Canon Law

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Religious Life Overview


  • Read: LG 42- with commentary. evolution of terminology on religious life. Also PC
  • VCII dealt with the problem of where religious life exists in the church. Hierarchy and non-hierarchy but then religious people. Relationship between hierarchy, laity and religious - organization and relationships.

Institutes of Consecrated Life Institute is something that doesn't grow in nature but is established by people - an artificial entity. Consecration happens during mass - consecration of life is an act of devotion - offer / give life to God who consecrates. But all people, even hierarchy are consecrated. Consecration is through the evangelical counsels. Institutes shelter group of the faithful deepen their consecration to God by committing to new obligations of the evangelical counsels. They actualize in a certain way the baptismal consecration. Profession is often during Eucharist.

Evangelical Counsel At the beginning of religious life (consecrated life started with VCII as a generic term). People just started a spiritual adventure - not a clarity of vows and counsels. Franciscans and Dominicans arrived at three evangelical counsels - celibacy, poverty, obedience.

Religious Institutes Most orders founded before 1215 - IV Lateran which forbade founding of new religious institutes. They thought that anyone with a vocation founded a new order and preferred that people join the existing ones. Beginnings are interesting - it is full of life and things really happen. Founders want to be recognized, and they get into trouble. (Not in the US context.) Founders bring new life, and keeps the system healthy. After 1215, when something new started, they needed approbation - as consessions, up till trent. Orders have solemn vows - can't possess goods. Justinian recognized this, but most civil societies today don't. In the old code solemn vows were impediment to marriage (simple vows just made it illicit), now all public perpetual vows of chastity are an impediment. After IV Lateran, they had to deal with facts: many women were ready to lead spiritual / quasi-religious life, but weren't prepared for enclosure. They also wanted to do works of charity - some became third orders. 1566, after Trent it was stipulated that all religious women had to be veiled and enclosed (Pericoloso 1298???). But shortly after there was an enormous growth of apostolic orders. Religious but not being religious. Many 'solutions' to the 'problem'. From 1900 the term congregations began to be used for these 'quasi' religious people - simple vows: poverty and chastity - could own, could marry (but didn't). Couldn't leave an order. Law in an analogous sense - for a club of volunteers.

Canon 1191ff. Vows are juridic act and a religious act. Public vows are declared so, not factually public. Proper law may make a distinction between solemn and simple vows. Can be for a definite period or for life.

Secular Institutes Canon 712 vows, but no community. Canons all refer to RL.

Other Institutes In annuario p. 1748. Existing only from 1996 after the synod on Consecrated Life. Societe Christ Signeur - obra de la iglesia - have many branches - priest, lay male and lay female. New forms of religious life. Stable way of life and profess evangelical through vows or otherwise. They may be 'mixed' clerical and lay - in various branches.

Societies of Apostolic Life Perhaps it is too much to say that the church is hostile to religious life, but in trying to organize, that creates difficulty. Regulation of religious life was so strict that they felt not called to take on all those obligations - so the organized differently. They accept some elements of religious life. The canons here too refer back to RL.

Major developments in Consecrated Life; socio-cultural events

  • Early Christians: hermits, virgins, widows
  • 200-500 Persecutions;
  • Monasticism 500-1200 Pachomius, Anthony, Benedict; Middle ages, loss of civilization;
  • Mendicants 1200-1500 Franciscans, Enlightenment;
  • Societies of Apostolic life: 1600 social services;
  • Apostolic Orders - 1500-1800 OSU, SJ, CSJ, CSSR, Trent imposes cloister;
  • Teaching Cong - 1800 - present RSM, Salesian.
  • 1901 non-cloistered are accepted as real religious

Societies of Apostolic Life 400 - Common life and apostolate, but vows aren’t an essential elements.

Father of Monasticism General: Anthony, West: Benedict, East: Basil

Major criticisms of 1977 draft typology of religious communities - resulted in leveling of types. Secular Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life didn’t see their life in the rules.

Principles of coetus

  • Spiritual and juridic elements joined.
  • Clarity of rights/obligations expressed, respecting the dignity of the person.
  • No leveling: preserve the unique charisms, patrimony of the institutes
  • Constitutive laws clearly indicated, flexibility for disciplinary norms
  • Representation and participation in internal govt
  • Equality between institutes of men and women

Pontifical v. diocesan?

