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V Lateran Council

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  • INTRODUCTION
    • SESSION 11 - 19 December 1516
      • [On religious and their privileges]
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[On religious and their privileges]

Leo, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record. We consider and diligently ponder the hardworking and anxious zeal, and the unending labours for the glory of the divine name, for the triumph of the catholic faith and the preservation of the church's unity, and for the training and salvation of the souls of the faithful, which are carried on by bishops and their superiors, who have been placed by the apostolic see at the head of their churches in different parts of the world, as well as by the friars of the different orders, especially the mendicant orders, who are engaged without respite or rest. So great is the satisfaction that has reached our heart, as a result of their fruitful labours in the Lord's vineyard and their opportune and praiseworthy actions, that we are devoting every effort to encourage the things which we know to contribute to the preservation of peace and quiet among them. We are conscious that the bishops have become partners in our anxiety . Ambrose bears witness that their distinction and greatness have no possible equal. We also know that religious have done much in the field of the Lord for the defence and advance of the christian religion and that they have produced and are daily producing abundant fruit. Consequently all of the faithful are aware that the good works of these bishops and religious have enabled the true faith to make progress and to spread everywhere throughout the world .

These men have likewise not hesitated on innumerable occasions, with much dedication and competence, to destroy the schisms in God's church, to bring unity to that church and to undergo innumerable pains so that the same church might gain the quiet of peace. Therefore it is just that we direct our efforts so to unite them to one another by the bond of peace and by a fraternal unity and charity that, linked in unity of doctrine and actions, they may foster more abundant fruits in God's church. The exercise of spiritual rights, which concern the glory of God and the salvation of the souls of Christ's faithful, has been entrusted to bishops and their superiors in their respective dioceses, since they have been chosen to be sharers of our burden, as we have already said, and since dioceses with defined boundaries have been assigned to each of the bishops. We truly desire, then, that these spiritual rights be exercised by the bishops, and that the right of freely exercising them be truly, as far as possible, kept intact for them. If our predecessors as Roman pontiffs and the apostolic see have granted any such spiritual rights to the said mendicant friars to the harm of the bishops we consider that such concessions made to religious ought in future to be limited, so that the friars themselves will be supported in all charity by the said bishops rather than be troubled and disturbed. For, regulars and seculars, prelates and subjects, exempt and non-exempt, belong to the one universal church, outside of which no one at all is saved, and they all have one Lord and one faith. That is why it is fitting that, belonging to the one same body, they also have the one same will; and just as the brethren are united by the bond of mutual charity, so it is not fitting that they arouse among themselves injustice and hurt, since the Saviour says, My commandment is that you love one another as I have loved you .

We wish to preserve charity and mutual goodwill among bishops, their superiors, prelates and friars, as well as to promote divine worship and the peace and tranquillity of the universal church. We know this can be done only if each preserves as far as possible his own jurisdiction. We have therefore decided and decreed, with the approval of the sacred council, that the said bishops, their superiors and other prelates may visit the parish churches which legitimately belong to the same friars by reason of their residences, with regard to what concerns the care of the parishioners and the preservation and administration of the sacraments, without however the exceptional trouble and expense of official visitors. They may punish those responsible for the churches and failing in this matter: if they are religious, then in accordance with the rules of their order within the precincts of the religious house, if they are secular priests or friars who hold benefices of this kind, then they may freely punish them as being subject to their jurisdiction. Both prelates and secular priests who are not excommunicated may celebrate masses out of devotion in the churches of the said religious houses, if they wish to do so, and the friars themselves ought to welcome them. Friars who are invited by the same prelates to take part in solemn processions ought to agree, provided the suburban friary in question is not more than a mile away from the city .

The friars' superiors are bound to specify and present in person to the same prelates the friars whom they have chosen to hear for a time the confessions of the prelate's subjects, if the prelates ask for them to be specified and presented to them; if not, then to their vicars; with the condition that they are not bound to go to prelates who are more than two days' journey away. The friars in question may be examined by the same bishops and prelates, at least regarding the sufficiency of their learning and their other skills relative to this sacrament. If they are accepted, or if the refusal is unjust, then, in accordance with the constitution Omnis utriusque sexus, let them be considered as accepted at least as regards confession, and they can even hear the confessions of strangers. They have no power, however, to absolve layfolk and secular clergy from manimposed penalties. They may not administer the eucharist and extreme unction and the church's other sacraments to those whose confessions they have heard, including the sick and the dying, who say that their own priest has refused to give the sacraments to them, unless the refusal was made without a just reason and this is proved by the testimony of neighbours or by an investigation carried out before a pubic notary. They have no authority to administer these sacraments to persons requesting their ministrations except during a period of actual service to them. Temporary agreements and contracts between friars and prelates or curates are valid unless they are rejected by the next general or provincial chapter and the rejection is duly communicated by the chapter. Friars may not enter parishes bearing a cross in order to carry out the funerals of those who have chosen to be buried at the churches of their houses or institutions, unless the parish priest, having received due notice and a request, does not refuse, and in that case without prejudice to himself and the ordinary; or unless there is an ancient custom on this point with the friars, which is currently in force and is mutually agreed upon. Those who wish to be buried in the habit of the said friars, but who live in their own houses and not in enclosure, are free to choose a burial place for themselves in their last wills .

