Sunday, April 16, 2023

Statistics on Motu Proprios 1978 - Present

[Apr. 16, 2023] A few days ago I saw an interesting tweet by Matthew Hazell noting that in 2023 alone Pope Francis has already issued 50% more motu proprios than Pope Benedict had throughout his entire pontificate.

The point got me wondering what subjects have occasioned motu proprios in recent history. I began reviewing the motu proprios of the last three popes, comparing not only how many but their purpose. The following are some statistics my cursory research revealed. 

I. Motu Proprios by Pope

A complete list of papal motu proprios for every pontiff is available on the Vatican website; I have also attached my own list at the bottom of this post. Based on these records, John Paul II issued 31 motu proprios, Benedict issued 13, and Francis has issued 60 to date. If we were to add these together (104 motu proprios) and divide them up by pontiff, the distribution of motu proprios issued from 1978 to the present would look like this, with Pope Francis issuing 58% of all motu proprios since 1978 and more than both his predecessors combined:

II. Average Motu Proprios Per Year

The absolute number of motu proprios by pope can only tell us so much, as the pontiffs all had/have pontificates of varying lengths. I therefore took the amount of each pope's motu proprios and divided by their pontificate (rounded to the nearest month) to see how many motu proprios each pope issued on average in a given year of his pontificate:

Clearly Pope Francis has much more frequent recourse to the motu proprio than either of his predecessors, outpacing John Paul II by 6:1 and Benedict by almost the same. Francis has not only issued more motu proprios; he issues them with greater frequency as well.

III. Longest Duration Without Issuing a Motu Proprio

Another interesting fact: The longest John Paul II went without issuing a motu proprio was 3 years, 8 months, and 8 days, the time elapsed between his establishing of the Labor Office of the Apostolic See on January 1, 1988 and his establishment of the Curial pension fund on September 8, 1992. The longest Benedict XVI went between motu proprios was 3 years, 5 months, and 23 days, between Summorum Pontificum on July 7, 2007 and Vatican City State's adoption of the EU's prescriptions against money laundering on December 30, 2010. The biggest gap between motu proprios for Francis thus far has only been 9 months and 16 days, between his annulment reform of the Latin and Oriental churches (August 15, 2015) and De concordia inter codices, another revision to the CIC issued on May 31, 2016:

IV. Motu Proprios by Subject by Pope

Categorizing what the popes issued motu proprios about was challenging. The subjects of pontifical motu proprios are exceedingly broad and are not easily categorized. After reviewing every motu proprio to understand its purpose, I was able to create seven broad classifications: Administration, Finances, Liturgy & Saints, Outside Groups, Sex Abuse, Canon Law, and Doctrine & Sacraments. They are very inclusive and require some explanation:


Administration pertains to the pope's governance of the Holy See, Vatican City State, the Roman Curia and all bodies under papal or curial jurisdiction. Examples of adminisrative motu proprios include (but are not limited to) the establishment of pontifical commissions, merging of congregations/dicasteries, tranferring jurisdiction from one entity to another, renaming a congregation, approving the statutes of a newlry erected pontifical commission, amending the govenment of Vatican City State, implementing E.U. legal norms within Vatican City, etc.


While finances are technically part of the administration of the Holy See, I chose to consider them separately due to the prevalence of Vatican financial scandals in recent times. Examples of financial motu proprios include (but are not limited to) regulations for Vatican pension plans, directives of transparency in Vatican financial dealings, rules governing the assigning of contracts, regulations of Vatican investment assets etc. (Two motu proprios that were adoptions of E.U. laws against illegal money laundering were categorized under administration, however, as they did not pertain to the actual assets of the Vatican but rather to the Vatican City State bringing its legal code into alignment with E.U. standards.)

Liturgy & Saints

The category of liturgy and saints encompasses all motu proprios with bearing on these two subjects, though I have used the phrase "liturgy and saints" broadly. The category not only includes liturgical motu proprios like Summorum pontificum and Traditiones custodes, but also legislation relating to how saints are canonized/who is eligible for sainthood, the institution of "Year of" themes to be preached throughout the Church Universal, and the assignment of patronal titles to specific saints (e.g., John Paul II's proclamation of St. Thomas More as the patron saint of politicians).

Outside Groups

This category pertains to the Holy See's interactions with other institutions. In the majority of motu proprios this means religious orders, but it also includes the Knights of Malta, Caritas International, and Opus Dei. 

Sex Abuse

Pertains to motu proprios relating to sex abuse reporting, investigation, and the protection of minors.