  • Can. 589 An institute of consecrated life is of pontifical right if it has been established by the Apostolic See, or approved by it by means of a formal decree. An institute is of diocesan right if it has been established by the diocesan Bishop and has not obtained a decree of approval from the Apostolic See.
  • Can. 593 In their internal governance and discipline, institutes of pontifical right are subject directly and exclusively to the authority of the Apostolic See, without prejudice to can. 586.
  • Can. 594 An institute of diocesan right remains under the special care of the diocesan Bishop, without prejudice to can. 586.
  • Can. 595 §1 It is the Bishop of the principal house who approves the constitutions, and confirms any changes lawfully introduced into them, except for those matters which the Apostolic See has taken in hand. He also deals with major affairs which exceed the power of the internal authority of the institute. If the institute had spread to other dioceses, he is in all these matters to consult with the other diocesan Bishops concerned.
  • §2 The diocesan Bishop can grant a dispensation from the constitutions in particular cases.

Two sections of Book 2 Part 3

  • Consecrated Life / Societies of Apostolic LIfe
  • Can. 607 §2 A religious institute is a society in which, in accordance with their own law, the members pronounce public vows and live a fraternal life in common. The vows are either perpetual or temporary; if the latter, they are to be renewed when the time elapses.
  • Can. 710 A secular institute is an institute of consecrated life in which Christ's faithful, living in the world, strive for the perfection of charity and endeavor to contribute to the sanctification of the world, especially from within.
  • Can. 711 Without prejudice to the provisions of the law concerning institutes of consecrated life, consecration as a member of a secular institute does not change the member's canonical status among the people of God, be it lay or clerical.
  • Can. 712 Without prejudice to the provisions of can. 598–601, the constitutions are to establish the sacred bonds by which the evangelical counsels are undertaken in the institute. They are to define the obligations which these bonds entail, while always preserving in the manner of life the secular character proper to the institute.
  • Can. 731 §1 Societies of apostolic life resemble institutes of consecrated life. Their members, without taking religious vows, pursue the apostolic purpose proper to each society. Living a fraternal life in common in their own special manner, they strive for the perfection of charity through the observance of the constitutions.
  • §2 Among these societies are some in which the members, through a bond defined in the constitutions, undertake to live the evangelical counsels.

Who can be admitted to Consecrated Life?

  • Can. 597 §1 Every catholic with a right intention and the qualities required by universal law and the institute's own law, and who is without impediment, may be admitted to an institute of consecrated life.
  • §2 No one may be admitted without suitable preparation.

Essential elements for constitutions?

  • Can. 578 The whole patrimony of an institute must be faithfully preserved by all. This patrimony is comprised of the intentions of the founders, of all that the competent ecclesiastical authority has approved concerning the nature, purpose, spirit and character of the institute, and of its sound traditions.
  • Can. 587 §1 To protect more faithfully the vocation and identity of each institute, the fundamental code or constitutions of the institute are to contain, in addition to those elements which are to be preserved in accordance with can. 578, basic norms about the governance of the institute, the discipline of the members, the admission and formation of members, and the proper object of their sacred bonds.

Ecclesiastical authority erects institute, approves new form

  • Can. 579 Provided the Apostolic See has been consulted, diocesan Bishops can, by formal decree, establish institutes of consecrated life in their own territories.
  • Can. 605 The approval of new forms of consecrated life is reserved to the Apostolic See. Diocesan Bishops, however, are to endeavor to discern new gifts of consecrated life which the Holy Spirit entrusts to the Church. They are also to assist promoters to express their purposes in the best possible way, and to protect these purposes with suitable statutes, especially by the application of the general norms contained in this part of the Code.

describe religious community Can. 608 A religious community is to live in a lawfully constituted house, under the authority of a Superior designated according to the norms of law. Each house is to have at least an oratory, in which the Eucharist is celebrated and reserved, so that it may truly be the center of the community.

canonical erection house

  • Can. 609
  • §1 A house of a religious institute is established, with the prior written consent of the diocesan Bishop, by the authority competent according to the constitutions.
  • §2 For the establishment of a monastery of cloistered nuns, the permission of the Apostolic See is also required.
  • Can. 610
  • §1 In establishing religious houses, the welfare of the Church and of the institute are to be kept in mind, and care must be taken to safeguard everything that is necessary for the members to lead their religious life in accordance with the purposes and spirit proper to the institute.
  • §2 No house is to be established unless it is prudently foreseen that the needs of the members can be suitably provided for.

