Pope changes canon law for religious who desert community

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Pope Francis has amended Canon Law to create a new mechanism for dismissing a religious who has deserted their community.

Under the new law, promulgated by the Pope in an apostolic letter issued “motu-proprio,” superiors can declare a member dismissed ipso facto if they have been illicitly absent from the community for more than a year and cannot be located.

“Community life is an essential element of religious life,” Francis stated in the letter, titled Communis vita (“Common life”) and issued on March 26. He cited canon 665 of the Code of Canon Law, which provides that “religious must live in their own religious house observing common life and cannot be absent without permission of their superior.”

Under the current provisions of canon 694, which the motuproprio reforms, the ipso facto dismissal of a member of a religious community can be declared for two reasons: that he or she has “defected notoriously from the Catholic faith,” or “has contracted marriage or attempted it, even only civilly.”

With the change, Pope Francis added the ground of desertion of the community.

Now, if a member of a religious community is “absent from the religious house illegitimately, in accordance with canon 665 § 2, for twelve months without interruption” they too can be declared dismissed from the community, provided that their superiors are otherwise unable to locate or contact them.

Depending on the constitution of the religious order, decrees of dismissal must be confirmed by the Holy See or by the local bishop.

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