THE NETWORK OF THE BENEDICTINE CONFEDERATION

Abbot Jean-Pierre Longeat,
Abbot of Saint-Martin de Ligugé, France

The author shows how the structure of the Benedictine Confederation is a fraternal network which offers various levels of exchange and co-operation. The 21 male Congregations and the 62 female Congregations represent its basic units. Starting from the experience and the content of the Congress of September 2012, the author shows the benefits which are offered by the network of the Benedictine Confederation.

LongeatAs a network the Benedictine Confederation is particularly active. Joining together 21 male Congregations of different sizes, endowed with an Abbot Primate who resides at the Abbey of Sant’Anselmo at Rome, the Confederation watches over a family life which is not spontaneously drawn to centralisation, and for that reason presents the life of the Benedictine Order as an organized Disorder.

From the beginning of his pontificate Pope Leo XIII showed his intention of making use of the Benedictine Order in his ecumenical initiatives, notably with regard to Eastern Christianity. For this purpose he encouraged the reconstruction of the ancient Roman college of Saint’Anselmo, once the property of the Monte Cassino Congregation of the Benedictines, then closed as a result of the Napoleonic invasion. His intention was to make it an international centre of sacred learning for the whole Order, which at that time was divided into some 15 independent Congregations. The meeting of Benedictine Abbots from all over the world at Monte Cassino in 1880 served as a propitious moment to launch this idea. The realisation of the project was entrusted to the Benedictine Archbishop of Catania, Giuseppe Benedetto Dusmet, whom Leo XIII created a Cardinal in 1889 as a reward for having faithfully fulfilled his desire to reconstruct the ancient College (4th January, 1888). The other intention of the Pope, namely the reunion of all the Benedictine Congregations into one Order under the authority of a superior general residing at Rome, nevertheless did not succeed, because of the personal opposition of Dusmet, who made himself the mouthpiece of the opinion of almost all the abbots. He limited himself to the foundation of a Confederation (1893), presided over by an abbot, whose jurisdiction was limited to the College of Sant’Anselmo. It was indeed the historic tradition of the latter which prevented every further effort at Roman centralisation which the Pope had thought he could accomplish as, by contrast, he did with the Franciscan Order.

Congres04To nourish the life of the Confederation, apart from the fact that the Abbot Primate went to the four corners of the planet to encourage the brothers and sisters to engage in various important meetings about the present and future of monasteries, a Congress of Benedictine superiors meets every four years at Rome. It brings together 300 members, representing all regions of the world. To this male structure must be added an International Commission of Benedictine Women (CIB), which has been particularly active in the last 20 years, with its 61 Congregations and federations, mentioned elsewhere in this Bulletin.

Since the latest Congress of Benedictine abbots and superiors took place in September 2012, it could be useful to refer to it to show the functioning of the Confederation as a network. The talk which Dom Casetta gave at the opening of the Congress, published in this issue, brings together the objectives of this meeting of abbots. Here we will discuss rather the actual functioning of the meeting, and as far as possible we will assess its results.

Benedictine Resources

A first finding concerns the richness of such a gathering. The male Superiors represent some 8,000 monks, while the President of the CIB and the members of the different regions of this organisation, delegated to the Congress, carry the voice of some 16,000 Benedictine nuns and sisters. The Superiors come from a large number of countries. The Benedictine monasteries are spread over all the continents. Only major Superiors are present at the Congress of Abbots, but there are many priories or dependent houses, governed by a local superior who does not have a seat at the Congress.

To begin with, there is inevitably the contribution of very different cultures, and of the varying economic importance of each national or continental group. This last point plays an important role in the support given to the upkeep of the Abbey of Sant’Anselmo and its Athenaeum. To this point we will return.

The 21 male Congregations illustrate well the richness of this diversity:

• The Cassinese Congregation, which incidentally has just joined the Congregation of Subiaco, includes only Italian monasteries which are all, including of course the Abbey of Monte Cassino, marked by a long history.

• The Subiaco Congregation itself, because of its large number of monasteries, is subdivided into Provinces:

- The Italian Province, to which the Italian monasteries belong, including that of Subiaco and an independent house in Bangladesh.

- The English Province, with communities in the United Kingdom, but also in Ghana, USA and Mexico.

- The Flemish Province, to which belong the Belgian monasteries and another in South Africa.