rights assured on bishops consent to erect Can. 611 The consent of the diocesan Bishop for the establishment of a religious house carries with it the right:

  1. 1° to lead a life according to the character and purposes proper to the institute;
  2. 2° to engage in the works which are proper to the institute, in accordance with the law, and subject to any conditions attached to the consent;
  3. 3° for clerical religious institutes to have a church, subject to the provisions of can. 1215 §3, and to conduct the sacred ministries, with due observance of the law.

Who can suppress a house? the only house? - Can. 616

  • §1 After consultation with the diocesan Bishop, a supreme Moderator can suppress a lawfully established religious house, in accordance with the constitutions. The institute's own law is to make provision for the disposal of the goods of the suppressed house, with due regard for the wishes of founders or benefactors and for lawfully acquired rights.
  • §2 The Holy See alone can suppress the sole house of an institute, in which case it is also reserved to the Holy See to prescribe concerning the property of the house.
  • §3 Unless the constitutions enact otherwise, the suppression of the autonomous houses mentioned in can. 613 belongs to the general chapter.
  • §4 The suppression of an autonomous monastery of cloistered nuns pertains to the Apostolic See; the provisions of the constitutions are to be observed concerning the property of the monastery.

who are major superiors? Can. 620 Major Superiors are those who govern an entire institute, or a province or a part equivalent to a province, or an autonomous house; the vicars of the above are also major Superiors. To these are added the Abbot Primate and the Superior of a monastic congregation, though these do not have all the authority which the universal law gives to major Superiors.

Required of members to appoint or elect validly? Can. 623 To be validly appointed or elected to the office of Superior, members must have been perpetually or definitively professed for an appropriate period of time, to be determined by their own law or, for major Superiors, by the constitutions.

If no other provision, what is advise / consent? Can. 627

  • §1 Superiors are to have their own council, in accordance with the constitutions, and they must make use of it in the exercise of their office.
  • §2 Apart from the cases prescribed in the universal law, an institute's own law is to determine the cases in which the validity of an act depends upon consent or advice being sought in accordance with can. 127.
  • Can. 127 §1 When the law prescribes that, in order to perform a juridical act, a Superior requires the consent or the advice of some college or group of persons, the college or group must be convened in accordance with can. 166, unless, if there is question of seeking advice only, particular or proper law provides otherwise. For the validity of the act, it is required that the consent be obtained of an absolute majority of those present, or that the advice of all be sought.

What is General Chapter? some of its functions - Can. 631? §1 In an institute the general chapter has supreme authority in accordance with the constitutions. It is to be composed in such a way that it represents the whole institute and becomes a true sign of its unity in charity. Its principal functions are to protect the patrimony of the institute mentioned in can. 578 and to foster appropriate renewal in accord with that patrimony. It also elects the supreme Moderator, deals with matters of greater importance, and issues norms which all are bound to obey.

Why are temp goods subject to book V - Can. 635? §1 Since the temporal goods of religious institutes are ecclesiastical goods, they are governed by the provisions of Book V on 'The Temporal Goods of the Church', unless there is express provision to the contrary.

How are religious institutes to use temporal goods

  • Can. 634 §2 They are, however, to avoid all appearance of luxury, excessive gain and the accumulation of goods.
  • Can. 635 §2 Each institute, however, is to establish suitable norms for the use and administration of goods, so that the poverty proper to the institute may be fostered, defended and expressed.
  • Can. 640 Taking into account the circumstances of the individual places, institutes are to make a special effort to give, as it were, a collective testimony of charity and poverty. They are to do all in their power to donate something from their own resources to help the needs of the Church and the support of the poor.

Describe Finance Officer and responsibilities - Can. 636

  • §1 In each institute, and in each province ruled by a major Superior, there is to be a financial administrator, distinct from the major Superior and constituted in accordance with the institute's own law. The financial administrator is to administer the goods under the direction of the respective Superior. Even in local communities a financial administrator, distinct from the local Superior, is in so far as possible to be constituted.
  • §2 At the time and in the manner determined in the institute's own law the financial administrator and others with financial responsibilities are to render an account of their administration to the competent authority.

