Mutuae Relationes 13: Religious Superiors

SenanquecloisterYou can always refer to the full document Mutuae Relationes here. Today, we’ll look at the role of the leadership within a religious institute.

Service characteristic of religious authority

13. Superiors fulfill their duty of service and leadership within the religious institute in conformity with its distinctive character. Their authority proceeds from the Spirit of the Lord through the sacred hierarchy, which has granted canonical erection to the institute and authentically approved its specific mission.

The wording may be awkward. But the essence is that leaders are faithful in two ways: the founding charism and the bishops.

In the paragraphs that follow, we have an outline of how leadership teaches, sanctifies, and governs:

Considering then the fact that the prophetic, priestly and royal condition is common to all the People of God (cf. Lumen Gentium 9, 10, 34, 35, 36), it seems useful to outline the competency of religious authority, paralleling it by analogy to the three-fold function of pastoral ministry, namely, of teaching, sanctifying and governing without, however, confusing one authority with the other or equating them.

a) Regarding the office of teaching, religious superiors have the competency and authority of spiritual directors in relation to the evangelical purpose of their institute. In this context, therefore, they must carry on a veritable spiritual direction of the entire Congregation and of its individual communities. They should accomplish this in sincere harmony with the authentic magisterium of the hierarchy, realizing that they must carry out a mandate of grave responsibility in the evangelical plan of the Founder.

b) As to the office of sanctifying, the superiors have also a special competency and responsibility, albeit with differentiated duties. They must foster perfection in what concerns the increase of the life of charity according to the end of the institute, both as to formation, initial and ongoing, of the members and as to communal and personal fidelity in the practice of the evangelical counsels according to the Rule. This duty, if it is rightly accomplished, is considered by the Roman Pontiff and the bishops a valuable help in the fulfillment of their fundamental ministry of sanctification.

c) As to the office of governing, superiors must render the service of ordering the life of the community, of organizing the members of the institute, of caring for and developing its particular mission and of seeing to it that it be efficiently inserted into ecclesial activity under the leadership of the bishops.

Institutes then have an internal organization all their own (cf. Christus Dominus 35, 3) which has its proper field of competency and a right to autonomy, even though in the Church this autonomy can never become independence (cf. CD 35, 3 and 4). The correct degree of such autonomy and the concrete determination of competency are contained in common law and in the Rules or Constitutions of each institute.

What are your takeaways from this? The bishops realize they must delegate responsibility and duty to religious faithful. But they are cautious about “confusion.” Inevitably, leaders get compared. Leaders who listen–not necessarily agree–are held in somewhat higher regard, no matter what the canonical status might be.

My sense is that a lay person who leads may well be a better leader than a bishop. In the secular world, that would mean replacement. In the realm of faith, that means a bishop is mandated to work harder to be more effective with his spiritual gifts. That strikes me as a heavier burden than demotion or termination.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in bishops, Mutuae Relationes, women religious. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mutuae Relationes 13: Religious Superiors

  1. FrMichael says:

    I find the reference to spiritual direction in the section on teaching unusual. I can see it in the way that the spiritual life of the community is going to be given direction by the superiors. Still, spiritual direction itself is an internal forum relationship and can be, at times, passive on the part of the director as the director assists the directee in discerning the will of God. Being a superior is an external forum assignment and a passive superior is not likely to be a good superior IMNSHO.

    • Todd says:

      Good catch. I wonder if the bishops are speaking less of spiritual direction as you and I experience it, and more of directing the spiritual life of a community. The latter would be a public forum, yet still require the skills of listening and prayer.

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