When religious authority is not a service, people are hurt, says Pope

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By Cindy Wooden, Catholic Press Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – When the superior of a religious community does not view his authority as a form of service, the result is an abuse of power that harms individuals and can destroy a vocation, Pope Francis said.

Bringing together members of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life on December 11, the Pope said such abuses are illustrated in a recent Italian book, “Il Velo del Silenzio” (“Veil of Silence” ), by Salvatore Cernuzio.

The book features interviews with 11 women, most of whom had been in cloistered religious communities, many of which were founded orders in the past 50 years. One of the women was sexually assaulted by a priest, but her superiors told her she had to train him. Others relate abuse of power and psychological or emotional violence, mainly through acts of cruelty, humiliation and refusal of medical or psychological assistance.

The women told Cernuzio that these repeated acts of cruelty had taken place under the pretext of teaching women obedience.

Pope Francis told the members of the Vatican dicastery that their job is to “discern and accompany. Above all, support recently founded communities, which are also more exposed to the risk of being self-referential.

The founders of new communities, he said, “sometimes tend to be self-referential, to feel the only custodians or interpreters of the charism, as if they are above the church.”

But any authentic charism inspiring the foundation of a new community, said the Pope, “is born in the Church, it grows and can bear evangelical fruit only in the Church, in the living communion of the faithful people of God” .

When a local bishop and members of the Vatican congregation are approached with a suggestion for a new community, said the Pope, a key question to ask is: “Is this institute capable of fitting into the life of the holy faithful people of God? or not?”

A vocation to religious life is a precious but often fragile thing which must be nurtured with great care, said the Pope, and that concern for vocations obviously implies paying close attention to the way in which authority is exercised over the candidate.

The other problem with authority, he said, is “the length of terms and the accumulation of power, and attention to abuse of authority and power.”

To discern whether a new institute or a new form of consecrated life or a new community is truly inspired by the Holy Spirit for the good of the whole Church, local bishops and Vatican staff must work together, the Pope said .

“This collaboration, this synergy between the dicastery and the bishops also makes it possible to avoid – as requested by the Council (Vatican II) – the inappropriate creation of institutes lacking sufficient motivation or sufficient vigor, perhaps with good will, but something is missing, “he said.

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