1978–Mutual Relations between Bishops and Religious




(Selected texts that deal with formation based on  A. Values  and Principles  B. Vocations, C. Initial formation and D. Ongoing formation. )

A. Values and Principles

1. The Council has emphasized the singular constitutive nature of the Church, presenting her as Mystery (cf. LG ch. 1). Indeed, from Pentecost on (cf. LG 4), there exists in the world a new People, which, vivified by the Holy Spirit, assembles in Christ in order to have access to the Father (cf. Eph 2:18). The members of this People are gathered from all nations and are merged into such an intimate unity (cf. LG 9) that its reality cannot be explained by recourse to any mere sociological formula; for real newness, transcending the human order, is inherent in it. Only in this transcendent perspective can we rightly interpret the relationships among various members of the Church. The element on which the uniqueness of this nature is based is the very presence of the Holy Spirit. He, in fact, is the life and vitality of the People of God and the principle of unity in its communion. He is the vigor of its mission, the source of its multiple gifts, the bond of its marvelous unity, the light and beauty of its creative power, the flame of its love (cf. LG 4; 7; 8; 9; 12; 18; 21).

In fact, the spiritual and pastoral awakening apparent in these recent years reveals, by virtue of the presence of the Holy Spirit — on which some insidious abuses, though disquieting, give no evidence of having cast the slightest shadow — a special privileged moment (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 75) for a flourishing spousal newness of the Church as she tends towards the day of her Lord (cf. Rev 22:17).

“One body and, as parts of it, we belong to each other”
(Rm 12:5; cf. l Cor 12:13)

2. In the mystery of the Church, unity in Christ involves a mutual communion of life among her members. God, in fact, “willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people” (LG 9). The very life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit (cf. LG 7) builds up organic cohesion in Christ: indeed, He unifies the Church “in communion and in the works of ministry, He bestows upon her varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her; and He adorns her with His fruits” (LG 4; cf. Eph 4:11-12; 1 Cor 12:4; Gal 5:22).

The elements, then, which differentiate the various members among themselves, the gifts, that is, the offices and the various duties, constitute substantially a kind of mutual complement and are actually ordered to the one communion and mission of the self-same Body (cf. LG 7; AA 3). Consequently, the fact that in the Church there are pastors, laymen or religious does not indicate inequality in regard to the common dignity of the members; rather it expresses the articulation of the joints and the functions of a living organism.

B. Vocations

C. Initial Formation

The distinctive character of every Institute

11. There are many Religious Institutes in the Church, each differing one from the other according to its proper character (cf. PC 7, 8, 9, 10). Each, however, contributes its own vocation as a gift raised up by the Spirit through the work of outstanding men and women (cf. LG 45; PC 1; 2), and authentically approved by the sacred hierarchy.

The very charism of the Founders (Evang. nunt. 11) appears as an “experience of the Spirit,” transmitted to their disciples to be lived, safeguarded, deepened and constantly developed by them, in harmony with the Body of Christ continually in the process of growth. “It is for this reason that the distinctive character of various religious institutes is preserved and fostered by the Church” (LG 44; cf. CD 33; 35, 1; 35, 2; etc.). This distinctive character also involves a particular style of sanctification and of apostolate, which creates its particular tradition, with the result that one can readily perceive its objective elements.

In this hour of cultural evolution and ecclesial renewal, therefore, it is necessary to preserve the identity of each institute so securely, that the danger of an ill-defined situation be avoided, lest religious, failing to give due consideration to the particular mode of action proper to their character, become part of the life of the Church in a vague and ambiguous way.

Some signs of a genuine “charism”

12. Every authentic charism implies a certain element of genuine originality and of special initiative for the spiritual life of the Church. In its surroundings it may appear troublesome and may even cause difficulties, since it is not always and immediately easy to recognize it as coming from the Spirit.

The specific charismatic note of any institute demands, both of the Founder and of his disciples, a continual examination regarding fidelity to the Lord; docility to His Spirit; intelligent attention to circumstances and an outlook cautiously directed to the signs of the times; the will to be part of the Church; the awareness of subordination to the sacred hierarchy; boldness of initiatives; constancy in the giving of self; humility in bearing with adversities. The true relation between genuine charism, with its perspectives of newness, and interior suffering, carries with it an unvarying history of the connection between charism and cross, which, above every motive that may justify misunderstandings, is supremely helpful in discerning the authenticity of a vocation.

Individual religious, too, certainly possess personal gifts, which without doubt usually come from the Spirit. They are intended for the enrichment, development and rejuvenation of the life of the institute, in the unity of the community and in giving proof of renewal. Discernment of such gifts, however, and their correct use will be measured according to the consistency they show both with the community commitment of the Institute and with the needs of the Church as judged by legitimate authority.



