A Brief History of the Apostolic Union of Diocesan Clergy

Origins of the Union

The Apostolic Union of Diocesan Clergy was born in France, in Paris, August 26, 1862, in the Seminary for Eastern Missions, as the work of 11 diocesan priests, representatives of respective associations of local clergy.

They define themselves as: A society or association of diocesan priests who put themselves at the disposition of their bishop for whatever service is asked and who remain united to one another with some common norms and who commit themselves to practice the evangelical counsels under the guidance of a superior of their choice.

They held a general Assembly and gave themselves an organization and a structure after the model of the groups of Orleans Coutances and Avignogne, keeping in mind the general Constitutions of Holzhauser, a bavarian priest who in 1640 created the Institute of clergy regular, who live in community in Salzburg.

For the organization of the Association they established that the single diocesan associations admit fundamentally the same rule, constitute a single ecclesiastical family, and all the members, whatever their diocese belong to the same association to help one another on the path of personal sanctification and the fulfillment of their presbiteral ministry.

All the members, in virtue of their membership, put in common prayers, alms, and good works, so as to fulfill a complete solidarity, spiritual and material.

It was also established that every diocesan group would have its own organization.

The superiors of the diocesan Association, or their delegates would have then elected by secret ballot, democratically, and with the majority of votes, one among them to act as a point of reference and as intermediary for the diverse Associations. He had to remain in office for one year with the possibility of re-election an indefinite number of times.

As the first Superior general the Assembly elected Fr. Victor Lebeurier.

Until the Vatican Council, the Director of the primary Association in Paris automatically became the national Director of the A.U. of France and the general Director, and remained in office for life, at least if he did not formally renounce or was not sick or there were not ethical motives which rendered him incapable or unworthy of guiding the Association.  In that case, the Council decided the modality, time and procedure to substitute him.

In Italy, at Treviso, as in France, there arose a similar Aggregation, called the Marian Congregation of true Friends, founded by the cleric Joseph Martini who would involve his spiritual father, the future Pius X.

This association will be founded together with the French Association, in 1880, at the feet of Pope Leo XIII, who for all would sanction a unique name: Apostolic Union of Secular Presbyters (or of Clergy).

The A.U. was an association with its international presidency and primary seat in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Montmartre (Paris); this fact expresses the sharing of a single ideal.

Geographic Expansion of the Apostolic Union

From 1870 the Association began to expand itself to the east, in Europe: in Belgium, Germany, Austria, Poland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Yugoslavia, etc. Then it began to spread in Asia, Africa, America. 

These foundations did not always continue or grow.  Some died and were reborn more than once, in the more than 135 years of the Association's life.

The rapid expansion of the Association was read as a response to a need for the re-aggregation of isolated diocesan clergy, in the situation of global transformation of the Society and of the Church, due to the industrial revolution, the loss of influence of the church in society, the cultural, social and economic abandonment of country and mountain priests, the growing ecclesial importance of laity who escaped the control of the hierarchy, and  the considerable political-social changes.

The Apostolic Union particularly spread:

By means of Fr. Ramiere di Tolosa, Fr. Petit, Fr. Cullen, Fr. Cream, Fr. Van Hoof and the Jesuits in general, in Belgium, in the United States, in Ireland, in India, in China.

By means of the Lazzarist Fathers, in China (Fr. Dutilleux) and in California (USA) (Fr. Beutler).

By means of the Sulpician Fathers in Canada and in Baltimore (USA).

By means of the Eastern Missions of Paris in China and 

By means of priests in exile; the Slavs in Argentina.

By means of secular diocesan priests: the Canadians in Manchuria.

By means of groups of diocesan priests or missionaries of the same linguistic root: from Germany to Austria, to Czechoslovakia to Denmark, to Luxembourg, to Poland. From India to Pakistan, to Sri Lanka, to Burma. From France to all the French-speaking countries of Africa. From Spain to all the countries of Latin America.

By means of Major Seminaries and recently through formation meetings of AUC animators at the international level, of visits by the President of the Association or his representatives, of capillary animation among diocesan priests world-wide who are studying in Rome, as soon as the international Seat was transferred.

Now it consists in confederations of diocesan groups with diversified physionomy and inculturation; this helps openness, receptivity and creativity...missionary.

