From Your Servant Leader
February 9, 2017
One of the first things any Vincentian learns upon joining the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is that we are governed everywhere around the world by the same Rule. Well, that’s not quite true.
You see, the Rule has three parts. Part I is the rule of the International Confederation. Part II is the statutes of the International Confederation. And Part III is the statutes of the National Council of the United States. While Part III is designated just for the Society of the United States, it is
nonetheless still approved by the International General Council. By the way, any member who wants a copy of the Rule can order it from the National Office. They are hardly kept secret! I hope you always have one handy at your Conference meetings.
Just as with our legal system, one must obey the Rule. If there is disagreement with something in it, the recourse should not be to operate outside of the Rule but rather petition to have the Rule
changed. Yes this is possible, though just like with our laws it is not and should not be a simple
process. But it is possible, and currently there are several aspects of the Rule that are under such review by our board and Governance committee for change consideration and eventual forwarding to Paris. Let’s take a look.
The first question looks at a technology evolution. Can Society groups substitute electronic meetings for traditional meetings where everyone attends in person? Splitting hairs just a bit, if electronic attendance is permitted then could one attend by say, Skype videoconference, but not by text? Would such attendance hurt our desire to meet the three essential elements of spirituality, fellowship and service? Is there a difference between attending and voting electronically?
The second question concerns clarification of the membership status of non-Catholics as
Conference members. Should they be active or associate members, and what’s the difference? What about the non-Catholic spouse of an active member? Does the designation affect Conference quorum, consensus, voting privileges or other aspects of Conference participation?
The third question involves the use of money donated to the Society and how it can or can’t be used in collaborative projects. Does the same set of Rule guidelines apply to partnership with Church agencies, secular organizations, local and/or national groups? Should it be okay for some purposes but not others based on proximity to our mission, Catholic Social Teaching or other set of restrictions? Is there a limit to any such collaboration by dollars, percentage of participation, and/or control of the resulting activities? Or, is the answer simply “not allowed?”
As we can see, one question often becomes a larger set of questions when considering any Rule
changes. This is one reason that the process takes time, prayer and discernment. It’s also difficult to draft a “permanent” set of rules when the organization they are applied to may change over time. In order to stay relevant to the community, our faith and our members yet stay true to our lay vocation, we don’t want to make knee-jerk decisions. We already know from 170 years of the Society in the United States how some organizations have faded away while others strike a balance between mission and the changing environment in which they operate. We want to be here, even larger, better than we are now, in another 170 years. How can our Rule support this?
If you and your fellow Conference and Council members have ideas about Rule enhancements,
please share them. You can contact Pam Hudson at our National Council office who will collect
such ideas for the national Governance committee. However, this is not a perpetual motion exercise.
We want to collect our ideas, discern them and get any suggestions to Paris by the end of this
Society year. Please send your ideas to us by March 1. Meanwhile, don’t take anything written here as change about to happen! My writing of the questions does not imply my endorsement or that of anyone else. Please review and follow the Rule as it stands right now, and don’t throw away your Rule copies thinking a new edition is about to be published. When or if any changes are made, we’ll make a big deal out of it so that everyone can be on the same page – of the Rule that is.
Yours in Christ,