The Roman Pontiff and the bishops carry out in the Church the supreme role of authentic Teachers and Sanctifiers of the entire flock (cf. Part I, ch. II). Religious superiors, in turn, are vested with special authority for the direction of their own institute and carry the heavy burden of the formation of the members (cf. PC 14; 18; Part I, ch. III).

Consequently bishops and superiors, each according to his specific role, but in harmony and united effort, should give precedence to their responsibilities regarding formation.

24. Bishops, in accord also with religious superiors, should promote, especially among diocesan priests, zealous laity and local religious, a clear awareness and experience of the mystery and structure of the Church and of the vivifying indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by jointly organizing special seminars and encounters on spirituality. They should, moreover, insist without ceasing that both public and personal prayer be appreciated and intensified, even by means of appropriate initiatives, carefully prepared.

25. On their part, religious communities, especially of contemplative life, maintaining, of course, fidelity to their distinctive spirit (cf. PC 7; AG 40), should offer people appropriate aids for prayer and for their personal spiritual life, so that they can respond to the pressing need, today more deeply felt than ever, for meditation and the deepening of faith. They should also offer them the opportunity and facility to participate suitably in their liturgical functions, always respecting the requirements of the enclosure and the rules laid down in this regard.

26. Superiors should see to it with all solicitude that their religious remain faithful to their vocation. They should foster opportune adaptations to cultural, social and economic conditions, according to the needs of the times, being vigilant however, lest these adaptations go beyond just limits in the direction of customs contrary to religious life. Cultural updating and specialized studies taken up by religious should deal with subjects pertinent to the distinctive nature of the institute. Such studies should not be programmed with a view to achieving personal goals as if they were a means of wrongly understood self-fulfillment, but with a view to responding to the requirements of the apostolic commitments of the religious family itself, in harmony with the needs of the Church.

27. In promoting ongoing formation of religious, it is necessary to insist on the renewal of the witness of poverty and of service to the most needy and to bring about, furthermore, that through a renewed spirit of obedience and chastity communities become signs of brotherly love and unity.

In institutes of active life, for which the apostolate constitutes an essential element of their religious life (cf. CD 12; 15; 35, 2; LG 25; 45), as both initial and ongoing formation progress, the apostolate itself should be duly emphasized.

28. It is the duty of bishops as authentic teachers and guides of perfection for all the members of the diocese (cf. CD 12; 15; 35, 2; LG 25; 45) to be the guardians likewise of fidelity to the religious vocation in the spirit of each institute. In carrying out this pastoral obligation, bishops in open communion of doctrine and intent with the Supreme Pontiff and the offices of the Holy See, and with the other bishops and local Ordinaries, should strive to promote relations with superiors, to whom the religious are subject in the spirit of faith (cf. PC 14).

Bishops, along with their clergy, should be convinced advocates of the consecrated life, defenders of religious communities, promotors of vocations, firm guardians of the specific character of each religious family both in the spiritual and in the apostolic field.

29. Bishops and religious superiors, each according to his specific competency, should zealously foster knowledge of the doctrine of the Council and of the pontifical pronouncements on the episcopacy, on religious life and on the local Church, and also on the mutual relationships existing among them. To this end the following initiatives are desirable:

a) meetings of bishops and religious superiors to study these topics together;

b) special courses for diocesan priests, for religious and for the laity engaged in the active apostolate, in order to arrive at new and more appropriate adaptations;

c) studies and experiments especially appropriate for the formation of lay religious men and religious women;

d) the preparation of suitable pastoral documents for the diocese, the region or the nation, that present these subjects in a challenging way for the reflection of the faithful.

Care must be taken, however, lest this formation remain limited to only a few. All should have the possibility to benefit by it, and it should become a common effort of all the members.

It seems opportune, moreover, that this doctrinal study be also given sufficient publicity through the press, other means of social communication, conferences, exhortations, etc.

30. Right from the initial stages of both ecclesiastical and religious formation, the systematic study of the mystery of Christ, of the sacramental nature of the Church, of the ministry of bishops and of religious life in the Church should be programmed. Therefore:

a) religious from the novitiate on should be brought to a fuller awareness and concern for the local church, while at the same time growing in fidelity to their own vocation;

b) bishops should see to it that the diocesan clergy understand well the current problems of religious life and the urgent missionary needs, and that certain chosen priests be prepared to be able to help religious in their spiritual progress (cf. OT 10; AG 39), though generally it is preferable that this task be entrusted to prudently chosen religious priests (cf. n. 36).

31. Greater maturity of the priestly and religious vocation depends also, and to a decisive degree, on the doctrinal formation given usually in centers of study on the university level or in institutes of higher studies or in other institutes specially adapted to this purpose.

