Motu proprio
A motu proprio is a document issued by the Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

 (or by a monarch) on his own initiative and personally signed by him.

When issued by the Pope, a motu proprio may be addressed to the whole Church, to part of it, or to some individuals.

The first motu proprio was issued by Pope Innocent VIII
Pope Innocent VIII
Pope Innocent VIII , born Giovanni Battista Cybo , was Pope from 1484 until his death.-Early years:Giovanni Battista Cybo was born at Genoa of Greek extraction...

 in 1484. It continues to be a common form of Papal rescripts
Papal rescripts
Papal Rescripts are responses of the pope or a Sacred Congregation, in writing, to queries or petitions of individuals. Some rescripts concern the granting of favours; others the administration of justice under canon law, e. g...

, especially when establishing institutions, making minor changes to law or procedure, and when granting favours to persons or institutions.


An important effect of the issue of a document in this way is that a rescript containing the clause "motu proprio" is valid and produces its effect even in cases where fraud would ordinarily have vitiated the document, since the Pope does not rely on the reasons alleged when he grants a favour. Withholding of the truth in what, according to canonical law, style and practice, must for validity be expressed, normally renders a rescript invalid, but not if the rescript is issued "motu proprio". Consequently, canonists traditionally called the clause the "mother of repose".

However, a motu proprio has no effect in so far as it harms the acquired right of another or is contrary to a law or approved custom, unless it expressly states that it is derogating from these matters.


A motu proprio rescript begins by giving the reasons for issuing it, and then indicates the law or regulation made or the favour granted. It is less formal than a constitution and carries no papal seal. Its content may be instructional (e.g., on the use of plainchant), administrative (e.g., concerning a church law or the establishment of a commission), or merely to confer a special favour.

Notable examples

  • Tra le sollecitudini, issued 22 November 1903 by Pope Pius X
    Pope Pius X
    Pope Saint Pius X , born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, was the 257th Pope of the Catholic Church, serving from 1903 to 1914. He was the first pope since Pope Pius V to be canonized. Pius X rejected modernist interpretations of Catholic doctrine, promoting traditional devotional practices and orthodox...

    , on the topic of music to be used during Mass
  • Bonum sane
    Bonum sane
    Bonum sane was a motu proprio on Saint Joseph written by Pope Benedict XV and delivered on July 25, 1920. The pope warned against world government:...

    , issued 25 July 1920 by Pope Benedict XV
    Pope Benedict XV
    Pope Benedict XV , born Giacomo Paolo Giovanni Battista della Chiesa, reigned as Pope from 3 September 1914 to 22 January 1922...

    , on the topic of world politics
  • Mysterii Paschalis
    Mysterii Paschalis
    Mysterii Paschalis is the title of an apostolic letter motu proprio issued by Pope Paul VI on February 14, 1969...

    , issued 14 February 1969 by Pope Paul VI
    Pope Paul VI
    Paul VI , born Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini , reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church from 21 June 1963 until his death on 6 August 1978. Succeeding Pope John XXIII, who had convened the Second Vatican Council, he decided to continue it...

    , deleting many names from the calendar of saints
    Roman Catholic calendar of saints
    The General Roman Calendar indicates the days of the year to which are assigned the liturgical celebrations of saints and of the mysteries of the Lord that are to be observed wherever the Roman Rite is used...

  • Ad Tuendam Fidem
    Ad Tuendam Fidem
    Ad Tuendam Fidem is an apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II issued motu proprio on May 18, 1998.The apostolic letter made modifications to the Oriental and Latin codes of canon law defining penalties for public dissent by public ministers of the Church....

    , issued 15 July 1998 by Pope John Paul II
    Pope John Paul II
    Blessed Pope John Paul II , born Karol Józef Wojtyła , reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of Vatican City from 16 October 1978 until his death on 2 April 2005, at of age. His was the second-longest documented pontificate, which lasted ; only Pope Pius IX ...

    , on topics in canon law
  • Summorum Pontificum
    Summorum Pontificum
    Summorum Pontificum is an Apostolic Letter of Pope Benedict XVI, issued "motu proprio" . The document specified the rules, for the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, for celebrating Mass according to the "Missal promulgated by John XXIII in 1962" , and for administering most of the sacraments in...

    , issued 14 September 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI
    Pope Benedict XVI
    Benedict XVI is the 265th and current Pope, by virtue of his office of Bishop of Rome, the Sovereign of the Vatican City State and the leader of the Catholic Church as well as the other 22 sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See...

    , on the use of the Tridentine Mass and other liturgical topics

Other uses of the phrase "motu proprio"

More generically, the Latin phrase is used to indicate "of his own accord" and is thus similar to "sua sponte
Sua sponte
In law, sua sponte describes an act of authority taken without formal prompting from another party. The term is usually applied to actions by a judge taken without a prior motion or request from the parties...

". It is used very rarely in legal opinions in the United States: the better known term "sua sponte" is preferred. As it relates to a monarch, the term motu proprio describes the condition of a royal decree being made expressly on the sovereign's initiative, a practice more usual in some nations than in others.

External links

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