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Introduction to Bulletin 162

Consecrated Life and Canon Law

In 2015, the UISG established an International Council of Canon Law (CLC) composed of women religious experts in Canon Law, coming from different geographical areas.
The women religious are: sr. Mary Wright, IBVM (Australia); sr. Marjory Gallagher, SC (Canada), who unfortunately passed away last November; sr. Mary Gerard Nwagwu, DMMM (Nigeria); sr. Licia Puthuparambil, SMI (India) e sr. Tiziana Merletti, SFP (Italy).

The Executive Committee of the UISG had various reasons for creating this reality. First of all, it was necessary to find canon lawyers who would be able to advise the Superior Generals and other major superiors regarding issues that could emerge in the context of women religious life.
In fact, in many parts of the world, women religious who have graduated with masters or doctoral degrees in Theology, Sacred Scriptures and Canon Law become invisible when they return to their congregation. Although they give an extraordinary contribution within their respective congregations, they remain unknown to others. In addition, when Superior Generals look for canonical consultation, the local canonist is most often a diocesan priest with little or no experience in women religious life. Especially in areas where religious life is rapidly growing, the support of an adequate canonical consultation is essential.

Hence, the objectives of the International Council of Canon Law are as follows:
1. To explore a variety of ways to provide canonical service to Superior Generals.
2. To create a worldwide network of women religious Canonists who are available to advise
Superior Generals in different parts of the world.
3. To offer laboratories or other opportunities for learning, aimed at increasing the canonical
competence among women religious.

Since 2015 up to today, canonical consultation was offered to many Superior Generals through meetings, phone calls and email contacts. A Seminar for forty women religious canonists was held in Nemi in December of 2015, and a Laboratory of Canon Law in May of 2016. The first Laboratory on Reconfiguration was organized by the Council of Canonists in November of 2016 and a second one in January of 2017. Lastly, two Laboratories of Canon Law took place in Nairobi (Kenya) from the 20th to the 26th of February 2017. Other events are in plan and may be consulted on the UISG website (www.uisg.org) for further information in this regard.

In this issue of the Bulletin, we want to publish a few reflections that were presented to the participants from the different Laboratories of Canon Law organized by the UISG, to allow all Superior Generals, and especially all those who could not participate, to benefit from it.

Sr. Simona Paolini presented her reflection on the Responsibility of the leadership to the participants of the Laboratory of Canon Law on Reconfiguration (UISG, November 2016). What is asked of the responsibility of the leadership today is to remain between autonomy and obedience in order to make one’s charism bear fruit through prophetic and implementing choices in a renewed style, which the Church itself is suggesting in today’s journey.

Sr. Mary Gerard Nwuagwu addressed, together with the participants of the Seminary of Canon Law (UISG, May 20169), the difficult theme of the Discipline within the Institutes of Consecrated Life. In her reflection, starting from the norms of discipline specified by the Church in Canon Law, Sr. Mary Gerard analyses in detail three areas in the religious life in which the question of discipline often becomes problematic: the vows, communitarian life and the apostolate.

Sr. Mary Wright developed her reflection from a document prepared for the Seminary of Canon Law (UISG, May 2016) on the theme of the Separation from an Institute of Consecrated Life. Membership in an Institute of Consecrated Life requires a commitment that is both public and private in following Christ more closely in a specific communitarian life. The separation from the Institute for whatever reason is an interruption, or at least an alteration, of this commitment. Canon Law provides processes for these special circumstances so that the rights and duties of both the Institute and the person who is leaving may be protected for the common good.

The text of Sr. Chineaka C. Ezeani which closes this Bulletin helps us to reflect on a crucial and delicate aspect of the ministry of formation in religious life: the process of discernment which deals with the separation of a member from an Institute. The person who leaves a congregation lives a very difficult moment which requires particular sensitivity and empathy on the part of the formation guide. It is absolutely necessary to accompany with empathy, in order to remain evangelically close to a person leaving the Institute and to support her in a very vulnerable moment in her life.