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Pope Issues New Rules Governing Catholic Charities

In what appears to be a response to the recent scandals involving Catholic charities who engage in activities that violate Church teaching, Pope Benedict issued a motu proprio on Saturday that annunciates the rules to be followed for all entities that call themselves Catholic.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, is entitled De Caritate ministranda, "On the service of charity," and was published Saturday on the Vatican web site. The Pope said that he issued the new rules upon the recommendation of Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, who heads the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican's main oversight agency for charitable activities.

The document establishes standards for the establishment of charities within dioceses, stipulating that they must be approved by the local bishop. No charity can call itself "Catholic" without the written permission of church authorities. If a particular charity is found to be no longer in conformity with Church teaching, the bishop is to make this known and take steps to prevent the organization from using the name "Catholic."

"It is the responsibility of the diocesan Bishop to ensure that in the activities and management of these agencies the norms of the Church’s universal and particular law are respected, as well as the intentions of the faithful who made donations or bequests for these specific purposes," the document states.

People who are employed by these charities are also expected to "at least respect"  the Catholic identity of the organization.

"To ensure an evangelical witness in the service of charity, the diocesan Bishop is to take care that those who work in the Church’s charitable apostolate, along with due professional competence, give an example of Christian life and witness to a formation of heart which testifies to a faith working through charity."

Catholic charities are also to decline funding from other charitable institutions that pursue objectives contrary to Church teaching.

"In particular, the diocesan Bishop is to ensure that charitable agencies dependent upon him do not receive financial support from groups or institutions that pursue ends contrary to Church’s teaching," the document states.

"Similarly, lest scandal be given to the faithful, the diocesan Bishop is to ensure that these charitable agencies do not accept contributions for initiatives whose ends, or the means used to pursue them, are not in conformity with the Church’s teaching."

It also stipulates that these charities be transparent in the way they administer their funds and asks the Bishops to make certain that funds are being used in accordance with the expectations of the donors.

"Among other things, the Vatican appeared to want Caritas, and Catholic charities generally, to have a more specifically 'missionary' orientation, meaning promoting the faith alongside meeting basic humanitarian needs," writes the NCR's John Allen.

As the Pope points out in the document, "The service of charity is a constitutive element of the church's mission and an indispensable expression of her very being."

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