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Vatican sets term limits for leaders of lay associations

June 11, 2021

The dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life has released a canonical decree that limits the terms of leaders of lay associations.

The new rule—which was approved by Pope Francis, and applies to the more than 100 lay associations formally recognized by the Vatican—stipulates that the terms of leaders should be no more than 5 years, with eligibility for re-election only once, so that no single leader could serve for more than 10 years consecutively.

The rule does allow for a leader to be re-elected after having stepped down for a term. And the Vatican dicastery, “aware of the key role played by the founders” of some groups, reserves the right to dispenses lay associations from the rules in special cases.

A Vatican announcement of the new rule indicated that the term limits should bring a healthy new vigor to lay groups, saying that a “generatonal change” in leadership should produce “great benefits to the vitality of the association.”

Putting the same argument in a negative form, the dicastery says that lengthy terms can produce, in the leaders, “appropriation of the charism, personalism, and centralization of functions, as well as expression of self-reference, which can easily cause serious violations of personal dignity and freedom and even real abuses.”

The explanatory note goes on to say that leaders who retain their authority too long frequently exercise bad governance—which, the Vatican warns, “inevitably creates conflicts and tensions that wound the communion, weakening the missionary impulse.”

The Church has been troubled in recent years by reports of abusive leadership in lay associations, with the several different lay associations split by charges that their leaders violated the personal freedom of members.

 


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