Coetus Praevius Preps for GC35

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In anticipation of General Congregation 35, to begin January 7, 2008, the 15 members of the Coetus Praevius (the General Congregation preparation committee) met for three weeks in March and will meet again in November as part of the lead-up to the Congregation. Both general and province congregations are preceded by a meeting of a Coetus Praevius. Fr. Tom Smolich (CFN), president of the Jesuit Conference, is a member of the GC 35 committee. He sat down recently with the NJN to discuss what the Coetus Praevius is and what it does.

What is the role of the Coetus Praevius?

In English, we would call the Coetus Praevius a planning committee. Its primary function is to organize the postulates which have come in from province congregations and various other groups, (for example, Jesuit liturgists or the Interprovincial Commission on the Roman Houses), and to suggest a way of proceeding (schedule, organization) for the Congregation. By March, approximately 350 postulates had come in, 100 directed to Fr. General and 250 to the Congregation. We will deal with postulates from individuals in November. We organize them into themes and make recommendations about which ones the Congregation should consider or not consider. One group of postulates GC 35 will not consider concerns the changing of Fr. General’s lifetime term. Fr. Kolvenbach had asked Benedict XVI about the possibility, but he replied that he does not want the term of the General changed. The Coetus Praevius is asking for feedback in advance from the electors on the groups of postulates and a proposed schedule, so that modifications can be made before GC 35 begins.

How are the members of the CP chosen?

Fr. General is a member and selects the others, who must be members of GC 35 by election or office. He chose two Jesuits from each continent, plus Fr. Lisbert D’Souza (ASM), regional assistant for South Asia. Fr. Pasquale Borgomeo (ITA), retired from Vatican Radio, served as Secretary and organized the postulates.

Does the CP have a role once the Congregation begins?

Technically speaking, once the Congregation starts, the Coetus Praevius does not have a role. Another group will be elected as the Deputatio ad Negotia, or steering committee. They may choose to have some member of the Coetus Praevius present the recommended postulates or other aspects of our work. But the Coetus Praevius is only a preparatory committee.

Is the Congregation bound by the CP’s recommendations?

Well, here’s the thing. The Congregation is free to do whatever it chooses. It can address the postulates or not. It can decide to write decrees or not. GC 34 decided to proceed without the recommendations of the Coetus Praevius. As the highest authority in the Society, the Congregation can do what it wishes. Can you talk about any of the recommendations that the Coetus Praevius will be making to the General Congregation? For example, GC 34 wrote the Decree on Laity, Decree 13, which included the question of some lay co-workers having a juridical bond with the Society. GC 34 approved this ad experimentum and asked GC 35 to review the results and provide some direction. So the Congregation will probably look at this issue. Fr. General recently distributed the Coetus Praevius’ work on Jesuit identity, so that may also be a topic for discussion.

With the election of a new general the top priority, does this change the focus or tone of the Congregation?

Yes. Our primary focus is electing a general. Whatever we do beyond that is secondary. It’s important to give the new general the freedom to move the Society where he sees fit. Fr. Frank Case (ORE), the Secretary of the Society, has noted that GCs 32 and 34 were so influential and important because they took place under sitting generals. Fr. Arrupe guided GC 32’s expression of our mission to include faith and justice, and Fr. Kolvenbach led GC 34 to expand that vision to faith, justice, culture and interreligious dialogue. The new general will take us to the next step, whatever that may be. I think GC 35 should focus on the election and on decrees that need to be written. Beyond that, we give the new general suggestions on appropriate issues and trust him to lead us.

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