Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Imposition of a precept of obedience by the superior general of a women’s religious institute on a member, 2012, Private.
A major superior of a pontifical women’s religious institute imposed a penal precept on a member. The member appealed the decision to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The superior’s decision was not upheld since the power of governance (cc. 129 §1 and 134 §1) can be exercised only by those in Sacred Orders. The precept was revoked. The superior then imposed an obedience on the same member in virtue of the vow of obedience. The member sought recourse from CICLSAL against the decision. Below is the Congregation’s response.
CONGREGATION FOR INSTITUTES OF CONSECRATED LIFE AND SOCIETIES OF APOSTOLIC LIFEVatican City, ______, 2012
Prot. N. ______
Dear Sr. ______,
Please find enclosed, for your information, a copy of the Decree (dated 2 July 2012) which has been issued by this Dicastery, concerning the recourse presented by Sr. ______ against the penal precept you imposed on 28 November, 2011.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Sr. Nicoletta V. Spezzati, A.S.C.
Prot. N. ______
DECREEI. The Facts
1. The Superior General of the Congregation of ______, in her letter of 28 November 2011 imposed a penal precept on Sr. ______, in accordance with can. 1319.
Sr. ______ was notified of this decision on the day it was issued, but only on 14 December 2011 did she have the possibility of obtaining the help of a legal advisor, which enabled her, on that same date, to present her request to the Superior General for the revocation of this precept, in accordance with can. 1734 §1.
2. The Superior General, in her letter of 14 January 2012, gave a negative reply to this request for revocation (can. 1735). In response, Sr. ______ presented administrative hierarchical recourse, in accordance with can. 1737 §1, to this Dicastery in her letter of 17 January 2012, which was within the time limit established in can. 1737 §2.
II. In Law and in Fact
3. Can. 1734 §2 states that the request for revocation must be made within the peremptory time-limit of ten canonical days from the time the decree was lawfully notified.
Because the precept was notified on 28 November 2011, Sr. ______ should have presented her request for revocation to the Superior General by 8 December, 2011.
However, although she presented the petition on 14 December 2011, which was six days after the limit stated in can. 1734 §2, it must be acknowledged that Sr. ______ had clearly demonstrated her intention to consult a priest and a religious sister, the chancellor of the Diocese of ______, on the very day she was notified, that is the 28 November, 2011 and during the days immediately following, in order to obtain legal assistance in the recourse that she wanted to present.
Nevertheless, Sr. ______ did not succeed in obtaining this legal advice until 14 December 2011. Thus it was only on this date that she was able to present her request to the Superior General for revocation of the precept which had been issued on 28 November 2011.
4. Thus the reasons why Sr. ______ did not present her request for revocation by 8 December 2011 were not exclusively related to her intention, but to her difficulty in obtaining legal advice which made it impossible for her to do so. Because this advice was obtained only a few days after the expiry of the time limit given in can. 1737 §2, at which time she immediately presented her petition for revocation, this Dicastery has decided that her petition should be considered legitimately presented within the canonical time limit.
5. Canon 1319 §1 states that to the extent to which a legislator can impose precepts by virtue of the power of governance in the external forum, to that extent can he also by precept threaten a determined penalty … Therefore, a penal precept can only be imposed by authorities in Sacred Orders (can. 129 §1) who are also considered to be Ordinaries in the terms of can. 134 §1.
Can. 134 §1, however, does not attribute such a type of power to any Major Superior of a religious Institute of women, that is, not a clerical Institute, of pontifical or of diocesan right.
As a consequence, since the precept of 28 November 2011 was issued in accordance with can. 1319 (“in accord with canon 1319, I hereby issue to you this penal precept”) and hence the intention to attribute to it the nature of a penal precept cannot be in doubt; considering also that the precept in question has been issued by the Superior General of the Institute to which Sr. ______ belongs, which is an authority without the power of jurisdiction in the sense given in can. 129 §1 and 134 §1, it can be deduced with certainty that the precept in question was issued by an authority which was not competent to do so.
6. Therefore, this Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, having heard the opinion of the Congresso of 15 June 2012, with this present decree accepts the recourse presented by Sr. ______ in her letter of 17 January 2012. At the same time it also revokes the precept concerning Sr. ______, issued on 28 November, 2011 by the Superior General of the Congregation ______.
7. In addition to the above, it is to be understood that acceptance of this recourse does not intend in any way to express a judgment about the merits of the reasons for which the Superior General emitted this precept of 28 November 2011 and for which she might consider it appropriate to adopt disciplinary measures of a different nature from the precept of 28 November 2011.
All things to the contrary notwithstanding.
Given at Vatican City, 2 July 2012
+ Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.
Sr. Nicoletta V. Spezzati, A.S.C.
Prot. N. ______
DECREETHE MATTER AT HAND
1. In virtue of the vow of obedience, with a letter dated 24 August 2012, the Superior General of the Congregation of ______, imposed an obedience upon Sr. ______, a perpetually professed Sister in a Religious Institute of Pontifical Right. The obedience contained the following directives upon Sr. ______:
* to cease your disruptive behavior during community meetings.
* to cease speaking when so commanded by the chair of the community meeting.
* to cease public opposition to decisions of the Leadership of the community unless recognized to speak during a community meeting. If you are so recognized, you are to state your position on the matter and not continuously argue against the decision of the Leadership.
* to cease public opposition to decisions of the community unless recognized to speak during a community meeting. If you are to state your position on the matter and not continuously argue against the decision of the community.
