Governance, Permissions, Advice, and Consent in Religious Institutes 

Religious leaders are called from among their sisters or brothers to serve for a term of years in pastoral leadership and in governance. Those who serve in this role are called to particular responsibilities on behalf of their sisters or brothers. They are called to reverence and respect for their brothers and sisters to whom they listen and with whom they seek to build up the good of the community.
Always working for the good of the community leaders work to identify the movements of the spirit stirring in the community, to discern the community’s call, to build consensus and to gather the energies of the sisters and brothers to live community and to foster spirituality and go out in mission.
Canon law outlines the common elements of religious life. The constitutions of the institution further specify the fundamental principles and guidelines of the life of the community, its spirituality and its mission along with its manner of governance, admission, formation, and departure from the institute, and the management of temporal goods or financial administration. The competent church authority approves the constitutions as an authentic expression of religious life, an authentic path to holiness and mission, in the following of Christ and the call of the Gospel.
Proper law of the institute also includes supplemental documents, such as the statutes or directory. Policies and procedures are developed over time and provide more detailed guidance for various elements of the life of the community. These secondary documents are easier to adapt to changing needs, requiring only the approval of the chapter, not that of the church authority.
Within these parameters, the community lives its life and gathers periodically in the chapter to reflect more deeply in its life and mission. Chapters celebrate the life of the community, reflecting on its recent history and discerning directions for the coming years. Chapters also select the community’s leadership, who will help guide the community in implementing the directions of the chapter. Leaders will be called to make necessary decisions for the good of the community, decisions needed to carry out the mission of the community and decisions needed to implement the directions set by the entire community gathered in chapter. Canon law calls leaders to listen willingly to the sisters or brothers and to foster the good of the whole community. Leaders are to ensure the community has what it needs with particular care for the sick, the restless and the faith of heart (Canon 619).
Thus the governance of the community consists of written laws that embody the values of the community, collective governance through chapters and councils, and individual leadership through leaders and presidents, provincials and superiors. All of these are designed to give stability and continuity to the life of the community, while at the same time affording it the flexibility to respond to emerging needs and challenges.  Individual and collective governance balance and complement each other, though the way they are exercised and balanced may vary from one institute or society to another, and may shift over time within the same institute. For example, personal problems are better dealt with personally with an individual leader. When a broader base of wisdom and insight is needed, collective leadership comes to the fore. Administration of spiritual and temporal goods is best confided to more than one person. The chapter sets out the general directions for the congregation or unit, and the leadership team implements those guiding principles in the life of the community.
Canon law and the proper law of an institute require the input of the community’s chapter for the most important decisions regarding its life and mission. Other decisions are the responsibility of leadership. Of these decisions, the most important require consent of the council, also called a consultative vote. In these cases, the leader cannot act without the required consent. Some less weighty decisions require the leader to listen to the council, also called advice or deliberative vote. In this case, the leader must take seriously the advice given. However, in some cases, they may decide to take a different course of action, possibly because of some confidential information that they are not able to share with the council.

For more information on this topic, consider registering for February’s webcast which will examine governance, permissions, advice, and consent in religious institutes. In the exercise of authority, leadership is exercised in collaboration with church authorities external to the institute, and in collaboration with councils and others within the institute. This webcast will examine the requirements of canon law, as supplemented by requirements in an institute’s own proper law. Register here.

We are offering Canon Law 101 again this year. This series of webcasts introduces participants to Canon Law, the rules that govern church order and discipline of the Roman Catholic Church. It is intended to be a more broad-based introduction to Canon Law for those who work for Church ministries and for those who would like to deepen their understanding of Church Law. The sessions cover:

  1. Introduction to Canon Law
  2. The People of God
  3. Teaching and Sacraments
  4. Governance in the Church

For information or to register, click here.


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