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The General Elective Congress

On December 22, 2016 (ten days after the death of Bishop Javier Echevarría), Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz, then Auxiliary Vicar of the Prelature, convoked the third Elective Congress of Opus Dei, to be held in Rome starting on January 23, 2017. As foreseen by the particular law of Opus Dei, upon the vacancy of the office of Prelate, the government of the Work falls to the Auxiliary Vicar, who within a month has to convoke an Elective General Congress to designate a new Prelate within three months of the vacancy having arisen (see Statutes, 149, §§ 1-2). 

For the designation of the new Prelate, the canonical system of election is followed, regulated by the existing Code of Canon Law (see canons 164-179, and also the Apostolic Constitution Ut sit, art. IV). Given the Prelature’s jurisdictional structure as the hierarchical organization of the Church, the election needs to be confirmed by the Roman Pontiff (see Code of Canon Law, canons 178-179; Ut sit, IV; Statutes, 130, § 1).

The Prelate elected needs to be a priest, at least forty years of age, who is a member of the Congress and who has been incorporated in the Prelature for at least ten years and a priest for five years (see Statutes, 131, 1st). In January 2017, 94 priests from 45 countries fulfilled these requirements. Among them were many regional vicars, as well as priests who had worked in Opus Dei’s pastoral tasks of government, both in Rome and in the 49 circumscriptions that currently make up the Prelature.

The statutes also describe the various human, spiritual, and juridical conditions that the Prelate has to possess in order to guarantee the proper carrying out of his task. In synthesis, he has to stand out in such virtues as charity, love for the Church and its Magisterium, and faithfulness to Opus Dei; he also needs to possess a broad culture, both in the ecclesiastical and secular fields, and have adequate gifts of government (see Statutes, 131, 2nd and 3rd). These are requisites analogous to those canon law requires of candidates for bishop (see Code of Canon Law, c. 378, §1).

The elective process comprises three phases: the plenary reunion of the Central Advisory, the process of the General Elective Congress, and the appointment of the Prelate by the Holy Father.

The first phase involves a plenary gathering of the Council for the women of the Prelature, called the Central Advisory. Each one formulates a proposal with the name or names of the priests deemed best suited for the position of Prelate, which are then conveyed to the General Elective Congress (see Statutes, 130, §3).

The Elective Congress, formed by the faithful of Opus Dei who are members of the congress (see Statutes, 130), then holds a vote for the candidates, taking into account the proposals of the plenary meeting of the Central Advisory. The faithful of Opus Dei who take part in the Elective Congress are priests and laity at least 32 years of age and who have been incorporated in the Prelature a minimum of nine years. They are appointed from among the faithful in the various countries where Opus Dei carries out its pastoral work (see Statutes, 130 §2). The statutes do not set a maximum number of congress members. 

Once the election is carried out, and accepted by the one elected, this person (either himself or through another person) has to ask for the Roman Pontiff’s confirmation (see Statutes, 130, §4). Once the Pope confirms the election, the Prelate is appointed and acquires the plenitude of his power (see Statutes 130, §1).

The power of the Prelate is exercised in accord with the general law of the Church and the special law of the Prelature: the apostolic constitution Ut sit and the Codex iuris particularis Operis Dei or Statutes, promulgated by the Roman Pontiff (c. 295 §1), wherein the various juridical and pastoral competencies are clearly set forth. As one reads in the Statutes, the Prelate has to be a teacher and father to the faithful of Opus Dei, who truly loves everyone with the heart of Christ, and guides them and enkindles them with ardent charity, joyfully spending his life for them (see Statutes, 132, §3).

Romana, No. 64, January-June 2017, pag. 8-9.