- The French Province with six abbeys and a priory in France and another in Haiti.

- The Spanish Province, with communities in Spain and also USA, Columbia and even a priory in France.

- The German Province, with two abbeys.

- The Province of Africa and Madagascar.

- The Pro-Province of the Philippines.

- The province of Vietnam.

- Two extra-provincial monasteries in Australia and Italy.

• There is also an English Congregation with monasteries in England, but also in the USA and Peru.

• The Hungarian Congregation is composed of the great Abbey of Pannonhalma and several other dependent or independent monasteries, as well as two houses in Brazil and one in Austria.

• The Swiss Congregation is especially concentrated in Switzerland, but has monasteries in the Cameroons and one in Italy.

• The Austrian Congregation is entirely national.

• The Bavarian Congregation is composed of celebrated monasteries in Germany.

• The Brazilian Congregation has a wealth of about ten abbeys and priories in Brazil.

• The Congregation of Solesmes is relatively international, with its 21 foundations in France, Lithuania, Spain, Luxembourg, England, Canada (Quebec), USA, Netherlands, Senegal, Guiney-Conakry and Martinique.

• The American Cassinese Congregation comprises 21 houses in USA, but also in Brazil, Taiwan, Japan, Columbia and Mexico.

• The Beuronese Congregation is established in Germany and Austria.

• The Swiss American Congregation has most of its monasteries in the USA, but also in Mexico, Guatemala and Canada.

• The Missionary Congregation of Sankt Ottilien includes some 40 very diverse foundations in Germany, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, USA, Korea, Venezuela, Columbia, South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, Kenya, Togo, Uganda, the Philippines and India.

• The Congregation of the Annunciation has several monasteries in Belgium, but also in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in India, Guyana, Portugal, Ireland, Nigeria, Poland, Slovakia, Germany, USA and Peru.

• The Slavic Congregation of St Adalbert has houses in the Czech Republic, in Slovakia and Slovenia.

• The Congregation of Mount Olivet has 14 monasteries and about ten dependent houses in Italy, France, Brazil, USA, Israel, England, South Korea, Guatemala and Ireland.

• The Camaldolese Congregation comprises about ten monasteries in Italy, USA, Brazil and India.

• The Netherlands Congregation numbers four monasteries in the Netherlands.

• The Sylvestrine Congregation has 18 houses, of which several are in India and Sri Lanka, but also in Italy, USA, England and the Philippines.

• The Congregation of the Cono Sur includes, as its name indicates, the monasteries of the Southern Cone of America, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay.

• There are also a few monasteries directly subject to the Abbot Primate.

These Congregations are present in some 70 countries. It is not difficult to image the wealth of exchanges which could occur between them, concerning the orientations, present state, the conditions of the countries and the place of monasteries in these different contexts. What is particularly striking is the great autonomy not only of the monasteries themselves if they belong to the same Congregation, but also of the Congregations themselves. In fact exchanges are not considered as important as one might expect. The best networks are those of the Congregations with their different concerns. The geographical situation also has some importance, but in a fairly loose way, and with all the monastic Orders joining in. The only real moment of meeting between those responsible for Benedictine monasteries in their totality is the Congress of abbots and priors at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome every four years.

StAnselmeThe Congress of Abbots and Priors

Days of Preparation for new Superiors

In the last few years the Congress itself has been preceded by two days of welcome for new superiors, who there receive information about the structure of the Confederation, and make a pilgrimage to Monte Cassino.

The Reports

The Congress includes ‘obligatory’ reports from the Abbot Primate, the Prior of Sant’Anselmo on the College, that is the structure of welcome for students and professors who live there, on the Athenaeum of Sant’Anselmo and the various Faculties or Institutes, on the Alliance Inter-Monastères, on DIM-MID (monastic inter-religious dialogue) on Benedictine schools (ICBE), on the programme of formation for Englishspeaking formators, and finally on the CIB (International Commission of Benedictine Women). Everything which concerns Sant’Anselmo, the Roman centre of the Confederation, holds an important place in the programme of the Congress, more especially because the upkeep of the buildings and the organisation of activities requires constant adaptation to ensure that its purposes coincide with the wishes of the donors who support and accompany these projects, beginning with the principal supporters, the Benedictine abbeys themselves.

