Canon Law and Consecrated Life in the Regnum Christi Movement

When there’s a storm, at sea, sailors are relieved to reach a cove where they can throw out an anchor. The high waves may still be threatening, but the boat is much more secure. In this present rocky moment of my Movement’s history, Christ’s personal call to me to follow him is my main anchor. On learning about my founder’s double life I turned to Our Lord in prayer and asked him what I should do. I don’t always experience such clear replies when asking him questions. In this case, he let me know that he wishes me to stay in the consecrated life, here in the Regnum Christi Movement.

I’m aware that this certitude of mine is something entirely personal. I wish I could transmit my interior peace to my family members and friends. At least there’s a possibility of setting their hearts at ease regarding the legitimacy of our consecrated life in the eyes of the Church. Some people feel doubtful about this because they don’t know exactly where we fit into canon law.

To answer that question, we’ll first have to see precisely where the Regnum Christi Movement fits into canon law; but even prior to that, it would be helpful to set our existence within the context of new apostolic movements appearing throughout the history of the Church. For the latter point, I’m relying on Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s New Outpourings of the Spirit. This little book is an anthology of discourses given by our future pope on “the phenomenon of the movements and new communities that sprang up in the Church after the Second Vatican Council.”

The first text appearing in the above-mentioned book, was a lecture given by Cardinal Ratzinger at the opening of the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements, held in Rome in May of 1998, during the meeting of new ecclesial movements. Pope John Paul II had invited members from the many new movements to Rome to manifest the Holy Spirit’s action during our times. Hundreds of thousands of people answered his summons. I was there and remember feeling deeply moved at seeing how St. Peter’s Square overflowed all the way down Via de la Conciliazione to the Tiber River.

In his address, Cardinal Ratzinger provides a history of movements in the Church, beginning with the monastic movement. He speaks of it as “a stimulating force” (p. 42) and as a “reservoir from which may come forth for the local Church truly spiritual clergy” (p. 42). Then he observes how “the papacy did not bring the movement into being, but it was its essential anchor in the structure of the Church, its ecclesial support” (p. 43). Next he goes onto the Cluny reform movement and then to the evangelizing movement of the thirteenth century with St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic. He points out that St. Francis wasn’t looking to “found a new religious order or to create a separate community. He simply wanted to call the Church back to living the whole gospel… (p.45).” There was a great opposition to this new movement by the secular clergy since these mendicant orders seemed to encroach upon the local Churches. The secular clergy preferred to only recognize Cluniac monks, since these stayed safely within the bounds of their monasteries. As in the case of the earlier monastic movement, the “new class of preachers (…) find their anchor and support in the bearer of a universal office, in the pope, as the person who guarantees the missionary task and the building up of the one Church (p. 48).”

Next Cardinal Ratzinger briefly mentions the sixteenth-century evangelizing movements, including the Jesuits. Then he moves on to the movements that arose in the nineteenth century, particularly the missionary movements.

Something very significant to note about the movements as they arose through history is that they were not foreseen and often were not always well understood or welcomed by members of the Church. The new movements relied on being recognized by the popes of their time as they came into existence. Cardinal Ratzinger makes an important statement in this regard:

The apostolic movements appear in history in forms that are ever new – necessarily so, because they are the Holy Spirit’s answer to the changing circumstances in which the Church is living. And just as vocations to the priesthood cannot be created, cannot be administratively determined, then movements most certainly cannot be organizationally introduced according to plans by the authorities. They have to be given to us, and they are given. We simply have to pay attention to them: by the gift of discernment, pick up what is right in them and learn to overcome what is not useful (p. 53).

There isn’t a pat answer for the exact way that new ecclesial movements, in general, are to fit within the life and action of the Church. In his address, Cardinal Ratzinger puts the onus on both bishops and the new movements to find the way.

The second text in New Outpourings of the Spirit, is a dialogue between Cardinal Ratzinger and bishops from all over the world who gathered in Rome in June of 1999 for a seminar about “The Ecclesial Movements in the Pastoral Concern of the Bishops”. The bishops’ questions reveal their desire to understand better this new reality.

For instance, Adrianus Cardinal Simonis of Holland asks whether there will be a separate congregation for movements: “In the future will the categories be: priests, religious, members of movements, and laity? (p. 70)” He asked this question given that many movements include priests, religious and laity. There is a different congregation for priests, religious and laity and up until recently it has been relatively easy to distinguish who goes where. However, with the advent of ecclesial movements in the 20th century, it has been harder to distinguish which congregation holds the primary responsibility especially when all three are somehow involved.

