Catholic News Service reports the 20 page instruction, approved by Pope Benedict in June, is titled "Reform of the Higher Institutes of Religious Sciences" and was released by the Vatican on September 25.
These specialised institutes were established after the Second Vatican Council to offer lay Catholics and consecrated religious in-depth instruction in theology and sacred studies.
Particularly in Europe and especially in Catholic countries like Italy and Spain, the institutes primarily served as a means to prepare educators to teach religion in primary and secondary schools, both public and private.
The Vatican said it published the various reforms necessary for ecclesial institutes specialising in religious studies in an effort to conform to Europe's new requirements, to establish uniform high standards for theological study and to detail the requirements and responsibilities of every institute.
Among the changes, completing four years of study, a Church recognised degree in religious studies will now require five years (instead of four), broken into a three year program to earn a bachelor's degree followed by an additional two years of study to earn a licentiate.
Each institute must now have at least five permanent professors and no fewer than 75 students to be recognised.
Some terminology has changed as each religious studies institute will be "linked" to, not "sponsored" by, a Catholic faculty of theology, which has academic responsibility for the institute.
Responsibilities, accountability and administrative duties have been more clearly detailed in the new instruction.
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