* to speak respectfully regarding the opinions and positions of others.
* to cease making efforts covertly to influence the opinions of the sisters in order to gain support for your own ideas.
* to refrain from any involvement in or attempts to interfere with processes of election within the community.
2. Sr. ______, considering the above directives of the precept of obedience to be a violation of the rights conferred upon her by membership in the institute, with a letter dated August 28, 2012, or within the time limit mentioned in canon 1734 §2, presented a request for the revocation of the obedience in question to the Superior General, the author of the obedience.
3. In response, the Major Superior, with a letter dated September 17, 2012, rejected the request for the revocation presented by Sr. ______. Consequently, the religious in question, with a letter dated September 19, 2012, or within the time limit mentioned in canons 1735 and 1737 §2, in accordance with the provisions of canon 1737 §1, presented an administrative hierarchical recourse to this Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Since the Congregation of ______ is a Religious Institute of Pontifical Right and given the fact that the above-mentioned letter of the Superior General to Sr. ______, dated 28 August 2012, must be considered, even if not in format, at least in substance, a decree; in accord with article n. 107 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life is the competent entity to receive and to make a decision regarding the matter. This Decree is written as a response to the recourse presented.
4. Canon 601 states: The evangelical counsel of obedience, undertaken in the spirit of faith and love in the following of Christ, who was obedient even unto death, obliges submission of one’s will to lawful Superiors, who act in the place of God when they give commands that are in accor-dance with each institute’s own constitutions. Therefore, every religious has the duty to follow orders received from a competent Superior, both local and Major, especially if given in a serious matter and/or as a precept imposed in virtue of the vow of obedience, even if they require a special effort of the will. At the same time, those provisions should be given in accordance with the Constitutions of the Institute and the Universal Law of the Church, or at least should not be in conflict with those provisions. Canon 1737 §1 gives the right of recourse to anyone who, for any reason, believes that his/her rights have been violated. A nun may present a recourse against a decree only if it directly and/or indirectly violates rights recognized and/or particularly assigned by proper and/or universal law.
5. Sr. ______, in her letter of 19 September 2012, said she believe her rights as a perpetually professed religious of the Congregation of ______ had been violated, since the provisions of the General Superior, in her letter of August 25, 2012, would have prevented her from fully participating in congregational meetings in accord with rights and obligations arising from profession as indicated in their Constitutions, or the rights and duties stipulated in Articles nn. 63, 65 and 66 of the Constitutions. More specifically, Article n. 63 gives professed religious of the institute the right to active and passive voice according to the Constitutions and shared responsibility for the proper conduct of life, mission and apostolate of the Institute. Article n. 63 states: A sister in perpetual vows has active and passive voice in the congregation according to the Constitution. With the other perpetually professed members of the congregation she is responsible for the life, mission and ministry of the congregation. Article n. 65 foresees that the General Government of the Institute must seek above all the promotion of fraternal communion between religious and the pursuit of the common good: the purpose of the government of the congregation is to embody and promote loving communion of persons and to promote the attainment of communal goals. The success of the government of the congregation depends upon the willingness of the sisters to participate in determining, achieving and evaluating goals in an atmosphere of open and free communication. Finally, Article n. 66 points out that, in the Institute, fraternal communion is founded on dialogue and participation in religious discernment to make decisions and, likewise, in the sharing of responsibilities. In fact, said art. n. 66 states: in the congregation, emphasis is placed on dialogue and participation so that the sisters are involved in the process of making decisions and they share the responsibility and accountability for them.
6. Taking into account the above cited articles, the reasons given by Sr. ______ for her recourse are not adequately substantiated. In fact, the directives imposed by the Superior General with the August 24, 2012 precept of obedience do not deprive Sr. ______ of active and/or passive voice as indicated in art. n. 63, nor do they prohibit the possibility of the religious participating in discussions and discernment regarding decisions for the good of the Institute and/or the individual religious, nor do they prohibit her from cooperating in the implementation of initiatives/activities decided upon for the proper conduct of the life, mission and apostolate of the Institute (arts. nos. 63, 66), nor of offering a contribution for the realization of fraternal communion (art. no. 65). Rather, the precept against which Sr. ______ filed a recourse only regards the manner of participating in the various activities of the common life of the Institute, demanding a more respectful behavior, understanding and willingness to accept the opinions of others and the decisions taken by the Superiors and the community, especially when they are contrary to or just different from her beliefs.
In summary, this Dicastery has not found, in the reasons presented in the present recourse, nor in the recourse in question, elements in the directives given in virtue of the vow of obedience by the Superior General, in a letter dated August 24, 2012, which are directly or indirectly contrary to the regulations of the Institute or of the Universal Church or which have violated the rights of the religious who has presented the recourse.
Therefore, having carefully evaluated the documents in its possession for the legality of the procedure followed and having affirmed that the applicant was granted the right to defend herself, after consultation in a Congresso held on April 5, 2013, this Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, in view of the reasons aforementioned, with the present Decree, in accordance with canon 1739, rejects the recourse presented and thereby confirms the directives given to Sr. ______ by the General Superior of the Congregation of ______ in her letter of August 24, 2012.
Notwithstanding any provision to the contrary.
Given at Vatican City, _______, 2013
P. Sebastiano Paciolla, O. Cist
Waldemar Barcszcz, TOR
Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Imposition of a precept of obedience by the superior general of a women’s religious institute on a member, 2012, Private, CLSA, Roman Replies and Advisory Opinions, 2013, 18-24.