ON OBSERVING CANONICAL SANCTIONS
Encyclical of Pope Clement XIII promulgated on September 17, 1759.
To Our Venerable Brothers, all the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, and Bishops who Enjoy Grace and Communion with the Apostolic See.
Venerable Brothers, Greetings and Apostolic Blessing.
Ever since We first accepted the care of the Lord’s flock, through the incomprehensible wisdom of the eternal shepherd presiding over the See of St. Peter, We have received reports from many fervent and zealous churchmen. Many of them were from pastors and preachers of the word of God, who travel through the cities and provinces preaching penance and correction of character to the people. Their unanimous complaint was that among the abuses and corruptions which they observed and strove to reform in the exercise of their ministry, they frequently encountered an avarice and greed on the part of certain clergymen that cried out for correction. As the Holy Spirit called this the root of all evil, it is no wonder that it draws into more heinous crimes all those whose soul it fills. It renders them apathetic in the fulfillment of their duties and in their worship of God. Once avarice converts them to worldly desires, they become devoted to worldly cares and preoccupations. They publicly disavow these while they profess that among the mysteries of the holy initiation, they recognize only God as the portion of their inheritance. Thus they necessarily become contentious and ready to throw everything into confusion, so as not to lose some vile profit which they either hope for or have already received. They are not ashamed to lower themselves to any lowly duty or service, to the disgrace of their order and status. As a result many laymen despise not only those who do such things, but often even the whole priestly company. Rather, let them be bitter and scornful toward the kind of person whose lawsuits and contentions they must endure in worldly affairs, or through whom honest means of providing for their own welfare and that of their loved ones seems to be forestalled.
- We believe that these accounts are more than adequately supported by the facts. Indeed, even some monks allow themselves on occasion to be taken beyond the bounds of ecclesiastical moderation, away from the concern they imposed on themselves regarding the temporal gains of their communities. We are thus aroused to satisfactorily remove from our midst such a corruption, which brings scandal to the faithful and damaging effects to others.
- It is true that from the very beginning of the Church right up to our own times, there was nothing more plainly or more attentively legislated either by the decrees of the councils or by the constitutions of the popes who preceded Us. Nothing seemed to be stressed more frequently or more eagerly by the holy fathers and the pastors of the churches than that the ministers of the church, both clergy and monks, abstain from the desire for temporal wealth and that they should remove themselves from worldly concerns. Not only spiritual censures but also very serious temporal punishments were decreed for those who presumed to infringe or violate the canonical rules in this matter. Having carefully considered everything, We think that there is nothing left for Us to do, Venerable Brothers, other than to exhort you to cling to the intention of Our predecessors and the spirit of the church in all things. We exhort you to be zealous in obtaining the observance due these holy laws by all churchmen-both those subject to your ordinary jurisdiction as well as those subject to your delegated jurisdiction-according to the example of the sacred canons and the decrees of the Holy See and the synodical statutes of each diocese.
- In order to clarify this matter, We devote Our constant attention and that of the Holy See to the religious observance of the aforementioned laws. At the same time, We approve, confirm, and renew through this letter each and every canon and constitution of Our predecessors against those clerics who act as businessmen and who involve themselves in worldly matters. We mention especially those decrees published and proclaimed by Pius IV, Urban VIII, and Clement IX, including the most recent one which Our predecessor Popes Benedict XIV promulgated on February 25, 1741, the first year of his pontificate, along with each and every penalty and the censures respectively ordained by them. Similarly, the decrees contained in the above-mentioned laws as well as their punishments and sanctions should be inserted word for word in Our present letter. At the same time let all efficacy be removed from every opposing custom and practice — which ought rather to be called by their proper names, corruptions and abuses — by which certain churchmen strive to cover up their criminal dabbling in worldly matters. We declare and decree that all clergymen-both from the secular clergy and from the regular clergy of whatever order, congregation, society, or institute, are subject to and should be subject to all the aforementioned laws and penalties. We should also mention specifically those favored with special and extensive indults, privileges, and exemptions. Thus, whoever transgresses these laws incurs the penalties prescribed in them as well as those applicable according to the differences of circumstances and the method of procedure prescribed by the Council of Trent or by the Holy See. They should be punished notwithstanding any custom or practice to the contrary, even very old ones which can be considered indigenous to some places, dioceses, or regions. We condemn, proscribe, and nullify this practice, considering it a damnable abuse and an intolerable corruption in the present state of affairs.
