With the ongoing pandemic we are experiencing around the world, the question arises as to whether or not we should celebrate Provincial and Custodial Chapters. At this time, eight Provincial Chapters are already underway or are just starting. The Provinces currently holding Chapters are Abruzzo in Italy; Gdańsk, Cracow and Warsaw in Poland; the Czech Republic; Romania; Spain; and Zambia. Korea and Japan will be celebrating their Chapters later in 2020.
For the moment, different solutions are being adopted by different Provinces. Most Provinces have rescheduled their Chapters. A few have decided to hold some sessions with the help of technology; connecting via various digital platforms. What are our options? What does the law say?
The Procurator General has prepared a study on the different possibilities that the current legislation of the Order offers. We shall report it here in full.
Before a Chapter is convoked, and before it is actually celebrated, the Minister General must ascertain that all the voting members can freely reach the Chapter location, and that there is no danger of contagion in the place where the Chapter will be celebrated.
Our current legislation offers us two possibilities:
- We may anticipate or postpone the respective Provincial or Custodial Chapter;
- We may obtain an exceptional dispensation to hold some Chapter sessions electronically.
It is the duty of the Ministers Provincial and Custodes, together with their Definitories, to consult experts and be attentive to the legal provisions in force in their areas. They are to evaluate if it is possible to hold a Chapter while ensuring that all the friars convoked can participate safely, or whether it would be more appropriate to postpone the Chapter.
On April 2, 2020, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life issued a General Decree which stated: “In view of the measures being taken by governments and, in particular, the restrictions on transfers and travel following the pandemic emergency caused by Covid-19,” the Dicastery gives “authorization for the postponement of the celebration of General and Provincial Chapters to a date to be determined” and specifies that “the mandates of the Major Superiors and their respective councils are extended until the next celebration of the Chapters” (Prot. no. Sp.R. 2419/20).
Already foreseeing emergency situations, the current General Statutes establish at no. 115, §3: “In exceptional cases and for the good of the Province or Custody, the Minister General with the consent of his Definitory may anticipate or postpone a Provincial or Custodial Chapter for a period greater than six months.”
Another ideal solution that would avoid any possible contagion during the pandemic and be respectful of the Chapter mandates would be the possibility of having the Capitulars participate in the Chapter through new means of communication, by means of remote virtual presence, guaranteed by computer platforms. Of course, here too we can highlight the difficulties that would be faced in involving all the Capitulars in an orderly discussion on the delicate and important issues of fraternal life and the administration of goods. This mode is still being studied.
For online voting and elections, the condition “sine qua non” is that a computer system must be used which can ensure free, secret, certain and uncompromised voting, as required by the CIC, can. 172, §1.
The Minister General, for “just cause”, due to the restrictions caused by Covid-19, may, in accordance with the Constitutions, art. 6, §3 and art. 8a, and after receiving the consent of the General Definitory, exceptionally grant dispensation from what General Statutes establish at, no. 87, and may permit a partial derogation from the procedure established in the Directory for the Celebration of the Chapter.
How do we proceed in these cases?
The Minister Provincial, together with his Definitory, should examine what the real likelihood is of holding the Chapter in complete freedom and security. Moreover, if this is not possible, he should ask the Minister General, by letter, to postpone the date of the convocation, explain his reasons for this, and suggest other possible dates and places. The Minister Provincial himself, together with his Definitory, may ask for a dispensation from what the General Statutes establish at no. 87, so that the procedure established in the Directory for the Celebration of the Chapter need not be followed in its entirety, and to be able to conduct some Chapter sessions electronically. In the same way, the request can be made in derogation from the Provincial Statutes, to proceed with the election of the Minister Provincial by letter, considering the impossibility on the part of some voters/Capitulars, to reach the site of the election. The same procedure, of course, is adopted for Custodies, whose Superior must consult his own Minister Provincial.
In all cases, it is the duty of the Ministers Provincial to consult the Minister General through his Area Assistant.