Canon Law

The canon law category encompasses all amendments to the Code of Canon Law by motu proprio, both of the Latin rite as well as the code for the Oriental churches. I also included here motu proprios relating to marriage nullity cases, as well as John Paul II's 1998 Apostolos Suos on the juridical authority of national episcopal conferences.

Doctrine & Sacraments

This category encompasses motu proprios dealing with matters relating to Catholic teaching and the celebration of the sacraments outside of the Mass. Such motu proprios are rare, as typically such matters are addressed through decrees by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith or the Dicastery for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, not through papal motu proprio. Still, there were two instances in recent history where motu proprios were used for this purpose: Benedict XVI's promulgation of the Compendium of the Cathechism of the Catholic Church (2005) and John Paul II's 2002 Misericordia Dei (2002), a forceful reaffirmation of the norms for the administration of the sacrament of penance.


Sometimes categories overlapped each other. For example, in 2019 Pope Francis issued a motu proprio amending the laws of Vatican City State with relation to the protection of minors. This could have been categorized as sex abuse related or administration, since it pertained to the government of Vatican City State. Or, John Paul's 1988 erection of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei could be considered administrative (as it entailed the creation of a new commission), or liturgy, as Ecclesia Dei existed for the sake of the liturgy. In such cases I made a prudential judgment based on what aspect seemed more primary. In the former case, I categorized Francis's decree under sex abuse; in the latter, the creation of Ecclesia Dei was put under administration.

Furthermore, no pontiff legislated in all seven categories; only Francis has issued motu proprios on sex abuse and outside groups, whereas only John Paul II and Benedict XVI issued motu proprios relating to docrtinal teaching or the celebration of sacraments outside of the Mass. John Paul II and Francis both issued motu proprios relating to Vatican finances, but Benedict XVI did not.

Now then, let us see what the Roman pontiffs have chosen to legislate about from 1978 to the present. First we will look at each pope individually beginning with Francis, then look at the motu proprios by subject of all three popes combined:

One thing to keep in mind when reviewing this information: Just because a pope did not issue a motu proprio on a given subject does not mean they were inactive on the question; it merely means they did not address the subject using a motu proprio. For example, though Pope Benedict issued no motu proprios on sex abuse, was extremely vigorous in combatting it, doing more than his predecessor or successor. So we must not assume that a pope has ignored an issue merely because he did not issue motu proprios on the matter; a motu proprio is only one of many ways a pope acts.

V. List of All Motu Proprios 1978 - Present by Pope, Subject, and Date

For reference, I have included this table I compiled of all motu proprios issued by each of the three popes. If the motu proprio had a name, it is included in italics; if the motu proprio was not named, I have listed it by its first words, according to custom. Also, in the interest of space, the descriptions of each motu proprio are extremely sparse. Those interested in learning more about a given document should consult, where all motu proprios are listed.

Motu Proprios of Pope Francis (Mar. 13, 2013-Present)

“In our times”

Re: Jurisdiction of Vatican City State

Jul. 11, 2013

“The promotion”

Adopt EU new rules against money laundering

Aug. 8, 2013

“By means”

On the Financial Intelligence Authority

Nov. 15, 2013

Fidelis dispensator et prudens

Re: Administration of Vatican City

Feb. 24, 2014


Re: Administration of the Holy See

Jul. 8, 2014

Natura e competenza

Statutes of new economic entities

Feb. 22, 2015

“The current context”

Establishing Secretariat for Communication

Jun. 27, 2015

Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus

Annulment reform (Latin rite)

Aug. 15, 2015

Mitis et misericors Iesus

Annulment reform (Eastern churches)

Aug. 15, 2015

De concordia inter codices

Harmonize canons of Latin and Eastern codes

May 31, 2016

As a loving mother

Procedures for clerical sex abuse charges

Jun. 4, 2016

“The Dicastery”

Statutes for Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life

Jun. 4, 2016

I bene temporali

Further guidelines for Holy See finances

Jul. 4, 2016

“The Church, devoted mother”

Instituting Dicastery for Laity, Faily, and Life

Aug. 15, 2016

“The Dicastery for promoting”

Statutes for Dicastery of Integral Human Devp.

Aug. 17, 2016

“Secretariat of Communication”

Statutes for the Secretariat of Communication

Sept. 6, 2016

“The Pontifical Academy for Life”

Statutes for the Pontifical Academy for Life

Oct. 18, 2016

“The shrine”

Shrines given to Promotion of the New Evang.

