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Reform of a Religious Order

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Reform of a Religious Order, in the true sense of the word, is a return or bringing back of the order from a mitigated or relaxed observance to the rigour of its primitive rule. It must be premised that mitigations of the primitive rule may be made quite lawfully;

  • by the authority of the Holy See ;
  • by decree of the superiors of the order itself, so far as they have power to modify its rule and observance;
  • by prescription or custom lawfully established, so long as such relaxations do not affect the vows of the religious.

On the other hand, the obligations arising directly from the vows made by the religious cannot be modified by custom or prescription, and the abolition of abuses in such matters is not "reform" in the proper sense of the word. In cases where the mitigation or modification of the rule has been brought about by legitimate authority reform may be instituted either by the Holy See or by the general chapter (or other legislative body) of the order itself. All those who shall make their profession after the reform has been decreed are bound to submit to it. Those previously professed are held not to be bound to the reformed observance if the previous mitigations were introduced legitimately. If, however, the mitigations reformed have been caused by neglect on the part of the superiors of the order, or have been introduced with their connivance, then those professed before the reform are bound to observe it. In practice, the Holy See is wont to use great discretion in this matter and prefers to invite or recommend the older religious to adopt the stricter rule. The principle underlying this is that no religious can be held bound beyond the limits to which he may be presumed to have intended to bind himself when he made his vows.

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