e-mail us
Dominicans choose Argentinean as master

NCR Staff

Delegates from 103 countries, gathered in Providence, R.I., for the General Chapter of the Dominican order, have elected their 87th master since the foundation of the order in 1215 by Spaniard St. Dominic Guzman.

Fr. Carlos Alfonso Aspiroz Costa, 44, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was elected July 14 by 127 delegates representing over 6,000 men in the Dominican order worldwide. He succeeds Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, whom he considers a friend. Radcliffe, a native of London, was the first English master of the Order of Preachers, as the order is officially known, and has served since 1992. Aspiroz Costa is only the second non-European leader to serve in the order’s 787 years of existence. The last non-European master of the order was Fr. Antoninus de Monroy from Mexico, who served from 1677 to 1686.

Aspiroz Costa will serve the order for a nine-year term.

Events at the chapter were followed closely by thousands of members and friends of the Dominican order on the special Web page. On election day, the site counted 5,300 hits. An hour after the election, the name and photo of the newly elected master were posted on the Internet, an event the Dominicans speculate may be a first in the history of religious communities.

Aspiroz Costa was born in Buenos Aires in 1956, the eighth of 14 children. He entered the Dominican novitiate in 1980, was ordained in 1987 and received his doctorate in canon law in 1992. He taught canon law in Argentina and also has served as procurator general of the order since 1997.

“Watching 126 of my brothers work together here to discern and agree upon direction for the order’s future shows me that the order is very much alive,” Aspiroz Costa told NCR. He said that his background in canon law will play a role in his leadership task, “because law is a means, a tool, not an end in itself. Laws are useful when we try to live together in community. They are ways to keep us from perpetuating injustices.”

The election of a Latin American as head of the order, in his view, shows that the order welcomes the contributions this part of the world and this part of the church can make and the wisdom born of “long struggles and an intimate knowledge of the peace of the gospels.” Latin peoples, he said, “can also model a simpler style of living and show us ways to move forward.”

The Order of Preachers will continue to preach, he said, and to be in dialogue with other world religions. “A belief and interest in promoting human rights are the common background we have with others, even with people who do not believe in God. When we go to new lands, we both sow the word of God there and discover the fruit of the seed that has already been sown, in the goodness, truth and beauty of others”

Radcliffe told NCR he was delighted that his friend had been selected. “Bear in mind,” he said, “the master does not rule the order but implements the decisions of the general chapters. So the continuity in leadership will continue because our leadership takes direction from the entire community.”

Aspiroz Costa’s “youthfulness, energy, dedication and love for the order will provide the kind of leadership that will continue to build upon the leadership of the previous master, Timothy Radcliffe,” Fr. Bryan Fontenot, prior of St. Anthony priory in New Orleans told NCR.

Dominican Fr. Tom Condon of Memphis, Tenn., said the election of Aspiroz Costa “reflects the growing importance of Latin America in the church” and, noting his age, said it also is “a sign that we have faith in the youth of the order.”

In a letter to the chapter, Pope John Paul II reminded delegates that one of the first tasks of the order after its founding was to preach the truth of Christ in response to the Albigensian heresy that was sweeping southern Europe at the time. The Albigensians denied the incarnation of Christ, believing that divinity had never stooped to traffic in human flesh. “Ours is an age which denies the incarnation also,” the pope wrote, “ … and the consequences of this denial are clear and disturbing. … God is removed from the processes that govern social, political and economic activity. … Creation itself is not loved and valued.” The pope said the church looks to the Order of Preachers “with no less hope and confidence than at the time of your founding.”

The delegates gathered in Providence will continue to reflect on the order’s current mission in the world and its future through Aug. 8. The chapter is being held at Providence College, the only college or university operated in the United States under the auspices of the Dominican friars.

National Catholic Reporter, July 27, 2001