ROME (AP) — Pope Francis on Wednesday tightened oversight on creating new religious orders to exert more Vatican control over the process and prevent charlatans from duping the faithful.
The new law was approved as the Vatican in recent years has cracked down on the founders of some religious orders and lay institutes after they were found to have been religious frauds who sexually or spiritually abused their members.
Usually, religious orders begin as small “institutes of consecrated life” that are approved by a local bishop to operate in his diocese. Over time, if they attract more members, they can apply to the Vatican to get pontifical recognition, like the Jesuits or Missionaries of Charity.
Already the Vatican in 2016 told local bishops they must consult with it before approving a new religious order or risk having their decisions overturned. The new law goes further and requires written Vatican approval before a bishop can approve a new order.
The new law says greater Vatican oversight was necessary to ensure the new orders meet the criteria of having a unique charism, or founding spirit, and to prevent unsustainably small communities from sprouting up in diocese after diocese.
“The faithful have the right to be advised by their pastors about the authenticity of the charisms and about the trustworthiness of those who present themselves as founders,” the law said.
In recent years, the Vatican has either removed or defrocked founders of several religious communities in Latin America and Europe after investigations uncovered abuses of authority, spiritual and sexual abuse.
The affected orders include the Mexico-based Legion of Christ, Peru-based Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, Argentina-based Miles Christi and the French Community of St. John, among others.