Sunday, April 30, 2006

Consecrated Life: Its Place in the Local Church

The presence of the Consecrated life in dioceses and other local Churches is more often than not taken as a matter of fact. Yet its impact on the life of the faithful cannot be denied. Hence, the need to study its juridical status in its relation to the local Church. It may appear to many as a tame topic, but once one comes into it, he will be surprised at how interesting it really is. A case at bar will confirm the point.

The issue happened in the Archdiocese of Palo. Some ten years ago the Divine Word University of Tacloban was closed, depriving Leyte and Samar the Catholic university that stands as a symbol of their educational standard. The cause of the closure is some labor problems. The employees were demanding for better benefits. As no positive response was taken by the religious congregation, the owner and administrator of the said university, the employees brought the case to court for proper resolution. After years of litigation, the court handed down a decision that was favorable to the labor force. A substantial amount was imposed on the administration to pay labor. But it appeared that the fiscal obligation was too onerous. It was brought to the higher court. But the court of appeal upheld the decision of the lower court. So the fiscal obligation stands. The religious community, the owner and administrator of the university, on the face of such a staggering amount declared itself bankrupt and officially closed shop. Not reneging on the obligation exacted by the court, the religious congregation started paying by installment. But it soon discovered some irregularities in the way the money was distributed among the employees themselves. Payment was stopped.. Hope for the university to open again was getting dimmer. Meantime, the Archdiocese of Palo felt itself aggrieved by the case, not only because the people of the place clamored for intervention, but also because it has a ground to complain. As history would tell, the lot on which the university complex has been straddling was formerly used as a parochial school. Both the school and the lot were owned by the diocese. Later, for more efficient administration it was donated to the said religious congregation with a specific condition that it be used for Catholic education. When in the future it will no longer be used for that purpose, the lot has to be returned to the diocese. The contract had been drawn according to this specification and duly signed by the parties concerned . Based on this, the diocese pursued its right; the religious congregation dilly-dallied. The former requested Rome to intervene. Rome obliged. And so all parties, that is, the religious congregation, the diocese, and labor were called to resolve the issue. Last February 21, 2006, all the parties concerned finally agreed on the final resolution of the case. A Catholic school will again be opened.

In the cited case, the Consecrated life which runs the university is no longer a mere still picture, nor an abstract definition lifted from canon law books, but flesh and blood reality of individuals in a tense struggle to assert their rights. In doing so, it run counter to the rights of the local church, the Diocese of Palo. Both have rights and obligations established and safeguarded by the Code of Canon Law. In fact in the constitutional part of the Code, the rights and duties of each member of the People of God are established while the nature, roles and functions of each structure and institution in the Church are sharply defined. The reason is that in the complexity of exercise of all these duties, rights and functions, harmonious interplay and dynamic order are to be observed. Otherwise, chaos would set in. As Pope John Paul II declared when he promulgated the 1983 Code of Canon Law: “Since the Church is established in the form of social and visible unit, it needs rules, so that the hierarchical and organic structure may be visible; that its exercise of functions divinely entrusted to it, particularly of sacred power and of the administration of the sacraments, is properly ordered; that the mutual relationships of Christ’s faithful are reconciled in justice based on charity, with the rights of each safeguarded and defined” (Ap. Const.: Sacrae Disciplinae Leges, 25 January 1983).

What then is the juridical locus of the Consecrated life in the diocese? This question becomes more pressing when we take into consideration that many of them have become integral part of the life of the local churches, welcomed by bishops and priests within the diocesan and parochial structures, yet, sustain some elements foreign to the hierarchical church. These are the structures of the Consecrated life, the physical institutions of the religious congregations.

At first blush it would seem that the institutes of Consecrated life are pitted against the diocese/parish as two contrasting structures. The diocese/parish is hierarchical in its juridical embodiment while the institute of Consecrated/religious life, notwithstanding its public juridical structure within the church, is charismatic in typology. Its existence is real, but non-hierarchical. Ordinarily, it exercises great influence in the local community, yet it enjoys an autonomy of life, programs and activities that oftentimes are not within the purview of the local authority. It possesses its own communal yet private properties, assets and liabilities and yet is not required to give a regular accounting report to the bishop of the territory. It seems that it is alien to the hierarchical organization, yet it is flesh and blood reality within the church, with a life ever pointing to something mysterious beyond the horizon of the community’s natural consciousness.

Is duality of the hierarchical structure of the diocese and the charismatic institutions of religious institutes the accepted locus to ground the relationship between these two realities, ever invoking the dialectic of respect for each others’ autonomy and independence ? Is it right to say that the Church is constituted with two independent structures based on the dual contrasting, if not opposing, principles, namely, 1) institution and charism; or, 2) Christology and Pneumatology? Or, are there other existing ecclesial principles that could assure a closer communion and participation between the particular Church and the charismatic institutes of Consecrated life?

In this regard, it is interesting to note that Cardinal Ratzinger, in his June 1999 address to the bishops gathered in Rome for a meeting on ecclesial movements in the Church, summarily brushed off the attempts to resolve the seemingly conflicting issues between the local Church and the institutes of Consecrated life by the invocation of the dialectic of dual principles. He denies that the local institution is in contraposition to charism. For he averred that analyzing closely the local church, it is not all human organizations and structures. Deep within its life is its dependence on the irruption of the Holy Spirit. Hence, for the local Church not to atrophy it must live its spiritual office charismatically, that is, it must have an intrinsic openness to charisms. He also denies the attempt of contrasting Christology and pneumatology, putting Christ in contraposition to the Holy Spirit. For, “the Spirit cannot be correctly understood without Christ, but it is equally impossible to understand Christ without the Holy Spirit. (www.Crossroadsinitiative.Com/library_article/549/Theological Locus of Ecclesial Movements)

To clarify the issue at hand, the Cardinal then presented the perspective of Church history. He said that in the history of the Church as a whole, the local Church with the Episcopal office as its defining mark, is not in contraposition with the apostolic movement. The apostles were not bishops of particular local churches, but responsible for the whole world and for the whole Church that was to be built. It is through this apostolic office that gave birth to local churches. Hence, from the very beginning, there existed two structures in the Church, namely, the universal (apostolic) and the local. They existed side by side with each other with smooth interrelationship. They are the supporting structure that permanently upholds the edifice of the Church through all ages. Hence, the bishops must not forget this perspective of history. In the thick of his activities in building up the local Church assigned to him, he must always consider the Church as a whole and therefore must go beyond the administration of their respective dioceses. They must ensure the carrying on of Jesus’ mission to make all nations his disciples and to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. They have to sustain the universal dynamism of the apostolate and must be opened to the working of the Spirit who has guided the Church and caused irruptions of charisms, which have prodded the rise of the great movements that have built up the local Churches as well as the Church as a whole. (Ibid).

It is for this reason that Cardinal Ratzinger appealed for deeper understanding between the two structures, the apostolic (universal Church) and the local Churches. He said: “All must let themselves be measured by love for the unity of the one Church, which is only one in all local churches and appears as such again and again in the apostolic movements.” He then concluded: “The local churches and the apostolic movements must constantly recognize and accept the simultaneous truth of two propositions: ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia – ubi episcopus, ibi ecclesia. Primacy and episcopacy, the local ecclesial system and apostolic movements, need each other: the primacy can live only with and through a living episcopacy, the episcopacy can preserve its dynamic and apostolic unity only in ordination to the primacy. Where one of the two is weakened, the Church as a whole suffers” (ibid).


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