ROME, December 1, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In a surprise move, Pope Benedict XVI this morning issued a formal legislative document instructing Catholic charitable organisations that they must act in complete compliance with Catholic teaching. The Vatican rumour mill failed to predict the appearance today of the pope’s Motu Proprio, a special letter written and promulgated on Pope Benedict’s personal initiative, that lays out specific legislation on how Catholic charities must be governed.

Benedict issued the Motu Proprio, “De Caritate Ministranda,” on the Church’s charitable activities after strongly hinting in recent years at his deep concern at the secularising and outright anti-Catholic trends growing within officially recognised, and lay-funded, Catholic charitable agencies.

The document, using the formal legal language reserved for the Sovereign Pontiff when creating binding legislation for the whole Church, specifies that Catholic charitable organizations “should not limit themselves merely to collecting and distributing funds,” but exist to further Catholic religious objectives by exercising “a valuable educational function within the Christian community”.

“The Church’s charitable activity at all levels must avoid the risk of becoming just another form of organized social assistance,” Pope Benedict wrote.

“To the extent that such activities are promoted by the hierarchy…there is a need to ensure that they are managed in conformity with the demands of the Church’s teaching and the intentions of the faithful.”

“The collective charitable initiatives to which this Motu Proprio refers,” the pope wrote, “are required to follow Catholic principles in their activity…”

It is ultimately up to the bishops, he said, to ensure that the staff of such agencies believe or “at least respect” Catholic teaching on all matters, and that the works undertaken are not to the “detriment of their activity and effectiveness with regard to their stated goals”.

In those groups where this has ceased to be the case, the pope decreed that the local bishop “is obliged,” to inform his flock that “the activity of a particular charitable agency is no longer being carried out in conformity with the Church’s teaching,” and to “prohibit that agency from using the name ‘Catholic’.”

Bishops overseeing Catholic charitable initiatives, the pope added, must also provide for the “theological and pastoral formation,” of the staff, “through specific curricula agreed upon by the officers of various agencies and through suitable aids to the spiritual life”.

“It is the duty of the diocesan Bishop and the respective parish priests to see that in this area the faithful are not led into error or misunderstanding,”  Benedict decreed.

“They are to prevent publicity being given through parish or diocesan structures to initiatives which, while presenting themselves as charitable, propose choices or methods at odds with the Church’s teaching.”

The bishops must also ensure that Catholic agencies do not distribute funds to receive funding from groups “that pursue ends contrary to Church’s teaching”.

“Similarly, lest scandal be given to the faithful, the diocesan Bishop is to ensure that these charitable agencies do not accept contributions for initiatives whose ends, or the means used to pursue them, are not in conformity with the Church’s teaching.”

The pope explicitly named the organisation Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella group that represents hundreds of Catholic charitable groups around the world. Rumblings from Rome have hinted that a major push for reform of the Church’s charities has been high on the pope’s agenda. It is an open secret that many official Catholic charitable groups working in the developing world have adopted the secularist, and anti-Catholic agenda, such as pushing condoms as a means to stop the transmission of HIV.

The current document, Benedict wrote, is to “give adequate expression in canonical legislation” that will outline “the legal aspects of this ecclesial service, especially when carried out in an organized way and with the explicit support of the Bishops”.

The pope wrote, “I establish and decree…” that the bishops ensure that Catholic charities “avoid the proliferation of charitable initiatives to the detriment of their activity and effectiveness with regard to their stated goals”. They must also see to it that “the norms of the Church’s universal and particular law are respected, as well as the intentions of the faithful who made donations or bequests for these specific purposes.”

“In particular, [the bishop] is to take care that their activities keep alive the spirit of the Gospel.” He must “take care that those who work in the Church’s charitable apostolate, along with due professional competence, give an example of Christian life and witness to a formation of heart which testifies to a faith working through charity.”

Moreover, the pope wrote, the Bishop must also ensure that the salaries paid to staff, including those in leadership positions, offer “a testimony of Christian simplicity of life” and are “in due proportion to analogous expenses of his diocesan Curia”.

LifeSiteNews.com has been informed that in recent years Vatican officials have become increasingly concerned over reports that many charitable agencies overseen by national Catholic bishops’ conferences are funneling money to groups working in opposition to Catholic teaching on life and family issues.

Scandals erupted in 2009 when LSN first uncovered evidence that groups promoting legalised abortion and artificial contraceptives were being funded through grants from the Canadian Catholic Organisation for Development and Peace. LSN has been made aware that large numbers of reports from concerned members of the Church, including bishops, have reached the ears of the Vatican machinery.

D&P officials continue to try to resist efforts to reform the organisation to bring it into line with Catholic beliefs. After first denying and attempting to cover up the evidence, D&P leadership has most recently accused Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins and other pro-life bishops of ‘shameful blackmail’ for their attempts to reform D&P to bring it into unity with Catholic teaching.

At the same time, Vatican officials have been recently sharply critical of the secularised direction taken by some of the largest Catholic charities. The matter came to a head last year when the Vatican was forced to intervene directly twice in Caritas activities.

In May 2011, Pope Benedict told the assembled leadership of Caritas that their ministry must be “completely in accord” with the Catholic Magisterium, or teaching authority of which he is the head. At the same meeting, Peter Cardinal Turkson, the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace warned Caritas that their first priority must be evangelisation of the Church’s religious purposes. In doing charitable work, he said, “No one is allowed …to appropriate the Church’s authority for his opinion.”

In February that year, the Vatican had refused to allow Caritas General Secretary Lesley-Anne Knight to submit her name for reelection to her position, citing concerns over Knight’s adherence to Catholic teaching and the need to strengthen the organization’s “Catholic identity”.

Later, Vatican officials cancelled the appearance of Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, the former head of the Dominican order at the general assembly of Caritas Internationalis. Radcliffe is well known for his adherence to radical theological liberalism and his opposition to Catholic teaching on homosexuality.

At that time, Robert Cardinal Sarah, the head of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum that oversees the Church’s charities, warned of a “silent apostasy” within the world of Catholic charities. Cardinal Sarah anticipated today’s papal letter when he told Caritas, “Today, dear friends, the tragedy of modern mankind is not lacking clothing and housing. The most tragic hunger and the most terrible anguish is not lack of food. It’s much more about the absence of God and the lack of true love, the love that was revealed to us on the Cross.”