Friars due to be promoted to orders are to be examined by the ordinaries on grammar and their competence. Provided they answer adequately, they ought to be readily admitted by the ordinaries. They may not, however, be ordained in their churches or houses or other places by anyone except the diocesan bishop or his deputy (the latter is to be asked with due reverence), unless the bishop refuses on insufficient grounds or is absent from his diocese. They should not ask for the consecration of a church or an altar, or the blessing of a cemetery, from another bishop; and they may not arrange for the first stone of a church being built for them to be laid by a strange bishop, unless the ordinary refuses without any just reason after he has been asked two or three times with due reverence and urgency. Friars may not bless a bride and bridegroom without the consent of those in charge of the parish. In order to render to the mother church the honour due to her, friars and secular clerics may not ring the bells of their churches on Holy Saturday before those of the cathedral or mother church have been rung, even if they are supported on this point by a privilege of the apostolic see. Those acting otherwise incur a penalty of one hundred ducats. They are to publish and observe in the churches of their own houses the censures which are imposed promulgated and solemnly published by the ordinaries in the mother churches of cities as well as in the collegiate and parish churches of castles and towns, when they are asked to do this by the same ordinaries. To provide more fruitfully for the salvation of the souls of Christ's faithful of both sexes, they are obliged to advise and encourage those whose confessions they have heard for a time, no matter of what standing or status they may be, that they are bound in conscience to pay tithes, or a portion of their goods or produce, in those places where such tithes or dues are customarily paid; and they are obliged to refuse absolution to those who will not pay them. They are bound, moreover, to include this in their public preaching and exhortations to the people when they are asked to do so .

The conservators assigned for a time to the same friars by the apostolic see ought to be outstanding in learning and good reputation and of established ecclesiastical rank. They cannot oblige to appear before them anyone living more than two days' journey away, notwithstanding any privileges granted to the conservators at other times. Excommunicated persons wishing to enter a mendicant order cannot be absolved when the interests of a third party are involved, unless satisfaction has previously been made. Procurators, business agents and workers in the service of the said friars are subject to sentences of excommunication which have been promulgated, if they have given cause for them or have offered help, favour or advice to the guilty. Brothers and sisters of the third order, and those known as the cloaked ones, the girdled ones and the devotees, and others no matter how named, living in their own homes, can choose whatever place of burial they wish. They are bound, however, to receive the eucharist at Easter as well as extreme unction and the other sacraments of the church, with the exception of the sacrament of penance, from their own priest . They are obliged to undertake the tasks incumbent upon the laity, and they can be brought before lay judges in a secular court. To avoid the cheapening of ecclesiastical censures, and sentences of interdict being regarded as of little importance, members of the said third orders are in no way to be admitted to hear divine services in the churches of their orders during a period of interdict, if they have given grounds for the interdict or encouraged or supported those grounds, or if they have in any way offered help, counsel or favour to the guilty . But those living in an official group, or dwelling with the enclosed, and women who are leading a life of virginity, celibacy or chaste widowhood under an expressed vow and with a habit, ought to enjoy the privileges of the order of which they are tertiaries .

We wish and decree that each and all of the above norms are to be extended to and observed by, all other religious of other orders. In matters not mentioned above, the rights of the said bishops and friars and other religious are to be maintained. We do not wish to prejudice these rights in any way by the above statements, or to introduce anything new. This is notwithstanding apostolic constitutions and ordinances; statutes and customs of the said orders which have been strengthened by oath, apostolic confirmation or any other form of reinforcement; and privileges, indults and apostolic letters which have been granted to the same orders and are contrary to what has been set down above or to any part of it, even what was included in Mare magnum. If there is required a mention or other statement that is special, specific, clear, distinctive, word for word, and not by general clauses, regarding these things and their meaning, or if some other carefully chosen form should be used, in order that they might be abrogated, then we consider their meaning to be sufficiently expressed and included in this present letter, we expressly and specially abrogate anything to the contrary, and we decree as null and void anything that is knowingly or unknowingly attempted to the contrary in these matters by any person acting on any authority .

We warn the friars, in virtue of holy obedience, to revere bishops with fitting honour and due respect, out of the reverence owed to us and the apostolic see, since they act as deputies in place of the holy apostles. As for bishops, we urge and appeal by the tender mercy of our God that, while attending to the friars with well-disposed affection, treating them with kindness and encouraging them, they present themselves to them as in no sense difficult or hard or peevish, but rather as easy, mild, well-disposed and liberal in loving generosity, and that in all the above-mentioned matters they welcome them with ready kindness as co-workers in the Lord's vineyard and as sharers in their labours, and that they guard and defend their rights with all charity, so that both bishops and friars, whose works as burning lamps set on a hilltop ought to provide light to all Christ's faithful, may move forward from strength to strength for the glory of God, the triumph of the catholic faith and the salvation of peoples, and in consequence deserve to obtain from the Lord, the most generous recompenser of all good deeds, the reward of eternal life. Let nobody therefore . . . If anyone however . . .




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