Many institutes are facing the challenge of revising their Constitutions in order to innovate their way of life and their structures. This is proving to be difficult due to obstacles in canon law. Do you foresee any changes to canon law in order (to) facilitate this process?A preliminary remark is that all communities revised their constitutions (some more radically than others and some several times) after Vatican II and/or after the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Yet, some communities are looking for more "innovation" and "restructuring" after only about 30 years? Huh.
Be that as it may, the question, one would think, refers to the Code of Canon Law and not "canon law" in general (yes, there is more to canon law than just the Code). What does the Code have to say about "Constitutions" and their revision?
Can. 587 §1. To protect more faithfully the proper vocation and identity of each institute, the fundamental code or constitutions of every institute must contain, besides those things which are to be observed as stated in can. 578, fundamental norms regarding governance of the institute, the discipline of members, incorporation and formation of members, and the proper object of the sacred bonds.[FYI, canon 578 states: "All must observe faithfully the mind and designs of the founders regarding the nature, purpose, spirit, and character of an institute, which have been sanctioned by competent ecclesiastical authority, and its sound traditions, all of which constitute the patrimony of the same institute."]
§2. A code of this type is approved by competent authority of the Church and can be changed only with its consent.
§3. In this code spiritual and juridic elements are to be joined together suitably; nevertheless, norms are not to be multiplied without necessity.
§4. Other norms established by competent authority of an institute are to be collected suitably in other codes and, moreover, can be reviewed appropriately and adapted according to the needs of places and times.
"Constitutions", then, determine:
- the proper vocation and identity of the institute (who they are and what they do)
- governance (who is in charge and what they can do), discipline (day-to-day life)
- who can become members and how they do so
- how "the vows" are understood and lived out.
Note that the "competent authority" does not compose the Constitutions: the community itself composes them through, I imagine, some sort of committee which submits its work to the membership at large for a vote. After the community decides what is to be contained in the Constitutions, the approval of the competent authority is sought. If approval is given, the Constitutions become law. If not, the community has to revise their proposals and, again, seek approval.
The Code has other things to say about "Constitutions" but it is for the purpose of putting some "meat" on the "bones" of c. 587 (for example, cc. 595-602). Other than that, the Code mentions the Constitutions simply to say that they are binding and are to be observed (cf. cc. 616, 624, 625, 627, etc.).
I would like to know what it is in the Code, exactly, that is proving to be an obstacle for these communities. All I can think of is the fact that the competent authority has to approve of changes. This function of oversight is not something that can be easily discarded: "It is the duty of the ecclesiastical hierarchy to regulate the practice of the evangelical counsels by law, since it is the duty of the same hierarchy to care for the People of God and to lead them to most fruitful pastures" (Lumen gentium, n. 45). Does the law have to be such that a change in the Constitutions requires the approval of the Holy See/Diocesan Bishop? No. At the same time, consecrated communities can't be independent from the Holy See/Diocesan Bishop.