Feb. 11, 2017

Maiorem hac dilectionem

“Offer of life” distinct from martyrdom

Jul. 11, 2017

Magnum principium

Altering Canon 838 on vernacular translations

Sept. 3, 2017

Summa familiae curae

Creating JP2 Institute for Matrimonial &Family Science

Sept. 8, 2017

“Learn to take your leave”

Concerning resignation of Papal Appointees

Feb. 12, 2018

“Legge sul governo”

Laws governing Vatican City State

Nov. 25, 2018

“For over 30 years”

Decommissioning Ecclesia Dei

Jan. 17, 2019

“L’Ufficio del Revisore Generale”

New statutes of the Vatican auditor general

Jan. 21, 2019

Communis Vita

Reforming canons for dismissal from religious life

Mar. 19, 2019

“The protection of minors”

Crimes against minors in Vatican City State

Mar. 26, 2019

Vos estis lux mundi

Reporting requirements for child sex abuse

May 7, 2019

Aperuit illis

Instituting Sunday of the Word of God

Sept. 30, 2019

L’esperienza storica

Changing name of the Vatican Secret Archives

Oct. 22, 2019

“Throughout the centuries”

Term for Dean of College of Cardinals 5 years

Dec. 21, 2019


Amending Vatican State judicial system

Mar. 16, 2020

“The diligence of”

How contracts in Vatican City get awarded

May 19, 2020

Authenticam charismatis

Amending canon 579 on Institutes of Cons.Life

Nov. 1, 2020

Ab initio

Amending canons 435 & 506 in Eastern Code

Nov. 21, 2020

“A better organization”

On management of investments of Holy See

Dec. 26, 2020

Spiritus Domini

Amending Can. 230 for women acolytes/lectors

Jan. 10, 2021

“Needs which have arisen”

Amending penal code of Vatican City State

Feb. 8, 2021

“An economically sustainable”

Containing expenditures for Vatican employees

Mar. 23, 2021

“Faithfulness in matters”

Transparency in Vatican finances

Apr. 26, 2021

“According to”

Amending jurisdiction of Vatican judicial bodies

Apr. 30, 2021

Antiquum ministerium

Instituting ministry of catechist

May 10, 2021

Traditiones custodes

Repealing Summorum pontificum

Jul. 16, 2021

“Since almost”

Applying Mitis Iudex in Italy

Nov. 17, 2021

Fidem servare

Restructuring the CDF

Feb. 11, 2022

Competentias quasdam

Amending various canons of East and West codes

Feb. 11, 2022

Recognitum Librum VI

Change Canon 695 on dismissal from clerical institutes

Apr. 26, 2022

Ad charisma tuendum

Confirming the prelature of Opus Dei in the "charismatic sphere" of the Church

Jul. 14, 2022

“The preceding chirograph”

Legal competency of the Dicastery for Evangelization

Aug. 1, 2022

“Sovereign Military”

Taking over the Knights of Malta

Sep. 3, 2022

“The Apostolic Constitution”

Competence of pastoral care of tourists

Sep. 30, 2022

Caritas Internationalis”

Appointment to Caritas Internationalis

Nov. 21, 2022

“Chi รจ Fedele”

Regulating funds of the Curia

Dec. 5, 2022

“Having proceeded”

Reorganizing the Auxiliary Bishops of Rome

Jan. 6, 2023

“In implementation”

Regulation of Independent Supervisory Commission

Feb. 14, 2023

Il Diritto Nativo

Universal destination of Holy See’s funds

Feb. 20, 2023

“Vocare peccatores”

Reform of penal code of Oriental churches

Mar. 20, 2023

Vos estis lux mundi (II)

Adding vulnerable adult to norms on sex abuse

Mar. 25, 2023

“Expidit ut iura”

Concerning appeals of dismissed religious

Apr. 2, 2023

Le esigenze 

Amending penal code of Vatican City State

Apr. 12, 2023

Motu Proprios of Benedict XVI (Apr. 19, 2005-Feb. 28, 2013)

“The ancient and venerable”

Clarifying adminitsration of St Paul Outside the Walls

May 31, 2005

“Twenty years ago”

Promulgating Compendium of the CCC

Jun. 8, 2005

De Aliquibus Mutationibus

Restoring pre-JPII norms for electing Pope

Jun. 11, 2007

Summorum Pontificum

Freeing of the Traditional Latin Mass

Jul. 7, 2007

“The Apostolic See”

Vatican adopts EU anti-money laundering rules

Dec. 30, 2010

Quaerit Semper

Amending organization of the Curia

Aug. 30, 2011

Porta Fidei

Proclaiming the Year of Faith

Oct. 11, 2011

Data Pulchritudinis Fidei

Merging two pontifical commissions

Jul. 30, 2012

Latina Lingua

Establishing Pontifical Academy for Latin

Nov. 10, 2012

Intima ecclesiae natura

Gives legal structure to Catholic charitable organizations

Nov. 11, 2012

Ministrorum Institutio

Transfers jurisdiction of seminaries

Jan. 16, 2013

Fides per Doctrinam

Transfers jurisdiction of catechesis

Jan. 16, 2013

Normas Nonnullas

Amending norms for electing the pope

Feb. 22, 2013

Motu Proprios of John Paul II (Oct. 16, 1978-Apr. 2, 2005)