What is alienation? Requirements? Can. 638 §3 For the validity of alienation, and of any transaction by which the patrimonial condition of the juridical person could be adversely affected there is required the written permission of the competent Superior, given with the consent of his or her council. Moreover, the permission of the Holy See is required if the transaction involves a sum exceeding that which the Holy See has determined for each region, or if it concerns things donated to the Church as a result of a vow, or objects which are precious by reason of their artistic or historical value.

3 invalidating impediments to novitiate - Can. 643

  1. The following are invalidly admitted to the novitiate:
    1. One who has not yet completed the seventeenth year of age;
    2. a spouse, while the marriage lasts;
    3. one who is currently bound by a sacred bond to some institute of consecrated life, or is incorporated in some society of apostolic life, without prejudice to can. 684;
    4. one who enters the institute through force, fear or deceit, or whom the Superior accepts under the same influences;
    5. one who has concealed his or her incorporation in an institute of consecrated life or society of apostolic life.
  2. An institute's own law can constitute other impediments even for the validity of admission, or attach other conditions.

validity of novitiate: time and place

  • Can. 647 §2 To be valid, a novitiate must take place in a house which is duly designated for this purpose. In particular cases and by way of exception and with the permission of the supreme Moderator given with the consent of the council, a candidate can make the novitiate in another house of the institute, under the direction of an approved religious who takes the place of the director of novices.
  • §3 A major Superior can allow a group of novices to reside, for a certain period of time, in another specified house of the institute.
  • Can. 648 §1 For validity, the novitiate must comprise twelve months spent in the novitiate community, without prejudice to the provision of can. 647 §3.
  • §2 To complete the formation of the novices, the constitutions can prescribe, in addition to the time mentioned in §1, one or more periods of apostolic activity, to be performed outside the novitiate community.
  • §3 The novitiate is not to be extended beyond two years.

required for validity of perpetual profession

  • Can. 656 The validity of temporary profession requires:
    • 1° that the person making it has completed at least the eighteenth year of age;
    • 2° that the novitiate has been made validly;
    • 3° that admission has been granted, freely and in accordance with the norms of law, by the competent Superior, after a vote of his or her council;
    • 4° that the profession be explicit and made without force, fear or deceit;
    • 5° that the profession be received by the lawful Superior, personally or through another.
  • §3 Perpetual profession can for a just reason be anticipated, but not by more than three months.
  • Can. 658 Besides the conditions mentioned in can. 656, nn. 3, 4 and 5, and others attached by the institute's own law, the validity of perpetual profession requires:
    • 1° that the person has completed at least the twenty-first year of age;
    • 2° that there has been previous temporary profession for at least three years, without prejudice to the provision of can. 657 §3.

3 components (effects) of religious profession Can. 654 By religious profession members make a public vow to observe the three evangelical counsels. Through the ministry of the Church they are consecrated to God, and are incorporated into the institute, with the rights and duties defined by law.

extension of temp / novitiate

  • Can. 653 §2 On the completion of the novitiate, a novice, if judged suitable, is to be admitted to temporary profession; otherwise the novice is to be dismissed. If a doubt exists concerning suitability, the time of probation may be prolonged by the major Superior, in accordance with the institute's own law, but for a period not exceeding six months.
  • Can. 657 §2 If it seems opportune, the period of temporary profession can be extended by the competent Superior in accordance with the institute's own law. The total time during which the member is bound by temporary vows may not, however, extend beyond nine years.

common life norms Can. 665 §1 Religious are to reside in their own religious house and observe the common life; they are not to stay elsewhere except with the permission of the Superior. For a lengthy absence from the religious house, the major Superior, for a just reason and with the consent of the council, can authorize a member to live outside a house of the institute; such an absence is not to exceed one year, unless it be for reasons of health, studies or an apostolate to be exercised in the name of the institute.

