“On Collaboration with Episcopal Conferences,” Pedro Arrupe (1969)

Speaking in his role as the head of the Union of Superiors General (rather than strictly as the Superior General of the Society of Jesus), Pedro Arrupe delivered the following remarks to the Episcopal Synod of 1969. The gathering took place in Rome, and Pope Paul VI was in attendance for this address. Arrupe declares that religious orders are “entering upon a new post-conciliar era,” having both studied their origins and adapted “their proper charism to modern circumstances.” Arrupe hopes that such actions would make the religious orders—consisting of more than one million women and 300,000 men—more ready to collaborate with the bishops. This English translation was made by Jerome Aixala, S.J., and appeared in a volume published by Jesuit Sources.

For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.



Most Holy Father,


Venerable Brothers,


I should like, on behalf of the Union of Superiors General, to give expression in a positive manner to the profound and earnest desire that all the religious men, and no doubt all the religious women as well, feel, chiefly after the Council, of spending themselves in ecclesial tasks in collaboration with the Hierarchy. In fact, they are keen to think out ways and means to realize this desire.


As I intend to deal with the subject of collaboration of the Religious with the Episcopal Conferences, I thought it good to indicate before in brief its theological foundation (which I shall hand over in writing in greater detail to the Secretariate of the Synod). A few practical considerations will later follow.



I. Theological Foundation

“Although the religious state constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels does not belong to the hierarchical structure of the Church, nevertheless it belongs inseparably to her life and holiness.” Therefore the Religious have a special and essential mission in the Church that the Second Vatican Council outlines in its charismatic theology.


These charisms—which as such have always an ecclesial function—are imparted by the Holy Spirit through the original Founders of the religious families of consecrated life, and in these charisms share all those who later are called by God to these institutes.


Therefore every Institute and its members have a special mission in the Church, which the Hierarchy publicly recognizes by the fact that the Roman Pontiff, as Supreme Pastor of the universal Church and Head of the Episcopal College, solemnly approves and confirms religious Institutes.


Now such approbation and confirmation are not to be considered merely as a “nihil obstat,” but as positive acts of the Roman Pontiff whereby, with a definitive gesture, he inserts these Institutes into the living structure of the Church, commissions them with a special charismatic mission among the People of God, and then assigns to them their proper place in the Church’s apostolate. And whilst giving them a share in its apostolic responsibility, the Church grants them at the same time that measure of authority and reasonable independence, under the form of express exemption, that is deemed necessary or opportune for the attainment of the goal of each Institute.


Particular charisms, therefore are, so to say, the soul and spirit that animate and strengthen religious life in general and every religious institute.



II. Practical Considerations

I think that all agree on the need of establishing a closer relation and coordination between the Episcopal Conferences and the Religious; and all of us are in search of a more suitable structure that will pave the way to such collaboration.


Any such structure necessarily presupposes a thorough understanding of this reality: as for the religious men and the religious women, I make bold to state here on their behalf that they do firmly want to cooperate with the Hierarchy.


The past, if necessary, let us forget it. Nor should we argue from facts and difficulties that arose in earlier days. We shall do well if, on both sides, we humbly acknowledge the human limitations that have impeded or retarded a more efficacious and compact apostolic activity.


And now let us face the present and the future, wishing as we all do to serve the Church in the best and most efficacious manner possible. On both sides, we ought to endeavor to meet one another at a spiritual level with mutual trust, so that together we may seek more workable administrative methods to attain such an ideal.


The greatest difficulty may arise, as it often did in the past, from the dialectic tension between pastoral planning at the diocesan or regional level, and the requirements of each Institute in keeping with its specific charism. This tension has to be resolved by safeguarding both the greatest possible pastoral efficiency and the preservation of the charism of each group of consecrated life.


The result will be that each religious Institute, in its efforts towards a greater accommodation to the undertakings of the Hierarchy, will have to do away with all those accidental elements in their life, which may appear as obstacles to this adjustment. Bishops, on their part, should not insist on a type of collaboration which is against the charism of the Institute, form such a case they shall not obtain the desired effect (since this would not fall within the charismatic grace of such an Institute), and will furthermore weaken or ruin the Institute itself, forcing it to become unfaithful to the purpose set up for it by the Church.


With a view chiefly to attain this greater elasticity and adaptability, the Religious, as far as it lies in them, in this post-conciliar time and in keeping with the Decree “Perftctae Caritatis,” are seriously studying in their Special Chapters various ways and means of adapting their proper charism to modern circumstances, including profound changes not only in their life structures but even in their Constitutions, saving always in its entirety the original charism.


Hence we are in a position to affirm that we are entering upon a new post-conciliar era, the deepest foundations of which rest on the theology of Collegiality and Religious Life, as well as the new meaning of the apostolate. This will facilitate that more ready collaboration of the Religious, which the Bishops so ardently desire.


There are two reasons for this hoped-for improvement: 1) Existing tensions may be removed or lessened; 2) The ecclesial sense, if lived to the full, will spur the Religious to make their own pastoral undertakings which have been planned in common. This can be effected with the help of new methods and structures devised, along the lines of a sane pluralism, to increase the efficacity of that “affection of communion” that is a “complement of collegiality.”


On the other hand, this statement is not against the universality which not a few religious Institutes profess in their desire to help the Church in its world-wide mission. For if at times an appeal is made to juridical exemption, this is done not in the spirit of rejecting the authority of the local Hierarchy, but because it belongs to the very essence of these Institutes to stand by and wait for the orders of the Supreme Pontiff, chiefly in what pertains to the pastoral needs of the world at large.


We fully acknowledge that the Hierarchy is assisted by a special divine grace, that the Bishops are endowed with a special charism that is to be found chiefly in the Collegiality properly so called. Nor would the Religious dream to consider themselves on a par with the Bishops, to whom it belongs the highest mission of sanctifying, teaching and governing in the Church. Nonetheless, we think that the opinion of religious men and women cannot be overlooked, much less excluded, at least considering their number and quality. This applies not only to the time of the actual execution of projects of the Hierarchy, but also to the period of planning and discussion, as it is done in some Episcopal Conferences.


The main point of this intervention is therefore this: Let us consider this present moment as the starting point of a new era, in which the religious men and women, with renewed earnestness and zest, will give patent proof of their resolute determination of cooperating efficaciously with the Hierarchy at every level: at the world level, with the Roman Pontiff; at the national level, at the disposal of the Episcopal Conferences; and at the local level, under the Bishop of a Diocese.


For there is a force of 300,000 religious men, and more than a million religious women. It is not triumphalism that prompts me to mention these figures, but the conviction that the realization of our strength will help us to value our responsibility in the use of this potential of so many sincere consecrated lives for the good of the Church and mankind in this critical period of the world.


As far as we are concerned, the slogan which we have at heart and before our eyes is: The more universal good is the more divine good.




Original Source:

Challenge to Religious Life Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—I, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1979, “Collaboration Between the Episcopal Conferences and the Religious,” pg. 35–39.

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