As part of his answer, Cardinal Ratzinger says that the Pontifical Council for the Laity is responsible for these movements (p. 73). As for the matter of responding well to the “new intercommunication among the three states (of life)”, he observes: “I think that organization should follow life. It is better, therefore, to see how life evolves, without rushing to tackle the organizational questions (p. 73).”

Cardinal Ratzinger’s principle has great importance for new ecclesial movements in general. He’s saying that first you have to see what you have, and then you can organize and categorize it. “Organization should follow life”. Time is required to observe the new movements as they arise, in order to figure out where they fit into the framework of canon law. And perhaps the way things are currently organized, will be adapted to new realities as they arise. In fact, that’s what has happened throughout the history of the Church with the advent of new and “unforeseen” movements. This brings us to the second point: the place of the Regnum Christi Movement in the structure of the Church.

According to Cardinal Ratzinger’s words above, the Pontifical Council for the Laity is responsible for movements. Accordingly, our statutes were first submitted to this Council for approval. But the Legionaries of Christ were then informed by the Council for the Laity that they needed to submit the statutes to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life instead, because we fall under canon law no. 303.

The Regnum Christi Movement falls under canon no. 303 because we have the same spirituality and same authority as the religious order that guides us, the Legionaries of Christ. The number reads: “Associations whose members live in the world but share in the spirit of some religious institute, under the overall direction of the same institute, and who lead an apostolic life and strive for Christian perfection, are known as third orders, or are called by some other suitable title.” So the Regnum Christi Movement is the same in notion as a third order, though we go by a different name.

We needed to get this clear, to see where the consecrated members of Regnum Christi Movement belong in canon law. First of all we belong there, in no. 303, along with the other members of the Regnum Christi Movement. Our consecration fits into this canon, since it is a new form of consecrated life approved by the Apostolic See and it is not a secular institute or religious institute. Our statutes were approved in 2004 by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated life  Consecrated life in the Regnum Christi Movement fulfills canon no. 573 regarding the profession of evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience.

So the current challenge we’re facing is not whether our particular form of consecrated life is real, but that we need to be purified of whatever is not in accord with the Gospel.

Our current task is a big one, but I’m grateful that it’s from the basis of a legitimate form of consecrated life within the Church.

About Joan Kingsland

Joan Kingsland has been a consecrated member of the Regnum Christi Movement since 1993. She earned licentiate and doctoral degrees in moral theology at the John Paul II Institute in Rome, as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree from Thomas Aquinas College, and a Master of Arts degree from the University of Toronto. She currently teaches at Mater Ecclesiae College in Rhode Island, where newly consecrated members earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in religious and pastoral studies.
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3 Responses to Canon Law and Consecrated Life in the Regnum Christi Movement

  1. lphelan says:

    Dr. Kingman says:

    “Our statutes were approved in 2004 by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated life in keeping with canon no. 605, which stipulates that the approval of new forms of consecrated life is reserved to the Apostolic See. Consecrated life in the Regnum Christi Movement fulfills canon no. 573 regarding the profession of evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience and we also fall under the general canons that apply to consecrated life, nos. 573-606.”

    Can you please quote these statutes to which Dr. Kingman refers? Are they included within the statutes of Regnum Christi (also approved in 2004) or are they separate? Thank you very much for clarifying.

  2. Jim Fair says:

    A response from Joan Kingsland:

    Canon Law no. 573 has two parts to it:

    “1. Life consecrated through profession of the evangelical counsels is a stable form of living, in which the faithful follow Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, and are totally dedicated to God, who is supremely loved. By a new and special title they are dedicated to seek the perfection of charity in the service of God’s Kingdom, for the honor of God, the building up of the Church and the salvation of the world. They are a splendid sign in the Church, as they foretell the heavenly glory.

    2. Christ’s faithful freely assume this manner of life in institutes of consecrated life which are canonically established by the competent ecclesiastical authority. By vows or by other sacred bonds, in accordance with the laws of their own institutes, they profess the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. Because of the charity to which these counsels lead, they are linked in a special way to the Church and its mystery.”

    Note that this number says a person can be consecrated to God “by vows or by other sacred bonds, in accordance with the laws of their own institutes”. We fall under “by other sacred bonds” as we make promises of poverty, chastity and obedience and not vows.

    Thanks and God bless.

  3. Jim Fair says:

    Friends….we have received a number of questions about Joan’s post on consecrated life. Rather than handle them in random style, she is pulling together a second post to address the questions. She is pretty busy, but hopes to have it available in the next couple days.

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