- We exhort all of you, then, to watch over the integrity of ecclesiastical discipline and the salvation of the souls of all the clergy subject to you, both by ordinary and by delegated law. Inquire diligently into their course of action; if you discover that some of them are infected with the stain of this greed and that they sin against the canons and apostolic constitutions, do not neglect to proceed against them dutifully and stringently, according to the example of the same canons and constitutions.
- There are two things which you should especially beware of in this matter. First of all, do not allow your vigilance to be foiled by the crafty arts of the evildoers. It often happens that those who know the decrees of the laws fraudulently arrange their affairs so that even if their crime should be brought to court, they can be on guard against admitting any violation of those laws. Sometimes they will use an intermediary to serve their greed, or else conduct business matters under a different name, which they record in the tables and account books while they firmly maintain that they are not in the least concerned in the matter under investigation. Sometimes they are aware that the more restrictive judgment of the laws is constrained within certain limits; they strive to behave so that they have a defense if they are accused of financial aspirations by their superiors. They can maintain that they were not primarily led by base greed to seek profit, but that they worked solely at avoiding evil through cautious planning and that they obtained an undesired profit through the fortuitous goodness of time. Sometimes it is not their own property which is involved in the business matters but that of their relatives or those joined to them by some other bond of need. They will say that they obtain their support out of the duty of love or under the title of management.
- We are sufficiently aware, through Our own experience in exercising the episcopal office, of how difficult it is to make a judgment in certain cases in which the good or bad intention of the one who is accused of unlawful business is of paramount importance. However, you should not think for that reason that your diligence will be ineffectual when the clergy at least understands that you will not ignore such a serious violation of church discipline. You will derive great benefit from that very thing because you will more often call to witness your mind and that of the Church, which shrinks from the shadier collusions even of these men. Given the opportunity, you will announce to them that the God who scrutinizes the innermost recesses of man will not be mocked. Before His supreme tribunal, those sometime-sophistries, which now deceive the bishop and escape the legally-appointed penalties, will be of no avail. Besides, it will not be impossible to recognize for the most part the hidden truth of the matter and subdue the secret crime, if the character of the men involved, which reveals itself in the total conduct of their lives, and the accompanying circumstances, which render the proffered excuses more or less admissible, are weighed with the appropriate skill and care. We could easily illustrate this with examples, if We did not trust in the Lord concerning the wisdom of your brotherhood and in your experience.
- The other thing, which you should equally beware of, is that you not allow to flourish among you wrong interpretations of canon laws, which diminish the strength of those laws and give excessive scope to indulgence. These interpretations arise from private reflection, outside the mind and spirit of the Church and without the agreement of a legitimate superior. They are adapted to any circumstances at will. This problem may arise when the affairs of both the secular and regular clergy are appealed to you for judgment. If there is any question concerning the nature of the contract which clergymen customarily enter into in certain dioceses, whether such a thing is permissible or should be forbidden, it will hardly be fair to rule on the basis of either the frequency of those acts whose nature is in question or the ideas of the contracting parties. But to remove every doubt and to restrain the excesses and audacity of those who await a decision, the most expeditious recourse is to this Apostolic See, which has defined many similar questions through the Congregation of the Cardinals, the interpreters of the Council of Trent. Thus, it will be possible in the future to see what was decided in given cases, and what were the suitable responses which can provide precedents for acting and judging.
- A clear decision has been requested from Us and the Holy See on the matter of whether it is permissible for clergymen to change money. Even though we think that it is difficult to find another matter less subject to doubt, We nevertheless declare and define in this letter, so as to remove all doubt, that money changing is by its very nature a true and proper act of business. Therefore, it should be considered forbidden to all clergymen, both to contract in their own name or through an intermediary. Any cleric, either secular or regular, who changes money will be considered liable to all the penalties and censures which have been established for clergymen who engage in business.
