The right of baptised Christians to found and direct associations goes right back to the primitive Church. Since the beginning, Christians have shown a desire to associate or group together for a specific end that furthers the mission of the Church. This took various forms throughout history. During the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, dependence on the authority became very pronounced and associations were only seen as existing in dependence on the hierarchy, as if they were a phenomenon of the organisation of the Church and governed by it.
This is clearly reflected in the 1917 code of Canon Law, which only recognised associations that had a direct dependence on the hierarchy. It was under this legislation that the Hospitalité received recognition as a pious union in 1930 and had its constitutions up-dated 1958, before the most recent update in 2009.
The Second Vatican Council puts a new emphasis on the role that all baptised play in the mission of the Church by virtue of their baptism. Baptised people are called to respond according to their vocation to the furthering of the mission of the Church. This is reflected in the right of the faithful to associate in order to fulfil the ends proper to the baptised.
The new legislation of the 1983 code takes account of this and allows for more possibilities in terms of associations. One of the innovations in this area is the possibility of establishing a Private Association of Christ’s faithful.
A private association is a group of baptised Catholics who form a group or associate together for a specific purpose related to their call through baptism to further the mission of the Church. The forms this takes can be many and varied. It is allowed great autonomy and freedom. It directs and governs itself according to its own statutes (can. 321). These statutes can be submitted to the local ordinary (bishop) for his recognition as a private association (can. 299 § 3).
The association is free to choose its own moderator and officers in accordance with its statutes. If it wishes, a private association is free to have a spiritual counsellor or advisor that it can choose, but the priest needs the confirmation of the local bishop.
The spiritual advisor strengthens that link between the bishop and the association. His function, broadly speaking, is to promote the spiritual welfare of members, providing them with spiritual support and guidance.
The association is free to administer any goods it possesses, according to the provision of its statutes. However, the competent ecclesiastical authority has the right to ensure that the goods are applied to the purpose of the association.
Although a private association of Christ’s faithful enjoys considerable freedom, it is still subject to the local ecclesiastical authority (can. 323).