Status may be defined
By Fr. Stephen Hartdegen, O.F.M.
NEW laws determining the specific nature and role of the secular institutes, recognising the special position of their members in canon law, are now expected to be formulated during the second session of the Council.
Present church law recognises
three classes of persons: religious, clergy and laity. So far the position of the members of a secular institute has not been fully defined although their Importance is being increasingly recognised.
Pope Pius XII had deferred "to a more opportune time" the definitive norms of these institutes so that their evolution would not be restricted.
It is still very difficult. however, to have a clear picture of what constitutes a secular institute. Some people who are unfamiliar with them except through hearsay speak of the great secrecy surrounding them. and it is hoped that the council will abolish this.
Like religious members of secular institutes pledge themselves to poverty, chastity and obedience, yet their vows are not public but semipublic. They do not wear uniform clothing, or live the life of a religious but they stick to their professional status. Both lay and clerical institutes exist today.
As they are neither fully religious nor entirely lay it is felt that their new status should place them between the religious and secular states.
The importance of such a new status arises from the unique nature of these institutes. Their character and apostolate are very flexible and can be adjusted to meet the varied needs of all places and times. They exist mainly to prevent unfair hindrance to freedom of action in the Christian apostolate, especially in secular environments.
By gathering members from all classes and professions the institututes can carry out a more direct form of apostolic work as part of the Church's mission to sanctify society.
Secular institutes are being encouraged both for laymen and secular priests. Some secular institutes admit married people as auxiliaries. but at this stage only those who include the promise or vow of perfect chastity are admitted to the institutes as full members.
Some Council Fathers are advocating the extension of secular institutes to married persons. A decision favouring this opinion is unlikely in view of the theological teaching which regards perfect chastity as part of the state of perfection.
It is also expected that the Council will support and encourage programmes for promoting vocations to the secular institutes. Laymen can be attracted to reach out to areas closed to the priests and religious in the new state. On the other hand, secular institutes for priests can provide a more devoted life of obedient service to the greater needs of the Church.