Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Greetings and good wishes to you. I hope this message finds you safe and in good health in this very difficult time across the globe. Please know that you and all the members of the Viatorian Community are part of the prayers of all the members of the General Council.
The past few months have seen an unprecedented crisis touch many countries throughout the world as the coronavirus has struck down thousands of people. Our Viatorian Community has seen the sickness and death of members of our Community as well. Even today countries and cities continue to struggle to overcome this silent threat to our health and well-being. Let us together pray for health, healing and safety for all.
For some time now I have wanted to communicate with you on the status of the discussion and dialogue with Rome on the proposed amendment to Article 5 of our Constitution. As the Covid-19 pandemic raged throughout the world, I felt it was not the right time for such communication. As it seems that life is beginning to resume some sense of normalcy, I decided to write you and share the status of this process.
As you know, in July, 2018, the 30th General Chapter convened in Mundelein, Illinois. The delegates from across the international Congregation discussed many questions in the course of the deliberations. One of the questions that featured much discussion concerned a proposed amendment to Article 5 of the Constitution. The General Assembly of 2016 in Guadarrama, Spain approved a recommendation that the General Chapter adopt an amendment to Article 5 of the Constitution.
The purpose for proposing an amendment to Article 5 was to provide an official recognition of the Viatorian Community in our legislation. You will recall that the Chapter Decision to Question 41 reads as follows:
The General Chapter decides:
- to recognize the Viatorian Community by adopting the following addition to Article 5 of the Constitution:
Our Congregation accepts as associate members those who desire to share in our mission, our spiritual life and our community life. This is in accord with an idea dear to our Founder. These associate members are not bound by the public vows proper to our Congregation and may make no other canonical commitment with regard to our Congregation. They make their commitment, in conformity with our General and Particular Regulations. (Current text of Article 5)
2. Impelled by the strength of the charism inherited from the Founder, the Congregation, while respecting the conscience of each of its members, forms, with the association, the Querbesian Family called the Viatorian Community. In accord with their own vocation and their particular state of life, Viatorian Religious and Viatorian Associates share the charism of the Founder in a co-responsible way.
The General Chapter adopted this change in our Constitution by a vote of 31 votes out of 40, or more than two-thirds of the valid votes cast, as required by Constitution 54 for the amendment to our Constitution. The Chapter entrusted to the General Council the task of preparing a dossier for presentation to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL).
The dossier prepared by the General Council included a comprehensive narrative to set the historical context for the emergence of the Viatorian Community. This history begins with the original intuition of our Founder, situated within the mission of the Congregation, to include a “lay association” connected to the Congregation. Without detailing the complete history here, we know that the Holy See would not recognize this aspect of Father Querbes’ vision and ultimately approved the establishment of our Congregation as of pontifical right whose members all make simple and public vows. The Vatican declined to even recognize the aspect of his proposal that included lay associates.
For over 25 years, the experience of the Viatorian Community has emerged throughout the Congregation. This has included Chapter Decisions 3 and 5 of the 1994 General Chapter, 11-15 of the 2000 General Chapter, 8 and 9 of the 2006 General Chapter and Decision 3 of the 2012 General Chapter. Over all those years, the Viatorian Community has been lived ad experimentum in the Provinces and Foundations. No one version has emerged as the definitive nature of the Viatorian Community but this experience of lay-religious collaboration in co-responsibility for the charism has taken root throughout the Congregation.
In October, 2019, Father Claude Roy and I met with Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, OFM, the Secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Prior to this meeting we had submitted the complete dossier making the case for the adoption of the amendment to Article5 of the Constitution, as approved by the 2018 General Chapter. Archbishop Carballo pointed out that CICLSAL has seen the emergence of many lay associations in connection to religious orders. He indicated that the Congregation was not prepared at this time to offer any canonical recognitions until a thorough investigation and research could be accomplished both by CICLSAL and the various religious congregations involved in this emerging reality.
Our meeting with the Archbishop was very cordial and friendly; he promised that CICLSAL would thoroughly review our dossier and would submit a more formal response to the proposed amendment in the future.
Subsequently I received a letter from Archbishop Carballo outlining the response of the Congregation to our request. CICLSAL recognizes the benefits of collaboration, spiritual and apostolic, between religious and laity, respecting the specific vocation of each. It is necessary to maintain the specific value of the consecrated life by the profession of the evangelical counsels.
The CICLSAL believes that the canonical modalities of association between religious and laity are for the moment in the process of reflection and discernment. As this reflection has not been completed, they are not prepared to approve one modality or another as this might create a precedent for future proposals.
The term “community” exists within the framework of a religious institute, reminding us of the “fraternal life in common.” It seems that the term Viatorian Community thus can be a source of confusion. Perhaps another term must be developed. Another concern rests with calling associates “members.” This could imply a “responsibility” for the behavior of its members that could conceivably be attached to the Congregation.
As you can see, CICLSAL has some significant reservations about our proposed amendment to our Constitution. At the same time, the dialogue with Archbishop Carballo was very cordial and productive. He asked us to continue our discernment about the development of the “Viatorian Community,” taking into account the observations he offered. He stressed his desire to maintain the communication and dialogue as that process continues.
Where does that leave us in this process of seeking some official recognition of the Viatorian Community in our legislation? While the General Chapter of 2018 ask the General Council to pursue this process, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life does not seem inclined to recognize in our legislation the Viatorian Community as we have come to know it. Perhaps we could allow the continued evolution of the Viatorian Community, ad experimentum.
It is clear to me, though, that we must continue this discernment within the Viatorian Community. Perhaps we will need to develop a new “language” to describe this reality for us. Perhaps we will have to recognize the different and varied evolutions of this founding vision of Father Querbes. It is difficult to ascribe canonical or juridical language to what is essentially a charismatic experience. At the same time, we value the lived experience of the Viatorian Community and the diversity of its expression in the various Provinces and Foundations.
As you might guess, I have no clear or definitive answers to this process. I simply wanted to inform you of the status of Question 41 of the 2018 General Chapter. While no specific date or place has been finalized, I firmly believe that the next General Assembly of the Viatorian Community must clearly address our response to CICLSAL and determine specific recommendations for moving this discussion forward. In the meantime, I ask the Provincial Chapters to join in this discussion to seek possible next steps. I also encourage this discussion and discernment for local communities as well as Viatorian Community assemblies in the various Provinces. The General Council will continue the discernment and dialogue with the hope of offering specific responses to help move our discernment forward.
Thank you very much for your collaboration in this entire process. While the response from Rome was not totally unexpected, we must now decide how to move forward. The fundamental intuition about the Viatorian Community is good and positive. Our challenge now is to find the right words and the best structure which will allow the Viatorian Community to grow and develop. I look forward to that continued discussion with you.
Fraternally in Viator and Querbes,
Robert M. Egan, CSV