Act of Cession? 1 Act of Renunciation? Obligations of inst / religious? 3

  • Can. 668 §1 Before their first profession, members are to cede the administration of their goods to whomsoever they wish and, unless the constitutions provide otherwise, they are freely to make dispositions concerning the use and enjoyment of these goods. At least before perpetual profession, they are to make a will which is valid also in civil law.
  • §2 To change these dispositions for a just reason, and to take any action concerning temporal goods, there is required the permission of the Superior who is competent in accordance with the institute's own law.
  • §3 Whatever a religious acquires by personal labour, or on behalf of the institute, belongs to the institute. Whatever comes to a religious in any way through pension, grant or insurance also passes to the institute, unless the institute's own law decrees otherwise.
  • §4 When the nature of an institute requires members to renounce their goods totally, this renunciation is to be made before perpetual profession and, as far as possible, in a form that is valid also in civil law; it shall come into effect from the day of profession. The same procedure is to be followed by a perpetually professed religious who, in accordance with the norms of the institute's own law and with the permission of the supreme Moderator, wishes to renounce goods, in whole or in part.
  • §5 Professed religious who, because of the nature of their institute, totally renounce their goods, lose the capacity to acquire and possess goods; actions of theirs contrary to the vow of poverty are therefore invalid. Whatever they acquire after renunciation belongs to the institute, in accordance with the institute's own law.
  • Can. 670 The institute must supply the members with everything that, in accordance with the constitutions, is necessary to fulfill the purpose of their vocation.

primary apostolate - Can. 673 The apostolate of all religious consists primarily in the witness of their consecrated life, which they are bound to foster through prayer and penance.

how apostolic action exercised - Can. 675 §3 Apostolic action exercised in the name of the Church and by its command is to be performed in communion with the Church.

works proper / works entrusted

  • Can. 677 §1 Superiors and members are faithfully to hold fast to the mission and works which are proper to their institute. According to the needs of time and place, however, they are prudently to adapt them, making use of new and appropriate means.
  • Can. 681 §1 Works which the diocesan Bishop entrusts to religious are under the authority and direction of the Bishop, without prejudice to the rights of religious Superiors in accordance with can. 678 §§2 and 3.
  • §2 In these cases a written agreement is to be made between the diocesan Bishop and the competent Superior of the institute. This agreement must expressly and accurately define, among other things, the work to be done, the members to be assigned to it and the financial arrangements.

conferal of ecclesiastical office-Can. 682

  • §1 If an ecclesiastical office in a diocese is to be conferred on a member of a religious institute, the religious is appointed by the diocesan Bishop on presentation by, or at least with the consent of, the competent Superior.
  • §2 The religious can be removed from the office at the discretion of the authority who made the appointment, with prior notice being given to the religious Superior; or by the religious Superior, with prior notice being given to the appointing authority. Neither requires the other's consent.

rights of diocesan bishop for pastoral visitation - Can. 683

  • §1 Either personally or through a delegate, the diocesan Bishop can visit churches or oratories to which Christ's faithful have habitual access, schools other than those open only to the institute's own members, and other works of religion and charity entrusted to religious, whether these works be spiritual or temporal. He can do this at the time of pastoral visitation, or in a case of necessity.
  • §2 If the diocesan Bishop becomes aware of abuses, and a warning to the religious Superior having been in vain, he can by his own authority deal with the matter.

Transfer - Can. 684

  • §1 Perpetually professed members cannot transfer from their own religious institute to another, except by permission of the supreme Moderators of both institutes, given with the consent of their respective councils.
  • §2 On completion of a probationary period of at least three years, the member can be admitted to perpetual profession in the new institute. A member who refuses to make this profession, or is not admitted to do so by the competent Superiors, is to return to the original institute, unless an indult of secularization has been obtained.
  • §3 For a religious to transfer from one autonomous monastery to another monastery of the same institute, federation or confederation, the consent of the major Superior of both monasteries and of the chapter of the receiving monastery is required and is sufficient, unless the institute's own law has established further conditions. A new profession is not required.
  • §4 The institute's own law is to determine the time and manner of the probation which must precede the member's profession in the new institute.
  • §5 To transfer to a secular institute or to a society of apostolic life, or to transfer from these to a religious institute, the permission of the Holy See is required and its instructions are to be followed.
  • Can. 685 §1 Until profession is made in the new institute, the rights and obligations of the member in the previous institute are suspended, but the vows remain. From the beginning of probation, the member is bound to observe the laws of the new institute.
  • §2 By profession in the new institute the member is incorporated into it, and the earlier vows, rights and obligations cease.

