Pope Francis has published a new Apostolic Letter motu proprio, “Il diritto nativo” (“The native right”), clarifying the public ecclesiastical nature of assets acquired by curial institutions and entities linked to the Holy See. They make use of those assets, the Pope writes, “not for their own sakes, as private owners, but, in the name and authority of the Pontiff, for the pursuit of their institutional purposes, the common good, and at the service of the universal Church.”
By Salvatore Cernuzio
The immovable and movable goods of the Holy See have a “universal destination,” writes Pope Francis in a new Apostolic Letter, Il diritto nativo, signed on 20 February and published on Thursday. In the document – which was issued “motu proprio,” or on the Pope’s own initiative – the Holy Father reiterates that the institutions and entities that have acquired such goods or are otherwise responsible for them are “trustees,” not “private owners,” since they act, and must always act, “in the name and under the authority of the Pope.”
In the motu proprio, which refers to canons 1254 and 1255 of the Code of Canon Law, the Pope clarifies the ecclesiastical public nature of the goods acquired by curial institutions and entities linked to the Holy See.
The mission of the Church
“The native right, independent of the civil power, of the Holy See to acquire temporal goods is one of the instruments which, with the support of the faithful, prudent administration, and appropriate controls, ensure that the Apostolic See can operate in history, in time and places for the purposes proper to the Church and with the independence that is necessary for the fulfilment of its mission,” the papal document reads.
In the name and authority of the Pontiff
“The universal destination of the Holy See’s assets confers upon them an ecclesiastical public nature,” the text continues. “The entities of the Holy See acquire and use them, not for themselves, like a private proprietor, but, in the name and authority of the Roman Pontiff, for the pursuit of their institutional purposes, which are likewise public; and therefore for the common good and at the service of the universal Church.”
In other words, entities and institutions that have acquired these goods, registered for the sake of compliance with civil regulations, must administer them “with the prudence that the management of the common good requires and according to the rules and competences that the Holy See has given itself.” These include, most recently, the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate evangelium and, earlier, the “long road” of economic and administrative reforms, in the wake of which Thursday’s provisions are also part.
The public nature of goods
The Motu Proprio, therefore, does not change competencies or dictate new rules, but reaffirms a fundamental principle regarding the public nature of goods and the role of curial institutions and related entities: “All goods, movable and immovable, including liquid assets and securities, which have been or will be acquired, in whatever manner, by curial institutions and entities connected to the Holy See, are ecclesiastical public goods and as such are owned, in title or other real right, by the Holy See as a whole and belonging therefore, independently of the civil power, to its unitary, indivisible and sovereign patrimony,” the first paragraph of the motu proprio affirms.
Therefore, “no institution or entity can claim private and exclusive ownership or title to the goods of the Holy See, as they have always acted and must always act in the name of, on behalf of, and for the purposes of the Holy See as a whole, understood as a unitary moral person, only representing it where required and permitted in civil law.”
Pursuit of the common good
This principle is intended to be a guide for the action of the Holy See as a whole, and recalls everyone to the pursuit of the common good and the responsibility that the administration of ecclesiastical public affairs entails, recalling the purpose of the temporal goods of the Holy See, which are public goods of the Church indissolubly destined for the pursuit of its ends and not only those of the individual entity to which they are entrusted.
Il diritto nativo also makes it clear that “nothing changes” for the patrimony of instrumental juridical persons, that is, foundations and entities that refer to the Holy See registered in the list of the Statute of the Council for the Economy and that have their headquarters in Vatican City State. A motu proprio of 5 December 2022 had already clarified that their assets also belong to the Holy See.