“Considering that the popes”

Creates Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center

Dec. 13, 1978

Familia a deo instituta

Establishes Pontifical Council for the Family

May 9, 1981

Beata Hedvigis

Establishes Pontifical Theological Academy of Cracow

Dec. 8, 1981

Tredecim Anni

Establishes statutes of the Internatl Theological Commission

Aug. 6, 1982

Qui res Christi gerit

Memorial of Fra Angelico for Dominicans

Oct. 3, 1982

Recognito Iuris Canonici Codice

Est. Commission for Interpret. of Canon Law

Jan. 2, 1984

Dolentium Hominum

Est. Commission for Apostolate of Health Care

Feb. 11, 1985

Quo Civium Iura

Amending judiciary of Vatican City State

Jan. 2, 1984

Sollicita Cura

Reorganizing marriage Tribunals in Italy

Dec. 26. 1987

Decessores Nostri

Reorganizing Pont. Comm. For Latin America

Jun. 18, 1988

Iusti Iudicis

On Advocates of the Roman Court

Jun. 28, 1988

Ecclesia Dei

Creating Pont. Comm. Ecclesia Dei

Jul. 22, 1988

“On the first anniversary”

Est. Labor Office of the Apostolic See

Jan. 1, 1989

“The Concern”

Establishing pension fund for Curial employees

Sept. 8, 1992

Europae Orientalis

Est. Comm. for the Church in Eastern Europe

Jan. 15, 1993

Inde a Pontificatus

Merging two pontifical councils

Mar. 25, 1993

Socialium Scientarium

Est. Pont. Academy of Social Sciences

Jan. 1, 1994

Vitae Mysterium

Est. Pont. Academy for Life

Feb. 11, 1994

“The Solicitude”

Est. statutes of Labor Office of the Apostolic See

Sept. 30, 1994

Stella Maris

Updating norms for the Maritime Apostolate

Jan. 31, 1997

Ad Tuendam Fidem

Amending codes of Canon Law, East & West

May 18, 1998

Apostolos Suos

On juridical competence of Episc. Conferences

May 21, 1998

Sacra Liturgia

On statutes of Chapter of some Roman churches

May 23, 1999

Spes Aedificandi

Proclaiming three co-patronesses of Europe

Oct. 1, 1999

Nuntiature apostolicae

Amending  the Tribunal of of Apostolic Correspondence in Spain

Oct. 2, 1999

E Sancti Thomae Mori

Makes Thomas More patron of politicians

Oct. 31, 2000

“The new basic law”

New constitution for Vatican City State

Nov. 26, 2000

Sacramentorum sanctitatis

Norms for sacramental delicts reserved to CDF

Apr. 30, 2001

Misericordia Dei

Reaffirming laws regarding sacrament of penance

Apr. 7, 2002


New regulation for Vatican pension plan

Dec. 15, 2003

“Continuing the precious work”

Giving Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center to Legionaries of Christ

Nov. 26, 2004

VI. Conclusion

It is my hope that these statistics will help others to better understand how the popes have used the motu proprio in their governance of the Church, as well as how the popes varied among themselves in terms of their priorities reflected in these documents. I do not feel competent to comment beyond what I have already written, but, Lord willing, someone who is better than I at interpreting the data will elaborate on this study. 

UPDATE: The very next day after this was published, Francis issued another motu proprio, Iam Pridem, on April 15, 2023.

+Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam+


P. O'Brien said...

The papacy is an absolute monarchy, but this current one is an absolute mockery.

Anonymous said...

I would think the liturgy and sacraments division would be under the same tile. For sample, the current pope does not have a purple subject division for the sacraments, yet there have been so many edicts issued regarding the mass.

It has been said that the current pope is following Paul vi- whom i doubt was a saint. Some of his comments regarding the laity in the pews was less then charitable.

Boniface said...


This only covers motu proprios. The current pontiff has only issue one motu proprio on the liturgym, Traditiones custodes. The other edicts you are thinking of (like the Roche rescript, for example) are not motu proprios. TC is the only motu proprio Francis has issued on the Mass.

Boniface said...

Also, sacraments refers to sacraments outside the Mass, e.g., norms for the administration of penance. There was only one MP on that subject since 1978, which was JP2's on the sacrament of confession. But even if I lump sacraments and liturgy together, that's not going change the overall distribution here.