Bishops and religious superiors involved in this work should offer effective collaboration for the upkeep of these centers of study and their proper functioning, especially when such centers are at the service of one or more dioceses and religious congregations, and guarantee both the excellence of the teaching and the presence of teachers and of all others who, duly prepared, are able to meet the requirements of formation. They should, moreover, assure the most effective use of personnel and facilities.

In preparing, reforming and implementing the statutes of these study centers, the rights and duties of each participant, the obligations which by virtue of his very ministry belong to the bishop or bishops, ways of operating and the measure of responsibility of religious superiors who have a shared interest, should be clearly defined. In this way an objective and complete presentation of doctrine, structured in harmony with the Church’s Magisterium, can be fostered. On the basis, then, of the general criteria of competency and responsibility and according to the statutes, the activity and initiatives of these centers should be diligently followed up. And in all this delicate and important discipline, the norms and directives of the Holy See should always be observed.

32. An adequate renewal of pastoral methods in the diocese requires a deeper knowledge of whatever concretely affects the local human and religious life, so that from this source can flow objective and appropriate theological reflection, priorities in the field of action can be established, a plan of pastoral action can be formed and, finally, what has been realized can be examined periodically. This work may require that bishops, with the help of competent persons, chosen also from among religious, create and maintain study commissions and research centers. Such undertakings appear more and more necessary not only to offer people a more updated formation but also to give pastoral activities a rational structure.

33. Religious have the special and delicate obligation of being attentive and docile to the Magisterium of the Hierarchy and of facilitating for the bishops the exercise of the ministry of authentic teachers and witnesses of the divine and catholic truth (cf. LG 25), in the fulfillment of their responsibility for the doctrinal teaching of faith both in the centers where its study is promoted and in the use of means to transmit it.

a) As to the publication of books and documents, edited by publishing houses of religious or by organizations under their care, the norms given by the S. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (March 19, 1975) regarding the competent authority for the approval of texts of Sacred Scripture and their translation, liturgical books, prayer books and catechisms or any other type of work containing topics which are connected in a special way with religion and morals are to be observed. Disregard of these norms, at times speciously and cleverly contrived, can cause serious harm to the faithful. This must be avoided at all costs and with sincerity, especially by religious.

b) The necessary understanding with the competent Ordinaries is always to be safeguarded, even in the case of documents and editorial initiatives of religious institutes, local or national, which, although not destined for public consumption, can nevertheless exert a certain influence in the pastoral sphere of activity, as, for example, texts dealing with the new and serious problems on social, economic and political questions connected in one way or another with faith and the religious life.

c) Bishops, taking into careful consideration the special mission of some institutes, should encourage and support religious who are engaged in the important apostolic field of the written word and social communications. In this regard, they should foster wider apostolic collaboration, especially on the national level; likewise they should be concerned about the formation of specialized personnel for this activity, not only as regards their technical competency but also and especially as regards their sense of ecclesial responsibility.

34. It would be a serious mistake to make the two realities — religious life and ecclesial structures — independent one of the other, or to oppose one to the other as if they could subsist as two distant entities, one charismatic, the other institutional. Both elements, namely the spiritual gifts and the ecclesial structures form one, even though complex reality (cf. LG 8).

Wherefore religious, even while showing a particular spirit of enterprise and foresight for the future (cf. Part I, ch. III), should be intensely loyal to the intention and spirit of their institute, in full obedience and adherence to the authority of the hierarchy (cf. PC 2; LG 12).

35. The bishop, as Shepherd of the diocese, and religious superiors inasmuch as they are responsible for their institute, should promote the participation of men and women religious in the life of the local Church and in their knowledge of the directives and ecclesiastical rules. Likewise, they (especially the superiors) should strive to increase supra-national unity within their own institute and docility to their superiors general (cf. Part I, ch. IV).

D. Ongoing formation

21. Within the setting of religious life the Holy See establishes Conferences of Major Superiors and of Superiors General, both on the local and on the universal level (cf. PC 23; REU 73, 5). Obviously, these differ from Episcopal Conferences in nature and authority. Their primary purpose is the promotion of religious life as it is inserted into the contexture of ecclesial mission, and their activity consists in offering common services, suggesting fraternal initiatives and proposals for collaboration, respecting, of course, the distinctive nature of each institute. This will undoubtedly contribute also to offering valuable assistance for pastoral coordination especially if a suitable examination of the operative statutes is made at fixed times, and if, above all, the mutual relationships between Bishops’ Conferences and Conferences of Major Superiors are carried out according to the directives issued by the Holy See.

Rome, Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes, May 14, 1978, Solemnity of Pentecost.

Prefect of the Sacred
Congregation for Bishops


Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for
Religious and for Secular Institutes