Vatican document on brotherhood still in the works

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin (CNS/Paul Haring)

The Vatican is legendary for thinking in centuries, which may help explain why a document on the vocation to the religious brotherhood that in some ways has been in the works for a quarter century remains largely in the planning stages today.

When that document from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, better known as the Congregation for Religious, eventually appears, certainly no one can accuse them of having rushed into it.

Archbishop Joseph Tobin, an American and former superior of the Redemptorist order who today serves as the secretary of the congregation, told NCR in early September that the document has had a long gestation.

Way back in 1985, the Congregation for Religious held a plenary assembly, meaning a full meeting of its members, dedicated to the topic of the brotherhood. At the time, the thinking was that the brotherhood was ripe for a new theological analysis, particularly since 1985 marked the 20th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Under Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, who served as the congregation’s prefect from 2005 to early 2011, there was a push to revive the topic. Tobin said a document went through several drafts, but none was fully satisfactory, and so it was sent back for revision. At this point, he said, it’s impossible to predict when it might be finished.

Whenever it appears, Tobin said the document will not offer an empirical study of the brotherhood, but rather a theological reflection on the nature of the vocation.

We say: Charlottesville reveals the weeping wound of racism. What do we, the American Catholic faith community, do next? Read the editorial.

Despite the delay, Tobin said the subject of the brotherhood remains of vital interest.

“It is a glimpse of male religious life in its ‘pure’ form,” Tobin said, “untainted by clericalism or eclipsed by the demands of ordained ministry.”

Furthermore, Tobin said, the first male religious were “brothers,” in the sense of not being ordained priests. He suggested that a reflection on the brotherhood helps male religious get back to their roots.

According to official Vatican statistics, there are roughly 55,000 religious brothers in the world today, including just under 10,000 in the United States, Canada, and Central America. In the United States, the Religious Brothers Conference (, headquartered in Chicago and founded in the wake of Vatican II, acts as an advocate for the identity and vocation to the brotherhood.

[John L. Allen Jr. is NCR senior correspondent. His e-mail address is]

Support independent reporting on important issues.

 One family graphic_2016_250x103.jpg

Show comments

NCR Comment code: (Comments can be found below)

Before you can post a comment, you must verify your email address at
Comments from unverified email addresses will be deleted.

  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the original idea will be deleted. NCR reserves the right to close comment threads when discussions are no longer productive.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report abuse" button. Once a comment has been flagged, an NCR staff member will investigate.

For more detailed guidelines, visit our User Guidelines page.

For help on how to post a comment, visit our reference page.

Commenting is available during business hours, Central time, USA. Commenting is not available in the evenings, over weekends and on holidays. More details are available here. Comments are open on NCR's Facebook page.