Story from AP:
Benedict's decision, announced Saturday, came after the outgoing bishop complained he had virtually no power over "autonomous enclaves" the Franciscans exercised over the basilica, its adjoining convent and a nearby church. The basilica is known for its frescoes attributed to Giotto and is a major pilgrimage and tourist destination.
"The local church is a family that lives around the bishop," the outgoing bishop, Monsignor Sergio Goretti, told the ANSA news agency. "In Assisi, it was absurd that there existed true and proper autonomous enclaves over which the bishop had no power."
He complained that he regularly found out about monks' initiatives from the newspapers, and that their work caused him problems.
Amy Welborn has the text of a Vatican Information Service piece which reveals that Benedict issued a motu proprio ("on his own authority") authorizing the changes. The full text is on the Vatican website.
Further commentary from the Independent, that this goes back to the brouhahah over Assisi in 1986.
Vittorio Messori, a conservative Catholic commentator, said: "The Church has a long memory. Joseph Ratzinger has had an account to settle with the friars of Assisi since the inter-religious meeting of 1986. Now he has fixed it."
He went on: "Ratzinger has not forgiven the Franciscan community for the excesses of the first day of prayer of the religious leaders with [Pope John Paul II]. It was a mockery, as many said, that forced the hand of the Pope, and it was the friars who broke the agreement they had made. They went so far as to allow African animists to slaughter chickens on the altar of the basilica of Santa Chiara, and American redskins to dance in the church."
[I'm sure there's a translation issue with "American redskins!" Anyway, Cardinal Ratzinger's disagreement on this with Pope John Paul II were quite public.]
The friars themselves were more diplomatic. "One Pope gives, the next takes away," said Fr Vincenzo. "When we decided to invite Tariq Aziz, one meeting was enough. Now who knows what we would have to do."
But what about that invitation, extended to the right-hand man of a bloody dictator? "Whoever arrives among you, friend or enemy, thief or brigand, welcome him with goodwill. That is the rule of St Francis, and that's what we follow."
(I wonder, though, what the Poverello would have said about inviting a thief or brigand? Anyway, he was in Italy at the invitation of Pope John Paul.)
Rocco Palmo has more as well, especially on the fallout in Italy (where this, like practically everything else, has political ramifications it seems). Interesting that he sees this an end of the honeymoon and the real beginning of the Ratzinger papacy. I don't think he means that this is the sign of the beginning of the Grand Inquisition, though that is how it certianly sounds.
La Repubblica's op-ed piece today reads this entirely as "restoration" and a blow to ecumenism (and tries to make a connection with the presence of Cardinal Lustiger at the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate as being a sign of intolerance. Apparently the Chief Rabbi of Rome didn't like the idea of a convert from Judaism being present. How this is a sign of "restoration" is beyond me.). I couldn't find anything on the websites of Corriere della Sera or ANSA.
I am not sure what to make of all of this. I think there were legitimate issues with the way Assisi 1986 played out (and, by the way, it seems that Cardinal Ratzinger didn't have any problems with the way Assisi 2002 was done). I think it obvious that a Basilica should be under the jurisdiction of the local bishop, who should, of course, respect the traditional autonomy of the religious orders as well. Anyway, I don't know enough about the background here.
I'm sure John Allen will write about this this week.