The AUC today is present in more than 75 nations:

EUROPE: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, Germany, England, Ireland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, Bielorussia, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary;

NORTH AMERICA: Canada;

LATIN AMERICA: Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Haiti, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Venezuela;

AFRICA: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ruwanda, Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, Madagascar, Nigeria, Senegal, Zaire, Mali, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Angola, Mozambique;

ASIA: Bangladesh, Burma, Japan, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, Nepal, S. Korea

OCEANIA: Australia, New Zealand, Papua Nuova Guinea

The actual number of inscribed members is about 35,000.

The international AUC Confederation is beginning in other nations with the tendency to expand itself in Africa, in North-Central America and in Asia.

Canonical Recognition at the International Level.

The first official, pontifical recognition came from Pope Leo XIII, May 31, 1880, with the pontifical "Breve":Dilecte Fili, sent to Mons. Victor Lebeurier, Praesidi Unionis Apostolicae Sacerdotum saecularium.

A further recognition and according to the norms of the new Code of Canon Law was given on April 17, 1921 with the pontifical "Breve": Romanorum Pontificum of April 17, 1917. The document was sent to Mons. Lamerand successor of Mons. Lebeurier. The Apostolic Union was then denominated: Apostolic Union of Diocesan Presbyters.

Further recognition came on the occasion of the approval of the new Statutes. This recognition at times has also implied the recognition of a change of name as in 1975 with the name: Apostolic Union of Clergy, and in 1995 in which the general Assembly approved by an absolute majority to modify the name to International Confederation of the Apostolic Union of Clergy. 

The Strong Basis of the Association in the First 150 years

The common life: for many groups, on the model proposed by Holhauser.

The moral community for those who did not want or were not able to have a community strictly speaking. This moral community expressed itself:
by the support of a group of priests.
through permanent formation
nourished by monthly spiritual conferences.
Through written and personal contact with another priest capable of listening and giving counsel.
The Bulletin of regularity, a daily written examination of conscience, sent monthly to the diocesan superior and dutifully verified by him with observations to the interested. There was also an annual bulletin as a plan of life.

With this instrument one wanted to save diocesan priests before they entered into an identity crisis, cultural, pastoral, human, or at least recuperate them during the crisis.

The Statutes and Their Revisions

The Statutes of the Apostolic Union were always written or revised by the general Assembly of the Soci and approved by an absolute majority. In 1863 the Union already had the first draft of the statutes.

These underwent various adjustments with the change of the times and situations, with the expansion of the Association, with the refining of methods.

Apart from some change in 1867 and 1917 regarding the monthly Bulletin, a re-elaboration, almost radical was made in 1925, with the introduction of the new Code of Canon Law. A second revision was made in 1968 after the advent of the Council, to draw on the richness and newness of the Council itself and to amalgamate the inclinations and the innovative tensions of the post-conciliar period.

A final, radical revision of the Statutes was made in 1994 and provisionally approved October 18, 1995 by the Sacred Congregation for the clergy.  This revision was definitively approved April 9, 1998. Then again some modifications were suggested and it was approved on February 26, 2008.

The single, national Federations, according to the Statutes, must formulate their own Directory based on and with the practical application of the general Statutes. This Directory, once approved by the international Council assumes juridical value in the respective nations on par with the general Statutes.

The Present Prospective

The Statutes were approved ad triennium October 18, 1995, the feast of St. Luke the evangelist and definitively on Holy Thursday, April 9, 1998.  The approval on the part of the Congregation for the Clergy asked for reflection and supplementary corrections.  The AUC never felt so young as during the elaboration and after the approval of these Statutes. During the Assembly we felt that we had to be reborn or die...We were reborn.

In fact, while remaining faithful to the origins, the Statutes contain substantial innovations in the prospectives and in the content. it has passed from an association whose members help one another to grow in friendship, in the spiritual and pastoral life without leaving the environs of one's own group or diocese, to an association whose members help one another to grow in order to make grow in quality and number the diocesan clergy in every diocese. If the universal church breathes with the lungs of each particular church, it is still true that each particular church cannot see except with the eyes and on the horizon of the universal church.

The Statutes presuppose a unitarian vision of the three ordained ministries and they have assumed a dimension missionary, ecumenical, vocational. They are projected to the Third Millenium.

The Novelty of the Contents: we form an association that does not have its own spirituality, or ends, or means but assumes those proposed by each diocese for its clergy, but putting into them a particular passion. The AUC charism is all in this animating passion and is only in the way to be and to live of ordained diocesan ministers.

The first novelty comes from the reconsideration of the word clergy. Not only priests but also bishops and deacons (transient or permanent) are part of the clergy (Cf. CCL, can. 266); and all three each in his grade, are pastors, configured to Christ the head (CCL, can. 1008-1009). The apostolic Union of clergy had therefore to enlarge itself officially to include bishops and deacons.

