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Forum internum/externum in religious communties


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Prompted by a book I'm just reading (only available in German, sorry) I've been revisiting some of my experiences in/with religious communities in respect to the handling of the difference between forum internum and forum externum.

These terms were introduced to me when I was training for pastoral work in the diocese. The forum internum is the area of personal contact, it contains what you are sharing with your spiritual guide or (more traditionally) in confession. The forum externum, on the other hand, concerns what you are talking about with the people who make decisions about you, for example, if you're accepted for pastoral work, or priesthood, or for vows in a religious community...

In church law terms, forum internum and externum are to be kept separate, ie. your spiritual guide must not talk about you to the decision-makers. In diocesan practice, this was adhered to quite strictly. For example, when we did a retreat in everyday life, one of the retreat directors was the decision-maker for a diocese, and he told us straight away that he wouldn't accpet any students from "his" diocese for direction, even if they wanted to talk to him (to protect them from themselves, basically).

Now, in the religious communities I know, this separation seems not to be practiced in this way. In one community I was hoping to discern with, the provincial knew some things I had told other sisters in the formation team - but in the context of personal spiritual conversation (nothing I wouldn't have told her eventually - but in a different way). In another, the novitate leader is at the same time the spiritual guide of the novices. The Jesuit novices here do their 30-day retreat guided by their novice master - which means that the only person they talk to during this time is the one who has a big say in whether they will be allowed to make vows.

I guess the idea behind this is that the candidate/novice... should trust the decision-making person. And that the decision-maker should use all the information they receive in the area of the forum internum for the best of the person they are deciding about. But that would be the ideal as well in the diocesan formation I was part of - and they (or the makers of these church law rules) obviously learned that this doesn't work.

Maybe we could have a bit an exchange here, on how this is handled in different communities, on experiences people here have made... I know this forum is not for debates, so let's keep it friendly :-)

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