- A clergyman may try to excuse his involvement in worldly business by pleading indigence. This plea is not valid since the canonical title of ordination should at least be a sufficient and adequate inheritance for each and every clergyman to sustain himself. If there are needy clerics, each should look after his own needs through more proper means which are in agreement with his vows. The indigence will rather be that of his parents or sisters or some other person whom he is dutifully bound to help. First of all, We decree that the ecclesiastical superior should never allow such an excuse. We cannot permit that cleric not to be punished in proportion to his guilt according to the prescriptions of canon law, unless he shows that he has already expressed the aforementioned needs to the Apostolic See, if he lives in Italy or the adjacent islands. If he lives in more remote regions, he should at least have explained matters to the Ordinary of the place. He should also have sought a suitable dispensation after the consideration of those matters. Finally he should have requested the Holy See or the Ordinary for authorization to help the aforementioned person through his labors.
- Next, as for what concerns the Curia in this matter, We clarify our thoughts and desires. Such dispensations and authorizations should never be granted unless the alleged causes of the situation are based on fact and unless it is clear that the aforementioned needs cannot be alleviated in any other way. In the same case, let it never be permitted for churchmen to assume any kind of business dealings whose administration is not befitting their clerical status and character. Rather, in those rescripts or letters of indult, let more suitable ways to bring assistance to his poor relatives be indicated and prescribed for the cleric, in accordance with just moderation and the measure of true need. The Ordinaries to whom this pertains should similarly comply with everything in the granting of such dispensations and authorizations. Either they or the Holy See have sometimes permitted certain indults to certain clerics for special reasons, with just causes accompanying. Perchance these indults have come into wider use-for example hiring church-owned farmland for cultivation at a fixed annual rate. See to it particularly that other clerics do not usurp these things as if they were conceded generally to everybody without just cause and without a special indult.
- As for the rest, We resolve that those very authorizations-even those obtained in the above- mentioned manner-should always be considered harmful right up to the time they are revoked. Thus, they should be considered null and void and revoked in their own right as soon as the alleged needs of the relatives cease or another legitimate reason opportunely provides for them. We desire to burden the vigilance and the conscience of the local Ordinary with the execution and observance of all these matters.
- It is true that the current depression of ecclesiastical dignity is not to be attributed solely to business dealings. There are other abuses which do not clearly oppose the letter of the sacred canons and constitutions published by the Holy See. Yet, clergymen decide to use them and thereby cast aside ever more frequently and more certainly the proper dignity of the cleric and the reputation of their whole order. They are confident that they will not be subject to the censures and the penalties established by those canons and constitutions. We know that many clergymen are prominent in their unseemly activities: in the administration and care for their own goods; in selling the fruits, animals, and other things which grow and are fed on their own farms or those of the Church; and in preparing things which they need for their own use or for setting in order the aforementioned farms. Thus they show themselves completely given over to the cares and concerns of this world, these clerics who covet worldly gain. Those who have risen above the lot of the human condition through the eminence of Holy Orders in this way lower themselves below men of the lowest status. Those who should be and appear to be the sons of light seem to outdo the sons of this generation in their concern for worldly greed. Our reports relate that they attend all the markets and sales with almost the same splendor and elegance as laymen, and they find anything preferable to the appearance of clerical moderation and modesty or of the seriousness and honor of the Church.