A Theme, Conferences and Exchanges

For the last ten years each Congress has focused on an individual theme. This has been enriched by masterly conferences. For the Congress of 2012 Professor Hochschild gave a talk on ‘Continuity and Adaptability’ [published in this issue], based on research in several German-speaking monasteries. Father Michael Casey, OCSO, discussed the question of the autonomy of monasteries with relation to their indispensable communion [also published in this issue]. These talks were intended to enlighten the abbots on points of concern for the future. The purpose was ‘to venture hope’ in a real spirit of communion with courage, not holding back in any way. These conferences provoked a variety of reactions in workshops and in the plenary sessions.

Workshops

In continuity with these talks various workshops were offered. The list is itself eloquent:

• Tensions and exhaustion in monastic life

• The viability of a monastery

• Skills for management and administration of monasteries

• Congregation and confederation – what communion?

• Sexual abuse

• Benedictine identity

• Associates of the monastery

• Relationships between monks and nuns

• The centrality of mystery in the missal of Paul VI

• The role of an abbot

• The monastery and the great Church

• Individualism in the monastery

• New ways of Benedictine presence in society

• Ecumenism

• DIM-MID, new directions.

Other workshops concerned also formation in general and the future of the Athenaeum. Each workshop was introduced by two papers stressing different and complementary concerns. There were also sessions both in workshops and in plenary assembly on the future of the AIM. It will be useful to return to this in more detail in the next Bulletin.

EvaluationRome

The Congress is truly an active expression of the life of the Confederation. The role of the Abbot Primate between two Congresses is intended to ensure communion between the various Congregations by fraternal visits, by participation in monastic meetings in different parts of the world, and by the regular meeting of the Synod of Abbots President to gain more and more information and co-ordination in the common thrust towards a better coherence of the immense network of relationships. In the last analysis, is this overarching organisation satisfactory, and does it allow a full sharing in the riches offered by Benedictine life as a whole?

Every participant in the Abbots’ Congress is fully aware of the importance of Sant’Anselmo in the Benedictine structure, and is glad to see the progress that has been made for its stability, development and prosperity, but it is not always easy to understand exactly the strategic place that some wish to give this centre. This concerns the visibility of the Order, the proposals for a formation with its own characteristics, the quality of the exchanges between different monks and nuns who live there. Perhaps the strategic plan which is being developed for the Athenaeum will allow a clearer vision. It seems that there are still basic questions to ask, not limited to problems of finance alone. Nevertheless, important as concerns about Sant’Anselmo are, they cannot feature too largely in an assembly whose cultural, spiritual and simply human multiplicity is so overwhelming.

In this direction, certain points may be underlined:

1. The Benedictine confederation represents a priceless network. Its resources can deliver to the world a significant common witness. The Congregations represent all the continents, and it would be worthwhile that a certain number of superiors based in each of them should offer an echo of what is going on in their country both in general and in particular with relation to monastic life.

2. Most of the Congregations are international. Many of them have foundations in developing countries. How can the alliance between these monasteries work, and how can it be developed in such a way that each is enriched?

3. The place given to organisms which cross the spectrum, like AIM and DIM-MID, which are not limited to the Benedictine confederation, could be more important. This would be an opportunity to let voices be heard which have little place in our assemblies, still very centred on Europe and North America.

4. The CIB takes part in the Congress by the presence of its President and the Office. By giving them more opportunity to express themselves it would be possible to make the part of women in our confederation more widely and deeply visible. The report of the President alone is not sufficient for this.

5. The times of exchange in the full assembly could make a better job of relating the conclusions of the workshops.

6. There is no doubt that a particular theme explored at the time of the Congress is very useful for superiors to debate among themselves and gain some insights. It goes without saying that the choice of theme and of presenters is vital.

Of course the Benedictine confederation is not the sort of multinational of which many organisations dream. The Abbot Primate is not its Superior General, the Synod of Abbots President has no function of government, the abbey of Sant’ Anselmo is not a Mother House. The Congregations all guard their autonomy, and so within the Congregations does each monastery – apart from dependent houses. The only motive force in such a confederation is the capacity to exchange, with the inevitable outcome of the reflexes of absolute autonomy. Such a capacity well illustrates the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council: it is by deepening the communion of multiple communities that the Body of Christ announces to the world the Good News of Jesus Christ. Such an openness is incontestably an opportunity in the contemporary world, of which we must take advantage!

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