Deacons seem to be a troubling element in the formulation of a sacerdotal spirituality, especially if they are married.

The International Assembly has decided to enlarge itself to bishops and deacons for juridical and theological coherence, although foreseeing some confusion on the part of elderly unionists. They are in the habit of seeing the priest-bishop as sacerdos, with a sacrality perfected in the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Cross and sealed by the gift of celibacy and the deacon as servant of the ministerial and common priesthood.

This comports a courageous reflection on the part of Unionists on unity, on specificity, on spheres, on pericoresi of the three ordained ministries and on the clarification (or where lacking, the invention) of words to express them. In fact, a plurisecular sacerdotalizing mentality has led to the coinciding of the episcopate and then the presbyterate with sacerdocy and to have (in some languages) a single word to express presbiterate and sacerdocy. They do not coincide.

We want to develop the habit of speaking about presbyters and presbiteral spirituality, reserving (or introducing) the terms priesthood and priest, to define the priestly existence of Christ and of the people of God or the cultic service in the Old Testament and in the non-Christian religions.

Also in the international Symposium for the 30th anniversary of the conciliar decree Presbyterorum ordinis (October 1995), the participants insisted on the reappropriation of a terminology and the reformulation of a theology which help to distinguish the priestly, prophetic and royal spirituality of every christian (who is truly another-Christ) from that specific to the ordained ministry diaconal, presbiteral and episcopal.

Here the testimony of the Unionists can become prophecy.

The second novelty lies in living with radicality the service of ecclesial communion. It is the service that qualifies the Sacrament of Holy Orders united to the sacrament of Matrimony (Cfr. Catechism of the Catholic Church, P. II, Sec. Ii, Chap. III, Art. 6). It is a service by its nature ecumenical and missionary.

The unionists, while they strengthen themselves in the fraternity, render themselves available for every undertaking for the unity of ordained ministers from all of christianity, beyond confessional divisions and for the qualitative and numeric growth of diocesan clergy, beyond the confines of their own dioceses (See priests Fidei-donum). Putting oneself at the disposition of one's own bishop for extra-diocesan service, the unionist intends to share the responsibility with all his confreres in the overcoming of all barriers caused by historic, geographic, ritual, sacramental and personal differences. Every separation must reduce itself to a distinction and every distinction must become a difference that enriches and does not expropriate.

The third novelty consists in the linking of two components that merge in the formation of diocesan ordained ministers, that is the grace of the sacrament of Holy Orders as it stands and the spirituality, as it stands, of the dioceses in which one is incardinated. The journey of sanctification of the deacon, the priest, the bishop cannot leave out of consideration the global journey of sanctification that the Holy Spirit goes on maturing in their dioceses which will actuate itself through the daily exercise of their ministry. And their ministry will principally consist in creating synthesis among the diverse spiritual journeys there present. They will then harmonize them with those of the whole church. In this way they will revive the trinitarian communion within their diocesan community, through his same manner of being church and of proposing the gospel. Only then will they live the diocesan spirituality (See St. n. 6)

The fourth novelty rests in the organization no longer in pyramidal form, from the Association matrix to peripheral groups, but in the "communion" dimension of the diocesan Unions of every continent in a confederation DI VERTICE. We have followed the "communion" model that defines the universal Church as the communion of particular Churches. The true protagonists of AUC are the diocesan groups who form the international confederation and who can in their turn federate themselves at the national level (See St. nn. 33-34).

There are two other innovative orientations in the concrete form in which they are proposed:

the contemplative orientation, that is the capacity to remain at length, in as much as we are Pastors, under the action of the Spirit to understand through the assimilation of the Sacred Scripture offered every day by the Liturgy, how to be shepherds of our own communities. The world must see that they have become one body in Christ. The Unionists of some nations have proposed for themselves an hour of contemplation every day.

the "communion" orientation, that is the will to be always more one for others through the experience of cenacles. To gather in "cenacle" is to seek occasions of coming together (once a month or more), of cohabitation (priests together or also with deacons or with bishops) and of pastoral co-responsibility (even having parish services in common) so that friendship not be only a response to a need but the choice of the way of life of Christ with the Apostles.

