Clarifying charity – Intima Ecclesiae natura

pope writingAt the start of this month, Pope Benedict XVI issued an Apostolic Letter ‘Motu Proprio’, that is to say on his own initiative, titled Intima Ecclesiae natura, or ‘the Church’s deepest nature’. It deals with the topic of charity, which is one of the main avenues of activity of the Church.

With this Letter, the Holy Father intends to streamline and strengthen some of the canon laws surrounding this topic. In fifteen articles, which have the full power of the law, the duties and rights of the faithful, the charitable institutions in the Church, and the diocesan bishops, who have ecclesiastical authority over what goes on in their dioceses, are outlined.

Some of the articles repeat what is already law for the sake of clarity and emphasis. But there are a few interesting points, which I want to mention here.

Article 2, paragraph 2 states that an agency may only use the name “Catholic” with the written consent of the competent authority (usually the diocesan bishop). Related to that is Article 11, which states the bishop is obliged to inform the faithful that a charity can no longer us the name “Catholic” if it doesn’t act in accordance with Church teaching. This shows that using the name “Catholic” is not without consequences. Calling yourself or your institution “Catholic” brings with it the duty to act accordingly. It’s a sort of brand protection as well.

In Article 6 we find that the bishop has the duty to ensure that the charitable activities in his jurisdiction “keep alive the spirit of the Gospel”. This is expanded upon in Paragraph 2 of Article 7, which not only states that those working in the charitable institutions “give an example of Christian life and witness to a formation of heart which testifies to a faith working through charity”. To that end, “he is also to provide for their theological and pastoral formation…”

The charitable activities of the Church are not undertaken only to help people materially, although they do that too. They also intend to spread the Word of God, although not always in words.

There is more in the document, so do read it. It’s not very long. You may read the original text provided via the link above, or my Dutch translation.