Decreases in Religious Life Prompt Possible Canon Law Reform

by Sofia Infante


At a conference regarding “vocational perseverance” hosted at the Pontifical University Antonianum in Rome on October 29, heads of religious life said that Pope Francis, who in his short time as head of the Catholic Church, has come to be regarded as a reformer, is open to the possibility of reforming the Code of Canon Law. A recent decrease in religious life has seen a large departure of priests and nuns from religious life, leading many within the Church to wonder if a reform of the Code of Canon Law may help ameliorate the current situation. Archbishop José Rodriguez Carballo, who was recently named secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, said that in the last five years more than 13,000 people left the religious life.

At the conference Carballo stated that he “hope[d] for a change to the Code of Canon Law” in order for novices to be more confident in their vocational paths. An increase in the amount of time spent in novitiate may result in greater confidence of vocations and may decrease the number of persons leaving religious life. Currently, the Code of Canon Law states that novices must last a minimum of a year to a maximum of two years in the congregation. Cardinal Carballo says that this short period, “does not allow us to have longer novitiates in order to permit a better discerning.”


During the conference Cardinal Joao Bráz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation, asserted that Pope Francis’ views echoed Carballos’ thoughts, asserting, “This is what the pope has told us.”


Carballos clarified, “Yes, when I was pointing this out, I was thinking about what the Pope told us.” But the reform Pope Francis may have in mind extends farther than the novitiate life, as it may seek a comprehensive reform of the entirety of the Code of Canon Law. However, because no current serious undertakings to reform canon law have been reported, these declarations are only a “declaration of principles.”


In regards to the actual number of persons that have left religious life, Archbishop Rodriguez noted that from 2008-2012, a total of 11,805 persons left the Congregation for Religious, an annual average of 2,361 persons. During the same time, 1,188 men were dispensed from priestly duties, and 130 men left their diaconal duties. According to Archbishop Rodriquez, “By adding this data with others, in five years, 13,123 people left the religious life…a little more than 3,000 religious brothers and sisters left annually the consecrated life.”


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