The Unionist is he who lives the communion and for the communion, starting from his diocesan Community, however heterogeneous and without a spiritual line it may seem.  For this he is disposed to stake time, role, success... and life itself. He disappears within his presbitery like any ordained minister so that every confrere appear in the light and with the capacity to illumine asked by the Spirit. If there is a humble pretext, it consists in committing oneself with additional enthusiasm, inventiveness and coherence to requalify in other parameters the ordained ministry and to review the characterizing elements of diocesan spirituality.

The Assembly of 1997, 2004, 2007 and 2012 had the task to review the Spirit of AUC and is noticing a growing co-involvement of diocesan ordained ministers and laity desirous to share, with the same passion as Unionists, the journey in the Spirit of their respective dioceses and the qualitative and numeric growth of diocesan clergy. The Assembly, though not making specific decisions, declared itself open to the possibility that these laity can mature an Association parallel to AUC. This could be a sign of the times and a gift of the Spirit; an ulterior injection of youthfulness for the AUC and a significant co-involvement of the People of God in the problems today most urgent for a new evangelization.

The Spirit is pushing us with force to new horizons; He interrogates us on our contemplative and operative availability until these realities flourish and eventually merge in a single, great current which even now we dare to call: Jesus Pastor.

The Act of Adhesion

For the definitive aggregation of a member to a diocesan group, after a period of preparation and experience, a specific formula is read and signed by the interested party which is then conserved in the Archives of diocesan Direction, with copies in the Archives of international and national Direction.

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The Levels of Animation

At the base of formation and animation of groups there is the diocesan apostolic Union.

The diocesan groups become Unions and are part of the international Confederation directly when they have been approved by the respective Bishop and aggregated to the Confederation by the international President, that is if there does not already exist in their nation the national Federation the Apostolic Union of Clergy. In this case the aggregation of new diocesan groups to the international takes place through the national Federation.

The diocesan groups of the same nation constitute themselves in national federations, when they are more than two and can count on at least 15 members.

There are then three aggregative levels: diocesan, national, international with respective managing organs, all of them elective even if with diverse modalities according to the nations for that which regards the first two.

In the latest Statues the general Assembly decided that all the offices end their terms every Five years and can be reconfirmed for another mandate. Beyond this, one cannot be re-elected.

Self-financing

The AUC acquires only that which is necessary to fulfill the ends of solidarity with its poorest groups and animation for which it exists, always on the basis of the donations and gifts that it receives, without capitalization of any kind. The Association has lived more by Divine Providence than by social foresight. Though living day to day the Apostolic Union does not know debts or indebtedness.

Those who are elected, as with the rest of the members must anyway offer their services absolutely free of charge, the Association being an entity that does not operate for the sake of gain and which spends what it receives immediately in works of assistance and charity without any capitalization and remunerative activity.

Each member, other than giving himself gratuitously must frequently give over what is his without any reimbursement.

The General Directors or International Presidents

It is sufficient to list the names.

They say continuity and renovation, dynamism and the renewal of those initiatives which can respond to the moments of individual and group maturation as they occur for the diocesan ordained minister.

They are:

  • Victor Lebeurier (1862 - 1919)
  • Luis Lamerand (1919 - 1936)
  • Joseph Compere (1936 - 1946)
  • Simon Delacriox (1946 - 1968)
  • Luigi Piovesana (1968 - 1970)
  • Juan Esquerda Bifet (1970 - 1982)
  • Joseph Madec (1982 - 1991)
  • Guiseppe Magrin (1991 - 2004)
  • Julio Botia (2004 - 2012)
  • Giuseppe Magrin (2012 - ...)

Through them, their choices and their mode of conducting the AUC one can understand the motivations for the changes made in the concepts, organization and animation of the Association.

The Support of the Official Church

Other than the approval of the various Statutes, the latest of which was February 26, 2008, the Apostolic Union has obtained the official support of Popes, from Pius IX, to Leo XIII, to St. Pius X who was a member. "Even we were a disciple of this institution: We experienced the utility and the goodness and we continued to benefit from its spiritual advantages after our elevation to episcopal dignity...We continue to address to it our particular benevolence." All of them issued Brevi Pontifici. Paul VI then gave particular attention with a most appropriate document. Pope Benedict XVI himself testifies that he was a member of AUC while he was in Munchen as the Archbishop.

Conclusion

The International Confederation Apostolic Union of Diocesan Clergy, has acquired many merits in helping catholic diocesan clergy and at times also non-catholic to be faithful to its formative, pastoral and social service.

It is an Association which makes of voluntary, gratuitous service, and of its passion for the diocesan ordained ministry, its fundamental distinguishing mark, and human, spiritual and pastoral solidarity its principle note.