‘The Congregation for Religious is examining the religious congregations and associations created in this period.” Among the latter, many have been placed under external control. Positions of governance in lay groups are a “call to serve” that runs up against a hunger for power and disloyalty.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis met with the moderators of associations of the faithful, ecclesial movements and new communities, an audience organised by the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, centred on the topic of The responsibility of governance in lay associations. An ecclesial service.
For the pontiff, those who belong to Catholic associations and movements are “a missionary force and prophetic presence that gives us hope for the future.”
However, “even novelties soon age! For this reason, we must further deepen even the charism to which we belong, reflect together to embody it in the new situations we live.”
Starting with this perspective, Francis spoke about the decree on the international associations of the faithful, promulgated on 11 June of this year, resulting from the experiences of the post-Council decades.
“The Congregation for Religious is examining the religious congregations and associations created in this period. There is something curious, very curious. Many, many congregations, with some great new feature, ended up in very difficult situations” placed “under apostolic visitation”, under external control because of “abhorrent sins”.
“A study is currently underway. I don't know if this can be published, but you know these situations, the clerical rumours, better than me. There are many associations and not only the big ones that we know that are scandalous – the things they did to make them feel like a Church apart, feeling like redeemers!
“In my country, for example, three have already been dissolved and all of them ended up involved in some of the dirtiest things. They were the salvation, weren't they? They appeared to be . . . Always with the idea of disciplinary rigidity. This is important. And this led me. . . In the last decades we have seen us a series of changes that can help, changes that the decree asks us to do.”
With the decree as the starting point, we can turn to the internal governance of associations and movements. For Francis, this topic is “particularly close to my heart". Positions of authority in lay groups “are nothing more than a call to serve”, which for the Pope, can run up against the obstacle of hunger for power and disloyalty.
Hunger for power comes first. “The desire for power expresses itself in many ways in the life of the Church; for example, when we believe, by virtue of the role we play, that we must make decisions on all aspects of the life of our association, diocese, parish, or congregation. Certain tasks and responsibilities are delegated, but only in theory! In practice, delegating to others is rendered moot by the desire to be everywhere.
“This desire for power cancels out all forms of subsidiarity. This is an ugly attitude that ends up enfeebling the ecclesial body. It's a bad way of 'disciplining'. Perhaps someone might think that this 'desire' does not concern him, that this does not happen in his association,” but the decree “is not addressed only to some of the groups present here; it is for everyone, no one excluded.”
Francis also noted that experience shows “that it is beneficial and necessary to change people in positions of governance and ensure that all members are represented in your elections. Even in the context of consecrated life, by keeping the same people in positions of authority, some religious institutes have not prepared for the future; they have allowed abuses to creep in and are now going through great difficulties.”
As for disloyalty, it appears “when someone wants to serve the Lord but also things that belong to the Lord. It's a bit like playing both sides! In words we say that we want to serve God and others, but in fact we serve our ego, and we bend to our desire to show off, obtain recognition, appreciation... Let's not forget that true service is free and unconditional; it knows neither ulterior motives nor demands.
“We fall into the trap of disloyalty when we present ourselves to others as the only interpreters of the charism, the only heirs to our association or movement; or when, considering ourselves indispensable, we do everything to hold positions for life; or even when we claim the right to pick our own successor.
“No one is the master of the gifts received for the good of the Church; no one must stifle them. On the other hand, wherever one is placed by the Lord, he is called to make these gifts grow and bear fruit, confident in the fact that it is God who works everything in everyone (cf. 1 Cor 12:6) and that our true goodness bears fruit in ecclesial communion.”
There is an exception for founders. For Francis, we must distinguish between “ecclesial movements (and religious congregations) [. . .] in the process of formation and those who have already acquired a certain organic and legal stability. They are two different realities.
“Although all the institutes – be they religious or lay movements – have the duty to verify, in assemblies or chapters, the state of their foundational charism and make the necessary changes in their statutes (which will then be approved by the respective dicastery), in the institutes in formation, in their foundational phase, this verification is ongoing so to speak. Thus, in the document, a certain stability of the superiors during this phase is mentioned.
“It is important to make this distinction in order to move more freely in discernment. We are living members of the Church; for this reason, we need to trust the Holy Spirit, who acts in the life of every association, every member, and each of us. Hence, trust in the discernment of charisms is entrusted to the authority of the Church.”