- We proclaim openly that We will not forbid them anything which was judged permissible, in regard to the very nature of the business, for the correct and prudent administration of the Church’s patrimony or which the holy fathers and the writers of Church laws entrusted to their care. For there are many things which clerics are not forbidden in regard to the substance of the matter, things which they are permitted to use under certain limitations; but the holy canons will inflict both temporal punishments and spiritual censures on those who go beyond the prescribed limitations or who violate the established rule of ecclesiastical discipline. The general rules of canon law and the individual statutes of the various dioceses contain many examples of this, examples which prescribe many things to observe or avoid in regard to the life, honesty, habit, or tonsure of the clerics. Thus, Venerable Brothers, you should watch over the motives of all the clergymen living in your dioceses in regard to the things We have just mentioned. If they approach you frequently to allow something which might not be in conformity with their clerical status, you should teach them through suitable instructions that they should comtemplate the eminence of the dignity they have chosen for themselves. They should not think that they are allowed to debase it with indecent acts or to wipe away from the souls of the laity the esteem and reverence due the ecclesiastical order, an esteem which greatly benefits the m spiritual well-being of the faithful. Mindful that they were called to share in the Lord’s portion, they should seek for and be concerned about the things which concern Jesus Christ and not themselves. In addition, you know that it is necessary to meet such turpitude and greed on the part of the clergy with suitable decrees strictly established, and you know that you must restrain and punish the faults of the evildoers. Given the choice of a greater or lesser scandal, first of all denounce the evil. Then correct it with salutary penitence; finally, restrain and punish it with the unsheathed sword of penalties and censures as an example for others.
- Another kind of corruption infects many clergymen and, We understand, draws them from church service to worldly concerns. This demands as much or even more concern and constancy from your pastoral zeal. There are some who give over in object service to the laity all the labor and effort which they should expend in divine worship and in aiding their neighbors according to the law of love. Sometimes they even hire out their services to administer the business affairs of laymen for vile, temporal pay. In this matter it is difficult to judge whether the blindness of those who trample upon the dignity of their own order is to be regretted more, or the presumption of the laity. This laity takes so lightly the holy ministers from whom they should seek examples of Christian life and aids to eternal salvation that they do not hesitate to use them in servile ministries.
- This certainly disturbs Us more, that an evil of this kind should come from an abuse which is just as detestable. Whenever someone rashly aspires to the clerical state, it sometimes happens that he deceives his Ordinary with false or forged documents, and he is promoted to holy orders by a false estate which either bears no fruit or which does not belong to him, without sufficient revenue to maintain an upright living. For this reason, none of you should be surprised, Venerable Brothers, if We take this opportunity to strongly exhort and warn each and every one of you to be more careful and more vigilant in this matter. Thus, no one subject to you should be given an opportunity to steal up to holy ordination if he does not receive a certain amount of annual income from an ecclesiastical benefice or ecclesiastical pension or from an estate created for him, in cases permitted by law. All fraud and collusion should be eliminated — if, that is, he does not receive that amount of annual return which was decreed either in the statutes of the diocesan synods or by legitimate custom.
- Take care to recall to the precepts of ecclesiastical life and to the duties of the clerical soldier those clergymen and priests who devote themselves in the homes of the laity to these kinds of services which do not befit their class and profession. These duties lead them away from God’s service from concern for their own spiritual progress to worldly business dealings and servile occupations, even though they sometimes strive to conceal their activities with the appearance of fine titles. Do not allow them to soil themselves peacefully in their shame or to glory with obstinate impunity in their defection from the camp of the Church. To these ends use every zeal and as much pastoral concern as necessary; use all the authority of ordinary and delegated jurisdiction, and all the while observe those things which must be observed.
- Venerable Brothers, these are the things We wanted to suggest and strongly commend to your care, out of the duty of Our apostolic ministry in order to protect and vindicate the honor and the dignity of holy orders. In this matter, which greatly depends on individual circumstances, it is necessary that you who are present in your respective territories have the major roles. You are better able to recognize and more certainly judge the deeds of those subject to you, the accompanying circumstances, the needs of the regions, the customs of the people, and whatever might appear decent or indecent among prudent and upright men. In order that you might be free to correct and reform whatever might be wrong in these matters, We rely on your prudent judgment to regulate any indult of dispensation or authorization granted by any office of the Roman Curia up to now concerning these matters. We do not want to grant anything further until We have heard the reports of your brotherhood, as well as the desires and the accompanying formula and conditions of the indult, by which you have the entire authority to know about its execution and effect. Thus, no clergyman should be allowed to conduct any business dealings under any pretext or to assume a less upright ministry contrary to your prohibition or to retain it and prolong it once it has been granted. Meanwhile, We take pleasure in your pastoral zeal, and We lovingly grant to your brotherhood the apostolic blessing. Given in Rome at St. Mary Major on the 17th day of September, 1759, in the second year of Our pontificate.
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