exclaustration effects - Can. 687 Members who are exclaustrated are considered as dispensed from those obligations which are incompatible with their new condition of life. They remain dependent on and under the care of their Superiors and, particularly in the case of a cleric, of the local Ordinary. They may wear the religious habit, unless the indult specifies otherwise, but they lack active and passive voice.

departure procedure

  • Can. 691 §1 A perpetually professed religious is not to seek an indult to leave the institute, except for very grave reasons, weighed before the Lord. The petition is to be presented to the supreme Moderator of the institute, who will forward it to the competent authority with his or her own opinion and that of the council.
  • §2 In institutes of pontifical right this indult is reserved to the Apostolic See. In institutes of diocesan right the indult can be granted by the Bishop in whose diocese is located the house to which the religious is assigned.
  • Can. 692 An indult to leave the institute, which is lawfully granted and notified to the member, by virtue of the law itself carries with it, unless it has been rejected by the member in the act of notification, a dispensation from the vows and from all obligations arising from profession.
  • Can. 693 If the member is a cleric, the indult is not granted until he has found a Bishop who will incardinate him in his diocese or at least receive him there on probation. If he is received on probation, he is by virtue of the law itself incardinated in the diocese after five years, unless the Bishop has rejected him.

Three kinds of dismissal

  • Can. 694 §1 A member is to be considered automatically dismissed if he or she:
    • 1° has notoriously defected from the catholic faith;
    • 2° has contracted marriage or attempted to do so, even civilly.
  • §2 In these cases the major Superior with his or her council must, after collecting the evidence, without delay make a declaration of the fact, so that the dismissal is juridically established.
  • Can. 695 §1 A member must be dismissed for the offenses mentioned in cann. 1397, 1398 and 1395, unless, for the offenses mentioned in can. 1395 §2, the Superior judges that dismissal is not absolutely necessary; and that sufficient provision can be made in some other way for the amendment of the member, the restoration of justice and the reparation of scandal.
  • §2 In these cases the major Superior is to collect the evidence concerning the facts and the imputability of the offense. The accusation and the evidence are then to be presented to the member, who shall be given the opportunity for defense. All the acts, signed by the major Superior and the notary, are to be forwarded, together with the written and signed replies of the member, to the supreme Moderator.
  • Can. 696 §1 A member can be dismissed for other causes, provided they are grave, external, imputable and juridically proven. Among such causes are: habitual neglect of the obligations of consecrated life; repeated violations of the sacred bonds; obstinate disobedience to the lawful orders of Superiors in grave matters; grave scandal arising from the culpable behavior of the member; obstinate attachment to, or diffusion of, teachings condemned by the magisterium of the Church; public adherence to materialistic or atheistic ideologies; the unlawful absence mentioned in can. 665 §2, if it extends for a period of six months; other reasons of similar gravity which are perhaps defined in the institute's own law.
  • §2 A member in temporary vows can be dismissed even for less grave reasons determined in the institute's own law.

canonical warning: elements Can. 697 §1 2° the major Superior is to warn the member in writing, or before two witnesses, with an explicit caution that dismissal will follow unless the member reforms. The reasons for dismissal are to be clearly expressed and the member is to be given every opportunity for defense. If the warning has no effect, another warning is to be given after an interval of at least fifteen days;

required before decree of dismissal issued by sup mod takes effect?

  • Can. 699 §1 The supreme Moderator and his or her council are to proceed in collegial fashion in accurately weighing the evidence, the arguments, and the defense. For validity, the council must comprise at least four members. If by a secret vote it is decided to dismiss the religious, a decree of dismissal is to be drawn up, which for validity must express at least in summary form the reasons in law and in fact.
  • §2 In the autonomous monasteries mentioned in can. 615, the judgment about dismissal belongs to the diocesan Bishop. The Superior is to submit the acts to him after they have been reviewed by the council.
  • Can. 700 The decree of dismissal has no effect unless it is confirmed by the Holy See, to whom the decree and all the acts are to be forwarded. If the matter concerns an institute of diocesan right, the confirmation belongs to the Bishop in whose diocese is located the house to which the religious belongs. For validity the decree must indicate the right of the person dismissed to have recourse to the competent authority within ten days of receiving notification of the decree. The recourse has a suspensive effect.
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