CICLSAL, The Role of the General Council in the Governance of a Religious Institute, 1991. Private.


1. The superior general of an apostolic congregation of women religious submitted the composition of the general council of the institute to the CICLSAL for review in 1980. The general council was composed of a coordinator general, the assistant coordinator general, and five provincial coordinators. This general council met once a year for a period of at least three weeks at a different province each time. Telephone calls and mail were used for decisions between meetings; policies determined routine decisions.

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The members of CICLSAL studied the structure in view of the long term implications, the positive experience of the religious institute, and the experiences in other institutes. CICLSAL advised that the model presented was that of an extended general council rather than a general council in the canonical sense.

The primary responsibility of a provincial superior is to govern the province; for this service the provincial superior has ex officio authority. The roles of provincial superior and general councillor are different and require different expertise. The model presented by the religious institute would not meet the canonical understanding of a general council. It could give rise to a confusion of roles, inasmuch as the provincial superiors would judge their own cases. This would deprive the members of the religious institute of a level of recourse, since the same persons compose the general and provincial levels of governance.

A general council in the canonical sense is a permanent body of usually no fewer than three councillors who assist the superior general by advice or consent according to canon law and the proper law of the institute. While the councillors may have other apostolates, these works must not interfere with the primary responsibility of assisting the superior general to serve the whole institute. Provided that such a canonical general council exists, a broader or extended council which includes the provincial superiors and meets for consultation and information can be a great asset to an institute. However, this latter body cannot replace the canonical council or assume its responsibilities. CICLSAL advised that it would be important to reconsider the present government structure of the religious institute before the next general chapter.

2. A superior general of an apostolic religious institute of brothers telephoned CICLSAL early in 1991, to inquire as to the feasibility of the four provincial superiors of the religious institute becoming and serving as the general council.

The rescript sent to the superior general was a summary of a discussion of the officials of CICLSAL regarding the issue presented. The provision for provincial superiors to act as the general council is not usually granted by CICLSAL. Only one small religious institute in Germany received the permission some twenty years ago. CICLSAL advised that the reason for not granting such a request is that a conflict of interest is created, inasmuch as the general council must address matters involving the various provinces. The general councillors/provincial superiors are in the position of playing two roles. As provincial superiors, they act as petitioners; as general councillors, they give advice or consent for the petitions presented. CICLSAL advised that the provincial superiors could join the general councillors in forming an extended council for certain determined issues, but they are not part of the general council in the canonical sense.




CICLSAL, 1991, The Role of the General Council in the Governance of a Religious Institute, RRAO (1992): 13-15.