Ecclesial Associations and Movements
Origins and Significance
Throughout the history of the Church, the Holy Spirit has continually raised up ecclesial movements and associations as instruments in the Church for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. At the beginning of every such movement, there is always some charismatic figure, some founding individual who has the capacity to attract people around him or her and brings newness of life in the Church.
Through the vitality and variety of their differing charisms and Christian objectives, ecclesial movements and associations are often the result and fruit of actively involved Catholics who assume responsibility for their Christian vocation to sanctify themselves and the world. The originality of these new movements, or “new communities” as they are sometimes called, “often consists in the fact that they are composed of mixed groups of men and women, of clerics and lay persons, of married couples and celibates, all of whom pursue a particular style of life” (Pope John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrate, 1996, no. 62).
How are we to differentiate, if at all, between a movement, an association, a community, or a fraternity, especially when used in a magisterial document? Canonically and for all intents and purposes, we may regard all these terms as interchangeable, as close synonyms, “cut from the same cloth,” as it were, since they merely seek to describe and take into account the many diverse ways the faithful do in fact choose to come together and associate. This nomenclature arises, in part, because the ecclesial groups designate and name themselves differently, some as a “movement,” a “community,” a “fraternity,” or an “association,” etc. It should be noted that canonically, movements and communities come under the broad category of associations of the faithful, a term that is all-inclusive. In practice, all these various ways of associating refer to the same basic reality, the same associative phenomenon in the Church, namely, those group endeavours that arise within the Church, sometimes quite unexpectedly, on the basis of a particular charism that takes shape in some form of fellowship, which in turn generates new life in the local church.
Public and Private Associations
Associations and ecclesial movements can and do enjoy considerable autonomy, both with regard to their internal spiritual life and with regard to their external activity or apostolate. They are in fact freer than religious orders or societies of the apostolic life in this regard. Associations in the Church are divided into those that are public, and those that are private. Only those that are founded and given legal establishment by the competent authority are granted public status (Can. 301 § 3). Most other associations are private, that is, founded by individual agreement amongst members of the faithful (Can. 299 § 1). Some of these are granted juridical personality, while others are merely recognized by the Church after a review of their statutes. There are also purely voluntary associations that have no formal recognition, which is not to say that these are inferior or operating outside Church law. It simply means that with greater canonical standing and rights, an association receives greater supervision.
Relationship with local Bishops and the Episcopal Conference
Given the great diversity of these private and public associations, one of the principal challenges for the local Bishop is to coordinate their apostolate and help them become more integrated in the life and existing structures of the local church. Today, as in the past, the question remains: How can these ecclesial movements be integrated better within the Church’s life and structure at the diocesan and parochial levels? The Standing Committee of the CCCB for Relations with Catholic Movements and Associations facilitates this integration by providing guidelines and fostering relations. The Standing Committee also maintains a list of groups and evaluates requests for canonical recognition as public associations of the faithful in order to make a recommendation for the consideration of the Permanent Council. Since 1996, the Bishops of Canada have convened forums with the Catholic Movements and Associations from across the country in order to enable personal contacts and sharing of faith and ideas amongst the organizations. The Standing Committee has also provided guidelines and recommendations to assist associations in deepening their connection to the Church.
Hosted every three years by the Standing Committee for Relations with Catholic Movements and Associations of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the forums provide a unique opportunity for national Catholic organizations across the country to share and discuss their activities and charisms with one another as well as with the Bishops on the Standing Committee and to receive helpful guidance. A theme is often chosen in order to facilitate the objectives of forums.
Canonical Recognition of National Catholic Associations
Given its nature and according to c. 312 – § 1 and §2, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is the competent ecclesiastical authority for associations of the faithful seeking the status of national associations. Organizations which are known as movements but which possess the characteristics of associations may also seek canonical recognition.
The Permanent Council approves or declines each request for recognition or canonical establishment presented by an association of the faithful. The Conference has entrusted the Standing Committee for Relations with Catholic Movements and Associations with the responsibility of reviewing the first instance of every such request. The guidelines for the procedure were approved by the 1992 Plenary Assembly and published in Recognition of National Catholic Associations: Guidelines for the CCCB and Associations of the Faithful. Ottawa: Concacan Inc., 1992. In general, all petitioners are required to present the following:
- Curriculum of the association: its origin, purpose, development, connections already established, affiliation and membership, commitment and plan; in a word, a short history of the association which permits a better knowledge of the specific character of the petitioning association, as well as indicating its special contribution within the Church.
- National character of the association: that it already exists in several dioceses of the country or in some episcopal regions, pertaining to one or other of the two linguistic sectors of the Conference or to both, as well as to a particular ethnic group (for example: Anglophone, francophone, bilingual, Ukrainian or Indigenous).
- Written recommendations from competent authorities: every association which asks the Conference of Bishops for recognition as a national association must produce written recommendations from the competent authority of the diocese where it is already established as an association or as a section of an association. By reason of their right and duty of supervision, all diocesan Bishops concerned with the association have the competence to testify whether the petitioning association lives according to its statutes and should be recommended at the national level.
The CCCB welcomes enquiries from those associations and movements petitioning for status as national associations. See contact details below.
Standing Committee for Relations with Movements and Associations
Director and Commission Secretary
Margaret Shea-Lawrence, M.R.E.
Office for Evangelization and Catechesis
2500 Don Reid Drive
Ottawa (ON) K1H 2J2
613-241-9461, ext. 109