THE NATURE AND THE WORKING OF AN ENLARGED GENERAL COUNCIL (EGC)
1. Amongst those assemblies which mark the life of circumscriptions and the Congregation, giving them a chance to “ respond creatively to the needs of evangelisation of our time ” (SRL 2), the Enlarged General Council has a very special place.
It is not easy to describe precisely the exact nature of an EGC. To begin with, an EGC is not a mini-General Chapter, which, between two Chapters, takes on the role of an intermediate “supreme authority”. SRL 206 makes it clear that “the Enlarged General Council is a consultative assembly ”, and therefore, not deliberative. An EGC does not involve any election, nor does it take any deliberative decisions to be applied subsequently to the whole Congregation.
The nature of an EGC is very different to that of an Enlarged Council of a Circumscription (ECC). According to SRL 181.1 and 182.5, the members of an ECC have a deliberative voice. Very often, an ECC elects the superior of the circumscription. When new and important situations arise, an ECC can make deliberative decisions which, following the approval of the General Council, apply to all the members of the circumscription. This is not possible for an EGC. (For further information on an ECC, refer to “ A note on the subject of an Enlarged Council of a Circumscription ” which the General Council sent to all superiors of circumscriptions on November 11, 2005 ).
On the other hand, an EGC is not an informal gathering where anything can be discussed without any further aim than to share and confer. Often, the decisions taken by the General Council are the direct result of the advice given by the EGC. A good example of this would be the I/D “ To love in truth ”, which appeared as a result of the advice given by the EGC at Duquesne in 2001.
2. The word “advice” is a good starting point for understanding the nature of an EGC. Just as the General Council (the 7 general councillors) is the council of the Superior General, so the EGC is the council of the General Council (in the wide sense of the Superior General and the 7 General Assistants). This role of “council of a council” is very important and has practical consequences for the running of an EGC. After a General Chapter, the new General Council sets to work to apply all the decisions and guidelines decided by the General Council. Difficulties are not lacking in the wake of a Chapter - how to interpret a particular decision, what practical steps are needed to implement the works of the Chapter. So the General Council gives an account to the EGC of how they have set about applying the decisions of the Chapter. But they also raise any questions or doubts they may have, seeking advice on how to rectify some of their interpretations and policies, while receiving encouragement on the reforms that are being undertaken and considering new means to be adopted. Notice that the articles concerning an EGC in SRL follow on those dealing with the General Council, not the section that treats of a General Chapter. On the contrary, what is said about an ECC follows directly after the part concerning the Chapter of a circumscription.
Two practical consequences for the running of an EGC flow from what has been said above:
An EGC is not an event where we listen to numerous reports, but rather where we formulate concrete and practical advice on a certain number of questions. If the role of the General Council is to prepare the dossiers about these questions and present them to the general assembly, that of the representatives of circumscriptions is to give clear advice.
The end result of an EGC is not a booklet of decisions and guidelines, or a collection of general reflections, but a body of advice, clearly expressed, which will help the General Council to direct its future action.
3. Another approach to understanding the nature of an EGC is to look at the three aims assigned to it by SRL 206:
- “To check on the implementation of the decisions of the General Chapter”: This aim will be dealt with by the first question on the agenda of EGC Rome 2008. Several of the other questions are directly linked to the decisions of the last General Chapter.
- “To study new means of strengthening and bringing about the Congregation's objectives”. The word “study” is used, not “decide”. The accent is put on the practical side of this study: “new means”, “strengthening”, “bringing about”.
“To reinforce collaboration between different circumscriptions, both among them and between them and the Superior General and his Council”. This double collaboration is always in need of reinforcement, especially now when the Congregation is becoming increasingly diverse. To reinforce the collaboration between different circumscriptions, it is planned that during the EGC in Rome there will be “inter-continental meetings” between, for example, the representative of Europe and Africa, those of North and South America, etc.
The booklet that accompanied the Spiritan Rule of Life, published by the Generalate in 1987 (still a useful reference), has this to say about an EGC: “The characteristics of an Enlarged General Council have finally been determined. It is a consultative body, above all for regional collaboration and representation. The structure of an enlarged General Council is adaptable. It must be called at least once between two General Chapters (SRL 206)”. In this commentary, the accent is put on the regional nature of an EGC: today, we would speak of collaboration within and between Unions of Circumscriptions. (N.B. Please check this wording of the Handbook as we do not have an English version here at Chevilly. Please send us one if possible).
4. Some details regarding the working of the forthcoming EGC.
4.1 A central commission will watch over the smooth running of the EGC. This commission will consist of the following: the Superior General (or one of his assistants) as president (SRL 192), the Moderator and the four presidents of the discussion groups which will be set up.
4.2 Each question on the agenda of the EGC will be introduced by one or two members of the General Council. Then the EGC will give their opinions and advice on these different questions. For each question, two confreres will be chosen from the delegates representing the circumscriptions to draw up a synthesis of the opinions. These syntheses will be presented to the assembly to check if they are a faithful expression of what has been said. After any necessary corrections, they will be given to the General Council to help them in their future action.
4.3 The questions to be addressed by the EGC will be of a general nature, of interest to the whole Congregation or to a large number of circumscriptions. We will avoid dealing with problems which are too local or particular.
4.4 Towards the end of the EGC, one or two sessions will be devoted to an open forum, so that questions which do not appear on the agenda and yet are regarded as important by some representatives of circumscriptions may be brought up and discussed.
4.5 In principle, it is not foreseen that there will be any voting during the EGC. However, following the judgement of the Moderator, voting could be used for orientation or clarification. The aim would not be the adoption of a particular proposition but to show clearly the thinking of the assembly.
4.6 Although SRL gives an important role to superiors of circumscriptions in an EGC, as far as possible, efforts must be made to involve all the confreres of the Congregation in the process. As was done after the EGC of Duquesne in 1981, it is planned to publish a special number of Information News devoted to this EGC.
Rome , March 12, 2007
The General Council