Council Resources

Religious life and discipline: ACG 421

Religious life and discipline

 

Rome, 6 July 2015
Prot. 15/0289

To the Reverend
Fr. Provincial
Fr. Vice-Provincial
at their respective addresses

Dear Fr. Provincial and Fr. Vice-Provincial,

More than a year has passed since the XXVII General Chapter assigned a new task to me as Vicar of the Rector Major.

According to our Constitutions, the Vicar of the Rector Major is particularly entrusted with the care of religious life and discipline (cf. Const. 134). I am aware that of these two tasks the more important one is that of presenting the beauty of religious life; at the same time, I also realize how necessary it is to pay attention to religious discipline. In his dream of the ten diamonds, Don Bosco saw the Congregation "qualis esse debet" and "qualis esse periclitatur"; we too must have in our Provinces the same preoccupation of Don Bosco for our Salesian consecrated vocation: we have to reinforce whatever makes it attractive and be vigilant about whatever can disfigure it.

In this period, in my contacts with the Provinces, I have noted certain needs that require your cooperation, particularly in caring for religious life and discipline, in settling irregular situations, and in dealing with difficult situations concerning vocation. Recent years have witnessed an increase in sensitivity to these issues; it is now time to continue along the path, taking further steps in the direction of a more coherent lifestyle and a more effective manner of conduct.

 

1. Vice-Provincial

I have found in the first place that in the Provinces the Vice-Provincial is often the reference point for the difficult situations in which confreres find themselves with regard to living the religious life in all its aspects: illegitimate absences from the community, acts of disobedience, abuses in the matter of poverty,  irregularities in administration, problems regarding chastity, scandals, individualism in the apostolic mission, negligence in prayer, "spiritual worldliness"... The Vicar, along with the Provincial Secretary, helps the Provincial to resolve irregular situations and to prepare some juridical proceedings: absence from the religious community, dispensation from celibacy and the obligations of the diaconal and priestly ministry, indult of departure from the Institute,[1] exclaustration...

I maintain that the Provinces need to enhance the figure of the Vice-Provincial in the area of religious life and discipline. He must contribute towards fostering among the confreres an appreciation of our Salesian consecrated vocation and making it understood that religious discipline is primarily a matter of learning how to be true disciples of Jesus. In view of the services rendered by the Vice-Provincial to the confreres, it would be advisable for him, in my opinion, to be also the Provincial Delegate for formation.

 

2. Provincial Commission for religious life and discipline

I have also noticed that many Provinces have set up a Commission, chaired by the Vice-Provincial, to examine cases of a lack of religious discipline and irregular situations. It seems appropriate that this Commission be set up in every Province and that it concern itself also with fostering religious life and not only with examining disciplinary problems. This Commission, if made permanent, can function on a regular basis and in timely fashion. In the Provinces where it has been set up, it has been given different names; I would think a fitting name for it would be the "Commission for religious life and discipline”.

One of its first tasks is to help the Provincial in fostering religious life in the Province and encouraging the confreres to live it joyfully in all its aspects. To this end, the members of the Commission will have to pay particular attention to their preparation and competence in the wide area of consecrated life, both by drawing on the teachings of the Pope and the Church, and by constantly referring to the Constitutions and the General Regulations. The daily experience of a religious life fully lived in its three components – the mystic, the fraternal and the apostolic - is the best condition for preventing crises, difficulties and abuses.

Another of its tasks is to assist the Provincial in assessing the situation of religious discipline in the Province and studying how to deal with irregular situations. There are at times public situations that cause scandal and that need to be dealt with speedily. Resolving irregular situations helps towards nurturing consecrated life and preventing new cases: in a special way, it contributes to a change in the culture and lifestyle of the Province.

Finally, there may be some particular tasks that the Provincial assigns to the Commission itself. A specific task is the one that the GC27 entrusts to every Province when it asks us to "encourage in our centres an atmosphere of respect for the dignity of minors, committing ourselves to creating conditions which prevent any form of abuse and violence, where every Province follows the guidelines and directives of the Rector Major and General Council.” This duty is specified in the project of the Rector Major and the General Council for the six-year period when it asks the Vicar to "help the Provinces to formulate guidelines to safeguard and protect children, and to prevent cases of abuse" (cf.GC27, 73.4).

With regard to the composition of the Commission, it is advisable to include a canon lawyer and, if need be, a lawyer as well. If the Provincial Delegate for formation is not the Vice-Provincial, it would be appropriate for him to be part of the Commission.

 

3. Preliminary investigation

There is a matter of religious discipline that lies outside the purview of the Commission. This is the case when the Provincial is informed of a crime (cf. Can. 1321 §1), or even a probable crime, committed by a confrere. The Provincial is required to initiate a preliminary investigation, unless such an inquiry seems entirely superfluous. He must carry out the investigation into the situation personally or preferably through an Instructor and a Notary, appointed by a proper decree, for the purpose of prudently verifying the allegations made, the circumstances, and their imputability to the confrere. This matter is regulated by canons 1717-1731 of the Code of Canon Law. In conducting the preliminary investigation, no intervention by the Commission is envisaged, but the Provincial may choose the Instructor and the Notary from among the members of the Commission.

Given the sensitive nature of the matter, the juridical office, basing itself on the guidelines of the Code of Canon Law and the norms subsequently issued, is in the process of studying a series of operational indications concerning the manner of conducting the preliminary investigation and the actions to be taken when the investigation itself is over. These indications will be made available to the Provincials in due time.

The preliminary investigation also concerns allegations of abuse of minors; following the publication by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of "Guidelines for dealing with cases of sexual abuses of minors perpetrated by clerics" and the subsequent norms of Episcopal Conferences, we shall have to update our protocol in this matter.

 

4. Form for monitoring difficult and irregular situations

I am attaching herewith a form concerning juridical proceedings and religious discipline. The Vice- Provincial keeps it up-to-date and from time to time presents it to the Provincial and the Provincial Council to keep them informed about how difficult situations are being dealt with and irregularities handled. The form will receive particular attention on the occasion of the extraordinary visitation.

I thank you for what you will do to enable your Province to take religious life and discipline in right earnest.
I greet you cordially.
In Don Bosco,

Don Francesco Cereda
The Vicar of the Rector Major


[1] The indult of departure from the Institute can be granted upon a request made by a temporarily professed member before the expiry of his temporary profession, or by a perpetually professed member; should the perpetually professed member be a deacon or a priest, the indult may be granted, on condition of his being incardinated by a Bishop in his diocese: “pure and simpliciter” or “after a period of probation”.