IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring
By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Local bishops have an obligation to
welcome new movements and communities and guide them, while the groups have an
obligation to obey the local bishop and avoid the appearance of setting up a
parallel church, said a new Vatican document.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s letter to
bishops around the world on “the relationship between hierarchical and
charismatic gifts in the life and mission of the church” was released June
The hierarchical gifts — teaching, sanctifying and
governing — are those conferred with ordination. The charismatic gifts refer
to those given by the Holy Spirit to groups or individuals to help them live
the faith more intensely and to share the faith with others through missionary
activity and acts of charity.
At a Vatican news conference, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, doctrinal
congregation prefect, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation
for Bishops, presented the document, which formally is titled “Iuvenescit
Ecclesia” (“The Church Rejuvenates”).
Faced with the reality of aging and death, men and women
always have “looked for something or someone to help them remain
young,” Cardinal Muller said. “This is the same challenge that every
institution that wants to last must face: remaining young with the passing of
time, that is, renewing itself while remaining what it is without changing or
altering” its basic identity.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit — raising new movements to
face new challenges — help the church to remain ever young, he said.
Cardinal Ouellet told reporters some suspicion of new,
charismatic movements on the part of the institutional church can be traced
back centuries: to the second-century Montanist heresy, which claimed new
revelations, and the widespread “apocalyptic doctrines” of the Middle
Ages. However, he said, the Second Vatican Council insisted the Holy Spirit
continues to give Christians gifts to be placed at the service of the entire
church to attract believers and help them proclaim their faith.
Still, Cardinal Ouellet said in response to questions,
“there have been some problems” throughout church history of new
groups arising and setting themselves up as a “counter power to the
Cardinal Muller added that a vision of the church in which
the bishops control everything “is not our vision. Bishops are not the superiors,
the commandants of the gifts of the Holy Spirit — the Holy Spirit is.”
The new document insisted that both the hierarchical and
charismatic gifts are given by God in order to build up the church. They always
must be in harmony and complement one another.
The bishop, “he who has received the gift to lead in
the church, has also the responsibility of keeping watch over the good exercise
of the other charisms, in such a manner that all contribute to the good of the
church and to its evangelizing mission,” the document said.
The text focused on a theological explanation of the diverse
gifts in the church rather than on practical challenges and steps to meet those
challenges. However, one of the footnotes, summarizing the discussion of gifts
of the Holy Spirit in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, warned of “rivalry, disorder and
confusion” when an “overabundance” of gifts are expressed in a
community, the risk of an “inferiority complex” among “less
gifts Christians” and the temptation of “pride and arrogance” on
the part of those who receive the gifts.
At the same time, the document insists that faith in God
implies welcoming the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are given to individuals
and groups to deepen the way they live out their Christian vocation and
The groups, the document said, are called “to a
missionary openness, to the necessary obedience to pastors and to maintain
Movements and communities present in more than one diocese
“must not consider themselves as completely autonomous from the particular
church” or diocese, it said, “rather they should enrich and serve her
precisely through that particularity which is shared beyond the confines of a
The bishops, it said, are called to discern the authenticity
of the spiritual gifts and to recognize publicly those movements and
communities that can help the faithful grow in faith, hope and charity.
However, it said, they must avoid trying too hard to control
the groups, employing “juridical straitjackets that deaden the novelty
which is born from the specific experience.”
The criteria for determining the authenticity of the gifts
or charisms given to a movement or community, the document said, must include:
emphasis on every Christian’s vocation to holiness; commitment to spreading the
Gospel; profession of the Catholic faith; unity with the entire church; respect
and esteem for other groups in the church; accepting “moments of
trial” as the bishop discerns the group’s authenticity; presence of
spiritual fruits such as charity, joy, peace; and commitment to justice and
peace with charitable, cultural and spiritual works.
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