope denounced the problems occurring in seminaries where, he wrote, bishops and religious superiors entrusted the leadership to “priests suspected of practicing homosexuality.”

Naturally, cases are very diverse among themselves and one needs to avoid generalizations. The pope’s note to the bishops of Italy actually goes back to the Ratio Fundamentalis published in December 2016 by the Congregation for Clergy: a thick document with the title, “The gift of the priestly vocation” in which this dicastery updated norms, uses and customs for access to the seminary, furnishing practical suggestions on matters such as health, nourishment, sports activity and rest.

Paragraph 199 of the Ratio states: “In relation to persons with homosexual tendencies who want to enter the seminary or who discover in the course of their formation in the seminary, in coherence with her Magisterium, the Church, though profoundly respecting the persons in question, may not admit to the seminary and to Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture.”

These indications from the 2016 Ratio repeat what was established by the instruction published by the Congregation for Catholic Education in August 2005 on the same “criteria for discernment of a vocation regarding persons with homosexual tendencies in view of their admission to seminaries and to Holy Orders.”

In nine pages with 20 notes, the document, approved by then Pope Benedict XVI, repeated the “no” of the Holy See to entrance into seminaries and religious orders of men who “practice homosexuality, have deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or even outright support the so-called gay culture.”

Above all, a distinction was made between “homosexual acts” and “homosexual tendencies”: for the first one, the Church reaffirmed the definition of “grave sin,” “intrinsically immoral and contrary to natural law,” whereas what was asked for those who show tendencies, in any case defined as “objectively disordered,” was an acceptance marked by “respect and delicateness,” avoiding “every sign of unjust discrimination.”

In any case, even just a doubt about the homosexual orientation of the candidate to priesthood – according to indications furnished by this instruction – can be considered an obstacle on his path towards ordination. One paragraph states: “If a candidate practices homosexuality or presents deeply rooted homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director as well as his confessor have the duty to dissuade him, in conscience, from proceeding towards ordination.”

In another paragraph of the same text, aspiring seminarians (with homosexual orientations) are invited to not lie to their superiors just to enter the seminary. “It is understood that the candidate himself is the first one responsible for his own formation” says the Vatican text. It would therefore be “gravely dishonest if a candidate hides his own homosexuality to arrive at – notwithstanding everything – ordination. Such an inauthentic behavior does not correspond to the spirit of truth, loyalty and availability which must mark the personality of those who believe they are called to serve Christ.”

What must not be forgotten – another risk indicated by Pope Francis in the previously quoted speech to the Congregation for Clergy – is that often “there are young men who are physically ill and seek strong structures that will defend them.”



The Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy has issued an updated instrument for the formation of priests. The document, entitled Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis or ‘The Gift of Priestly Vocation’, was promulgated on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8 and published in L’Osservatore Romano.

“The gift of the priestly vocation, placed by God in the hearts of some men, obliges the Church to propose to them a serious journey of formation,” the opening line of the document reads. In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, says the updated Ratio Fundamentalis is meant to provide guidelines for the formation of priests, which “needed to be revamped, renewed, and restored to the center.”

Click here to read the full interview.

Updated norms

The last Ratio was published in 1970 and updated in 1985. Cardinal Stella said the new norms seek to take into account the rapid evolution in “historical, socio-cultural, and ecclesiastical contexts.”

He said inspiration was drawn from Pope Francis’ teachings and spirituality, especially regarding “temptations tied to money, to the authoritarian exercise of power, to rigid legalism, and to vainglory.”

Innovation and continuity

Cardinal Stella said the guidelines take up “the content, methods and orientation produced up to this day in the field of formation”, while at the same time building on the “existing patrimony” of the Church. He said that, “in the life of the Church innovations are never separate from Tradition, but, on the contrary, integrate it, and enhance it.”

The document, he said, draws on Pastores dabo vobis from 1992 to promote an “integral formation,” that is, “the ability to unite, in a balanced way, the human, as well as the spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral dimensions, through a gradual instructional personalized course.”

One important innovation is the introduction of a “propaedeutic period upon entrance to the Seminary.”

The Ratio Fundamentalis proposes the propaedeutic stage of formation be “not less than one year or more than two” and is meant to validate the vocation of candidates. The document also emphasizes the need for dioceses and religious orders to guard against admitting potential sex abusers to the priesthood.

“The greatest attention must be given to the theme of the protection of minors and vulnerable adults,” it says, “being vigilant lest those who seek admission to a seminary or a house of formation, or who are already petitioning to receive Holy Orders, have not been involved in any way with any crime or problematic behavior in this area.”

Ratio Fundamentalis restates the language of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the ordination of persons with homosexual tendencies.

“The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’. Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” (cf. Ratio Fundamentalis 199; CCC nn. 2357-2358).

Cardinal Stella said the guidelines have added three stages to priestly formation: “the “stage of discipleship,” “configuration stage,” and “pastoral stage,” each of which has a corresponding itinerary and formative content, orientated toward an assimilation with the image of the Good Shepherd.”

In brief, he said, “to be a good priest, in addition to having passed all the exams, a demonstrated human, spiritual and pastoral maturation is necessary.”

Humanity, spirituality, discernment

Cardinal Stella told L’Osservatore Romano the three keywords he would choose to describe the document are: ‘humanity, spirituality, and discernment.’

He recalled Pope Francis’ recent address to the Society of Jesus: “I am noticing,” he said, “the lack of discernment in the formation of priests. We are risking, in fact, becoming accustomed to ‘black and white’ and to that which is legal. We are quite closed, by and large, to discernment. One thing is clear, today in a certain quantity of Seminaries, a rigidity has been re- established which is not related to situational discernment.”

Word for priests

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy concluded with a word for priests. He said, “To each one of them I would like to say above all: do not become discouraged! The Lord never offers less than his promises, and if you have called upon him, he will make his light shine upon you, whether you live in darkness, aridity, fatigue or a moment of pastoral failure. I would like to recommend to priests that they not let the healthy disquiet, which maintains their progress on the right path, be extinguished!”