Vatican Reorganizes the Mother Abbey of the Benedictines

Montecassino is one of the few remaining ‘territorial abbeys,’ independent of a diocese, in the world.

Abbey of Montecassino in Italy
Abbey of Montecassino in Italy (photo: CNA/Michelle Bauman)

MONTECASSINO, Italy — Pope Francis on Thursday appointed a new Abbot of Montecassino — the first monastery built by St. Benedict of Nursia — and at the same time reduced the territory for which the new abbot is responsible.

“The Monastic Community warmly welcomes Father Donato Ogliari as 192nd Ordinary Abbot of the territorial Abbey of Montecassino,” the abbey posted on Twitter Oct. 23.

Benedictine Abbot Ogliari, 57, was professed as a member of the Consolata Missionaries in 1978, and ordained a priest of that institute in 1982. He later transferred to the Order of St. Benedict, and was solemnly professed there in 1992. Before his appointment as Abbot of Montecassino, Abbot Ogliari had been abbot of Santa Maria della Scala Monastery in Noci, Italy.

The Territorial Abbey of Montecassino had been vacant since June 2013, when Abbot Pietro Vittorelli resigned.

Montecassino is one of the few remaining “territorial abbeys” in the world. This means that the abbey is independent of a diocese, and is in fact its own particular church.

The Code of Canon Law defines a territorial abbacy as “a certain portion of the people of God which is defined territorially and whose care, due to special circumstances, is entrusted to some prelate or abbot who governs it as its proper pastor just like a diocesan bishop.”

While they were more common in the past, Catholica Ecclesia, a 1976 document issued motu proprio (on his own initiative) by Blessed Paul VI, , moved toward reordering territorial abbeys so that monks might focus on their proper charism rather than also being responsible for a portion of the people of God.

Many were suppressed, and only 11 remain. There are six in Italy, two in Switzerland, one in Hungary, and one in Austria. There is also one in North Korea, Tokwon, though it has been vacant since its abbot died in 1950.

The United States once had a territorial abbey: Belmont Abbey, in North Carolina. The abbey had been founded in 1876, and in 1910 was given the status of territorial abbey, with jurisdiction over the parishes in eight North Carolina counties. Belmont's territory was reduced twice, in 1944 and 1960, to the point that it retained jurisdiction over one parish. One year after Catholica ecclesia was issued, the territorial abbacy was suppressed and its territory transferred to the Diocese of Charlotte, though it remains an abbey.

Pope Francis' Oct. 23 decision applied Catholica ecclesia to Montecassino.

Prior to the reorganization, it had been responsible for a territory of 227 square miles, including 53 parishes, 37 priests, 50 women religious, a number of seminarians, and nearly 79,000 faithful total.

Though Montecassino retains the status of territorial abbey, Abbot Ogliari will no longer be responsible for the care of so many faithful.

They have now been transferred to the Diocese of Sora-Aquino-Pontecorvo, which had previously been responsible for 551 square miles and included 91 parishes, 83 diocesan priests, and 175 women religious.

The diocese will now be known as Sora-Cassino-Aquino-Pontecorvo, according to Vatican Radio.

“To the entire diocesan community of Sora-Cassino-Aquino-Pontecorvo I extend my cordial greetings and I entrust my deep trepidation of soul,” Bishop Gerardo Antonazzao wrote to his newly-enlarged diocese Thursday.

“I invite all to prayer for one another, and in a particular way for my episcopal service, invested in an expanded pastoral responsibility. Along with the charity of prayer and of fraternal friendship of the entire diocesan community, I am comforted by the trust accorded by the Holy Father.”

Shannon Mullen, Editor-in-Chief of CNA

Meet CNA’s New Editor-in-Chief, Shannon Mullen (July 31)

A new era has begun at the Catholic News Agency even as the news cycle continues to bring challenging stories both inside the Church and around the world. This week on Register Radio, we get to know Shannon Mullen, the new editor-in-chief of CNA. And then, we are joined by the Register’s Washington Correspondent, Lauretta Brown, to catch up on the latest pro-life news from the nation’s capital.

Shannon Mullen, Editor-in-Chief of Catholic News Agency.

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“As a young newspaper reporter, I drew great inspiration from Pope John Paul II’s annual remarks on World Communications Day,” Mullen said adding, “He emphasized that even those in the secular media could serve as apostles in the cause of human dignity, justice and the pursuit of truth."