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Preaching Justice Starts at Home

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Fr Benjamin Earl OP, Procurator General of the Order, reflects on his role at Santa Sabina in the light of our wider mission.

A New Challenge

Dominican friars promise obedience to the Master of the Order in accordance with our Rule, the laws of the Order. That profession is intended to set us free for the proclam­ation of the gospel which is the mission of the Order and of the whole Church. Such freedom means that from time to time friars are asked to take up new challenges in unexpected places. Just occasionally this request comes directly from the Master of the Order himself and takes us to missions in distant lands.

When the Master asked me to see him in February 2016 he might have asked me to go to our mission with indigenous peoples in the Amazon; or to promote reconciliation in Colombia; or to engage with the Islamic world in the Middle East; or to labour for the gospel in what Pope Benedict XVI called the 'digital continent' of the internet. Instead, however, I was asked to come to Rome as Procurator General of the Order. The office of Procurator General is so unromantic that even many friars do not know of it, but in fact it is one of our most ancient offices; the first brother recorded as Procurator General was fr. Troianus de Regno in 1256, and I am the 123rd in that line!

Working with the Holy See

From the thirteenth century to the twenty-first, a large international Order like ours has always needed to work closely with the Papal Curia. The Procurator General is the principal official for transacting canonical business with the Holy See. Requests for permissions, approvals and dispensations which exceed the authority of the Order's superiors are presented to the various departments of the Roman Curia. A lot of this has to do with dealing delicately, mercifully and justly with the cases of friars and nuns who have various problems in their vocations, but I'm also involved in the canonical side of new ventures and any restructuring the Order undertakes.

Alongside this work representing the Order to the Roman Curia, the Procurator General is also a member of the Order's General Council and adviser to the Master and other members of our Curia on canonical and constitutional matters. I'm frequently consulted too by Provincials around the world who deal with tricky canonical situations.

'Head Office'

The General Curia is based at Santa Sabina on Rome's Aventine hill. Pope Honorius III gave St Dominic himself the use of the site, and made a gift of the property in 1222. I have the privilege of living in a cloister which once was home to St Dominic, St Albert the Great, St Thomas Aquinas, and many other figures in the intervening centuries. From my office I can see the cupola of St Peter's, although when it comes to presenting business in person, the Vatican is a 40-minute walk – a pleasant stroll, except in the height of the Roman summer!

While the work of our Curia – and perhaps especially of the Procurator General – can sometimes be seen as a little remote from the Order's mission on the ground, this should never be the case. The Curia exists to serve, coordinate and support this mission. A community of thirty brothers drawn from all over the world faces its own special challenges, but like any other priory in the Order we live, pray and study together and strive to preach the good news whether in our own basilica or further afield, often across five continents simultaneously!

Dominicans and Justice

There is a constant thread in our theological tradition of proclaiming and defending justice. Fr Francisco de Vittoria and the Salamanca School established the theoretical foundation for human rights in the 16th century; fr. Bartolomé de Las Casas and fr. Antonio de Montesinos and others applied these notions to the oppressed indigenous peoples of the Americas. Dominicans speak up for justice because this is demanded both by the dignity God gives to human nature and by the gospel.

If our preaching is to be authentic it is vital that we too listen to the message we proclaim. We must practice justice within the Order if we are to be effective preachers of justice. The Procurator General has a key role to play in that work as cases are referred to the Master and the Roman Curia. I must see that due process is followed, calling attention to the rights of the brothers, other members of the Dominican Family, and all God's people.

'This is what the Lord asks of you', says the prophet Micah: 'to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God' (Micah 6:8). If this is our calling, then the work of justice is not merely a key bureaucratic function, but must be central to living out our Christian and Dominican vocation. Much that the Procurator General deals with is challenging, and occasionally it is distinctly unpleasant; but it is a joy not just to serve the mission of the Order in a technical role, but in this way to participate in the Order's mission everywhere in striving for justice, loving all people and walking the path trod by Christ and St Dominic.


Cynthia Awad commented on 05-Jul-2017 12:51 AM
It is heart-warming to see you in this post. Boniface would be proud!
Windudjati commented on 05-Jul-2017 05:15 PM
You used to be the youngest one in Durham, are you still in your new community?
Proud to see you in your new post.
Chris Savage commented on 07-Jul-2017 09:23 AM
Pleased to find out, Father, and read about what exactly you are doing in Rome. Your name is still on the E bulletin, a reminder of your mission in St. Cuthbert's!

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