Vow of Poverty in Civil and Canon Law

The vow of poverty has many dimensions: spirituality, simplicity, solidarity, work, sustainability, interdependence. The vow of poverty binds members to one another in a common economic unit. Our actions affect one another, for better or for worse. The vow also has raises legal issues under both Civil and Canon Law.
Canon 600 gives a theological perspective on the vow of poverty:

The evangelical counsel of poverty in imitation of Christ who, although he was rich, was made poor for us, entails, besides a life which is poor in fact and in spirit and is to be led productively in moderation and foreign to earthly riches, a dependence and limitation in the use and disposition of goods according to the norm of the proper law of each institute.

Canon 668 gives more guidance on the obligations of members of religious orders who live the vow of poverty. Religious:

Religious cede administration to any property they may continue to own (patrimony), and make a will.
Religious can't change these documents without permission.
Religious acquire everything for their institute.
Religious, under certain circumstances, can give up part or all they own (renounce patrimony), and in some communities, this is required.

The living of this vow is further specified and nuanced in the proper law of each religious institute. Policies may also guide members through the mechanics of living the vow and handling money in everyday life.
Following the example of the early christian community, religious hold all things in common (Acts 4:32), foregoing an independent financial existence. This places members of religious institutes in a particular stance when it comes to their financial interactions in society. For example:

Income received for their work has special treatment under the tax code.
Income may receive special treatment for Social Security and Government Benefit programs.
Many religious do not have a personal credit history which may cause problems in entering into some transactions.
If religious acquire personal obligations, they have no resources with which to pay them.

Each of these areas of economic interaction is complex, and the legal climate changes significantly over the life of a member; since the time when most of our members professed their vows, the Code of Canon Law has been completely revised and the Constitutions of each institute have been revised following the Second Vatican Council.

For additional discussions of the vow of poverty and the legal issues it raises, register here for the archived webcast.

Religious Life at the CrossroadsSoon to be released: Religious Life at the Crossroads: A School for Mystics and Prophets by Amy Hereford, CSJ. (Orbis) This book explores the movements in religious life today and the currents that are emerging. It re-imagines the meaning of vows, community and mission, and examines how the emerging forms of religious life will fit into an emerging church. On Amazon now....

Join us for the lecture and book-signing the evening before the 2013 RFC Congress in St. Louis, MO.

November 13, 2013, 6pm.
Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse,
6400 Minnesota Ave,
St. Louis, MO 63111. 
RSVP: motherhousersvp@csjsl.org

I am always happy to work with you or your community, or to present materials on various topics as you face the challenges of an uncertain and changing future. 

Amy Hereford

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