Franciscan Perspective of Governance

Franciscan Perspective of Governance can expand Church leadership pool

On April 20, 2017, Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service published an article on the Franciscan idea of leadership after an interview with the Minister General, Br. Michael Anthony Perry, OFM and Villanova University Professor, Massimo Faggioli.  Below is an excerpt of the article.  For the full text in English, click here.


For St. Francis of Assisi, following Christ meant imitating his humility and forsaking riches, power and status; the men who call themselves Franciscans today believe they are called to embrace the same attitudes, including in their governance.

In early April, the ministers general of four men’s branches of the Franciscan family — the Friars Minor, Capuchins, Conventual Franciscans and the Third Order Regulars — asked Pope Francis to give the Franciscans the “privilege” of allowing religious brothers to be elected to leadership positions, including those with authority over ordained priests.

The word “privilege” means special permission for something not generally envisioned by church law. In canon law, governance in the church usually is tied to ordination.

The Franciscans’ request is about recovering the notion of fraternity and service St. Francis gave his first companions, said Father Michael Perry, minister general of the Friars Minor. But it also has implications for leadership, authority and governance in the wider church.

At its root, it raises the question: “Is leadership about organizing things in such a way that one has absolute control over everything? Or is leadership about empowering people so that there’s a synergy, a bringing together of all the strengths within a community?” Father Perry told Catholic News Service.

The core identity of ordained ministry is involved as well.

Because of its unique connection to the Eucharist, the ministerial priesthood has a special and irreplaceable role within the Catholic Church and within a Catholic religious community, Father Perry said. The Franciscans’ request “is not a question of challenging spiritual authority or the role of the shepherd; it’s actually about liberating the shepherd so that he can be focused on the sheep and not have to be worried about the gates and the fences”.

The Franciscan ideal for leadership is that it should invite and challenge the friars — brothers among themselves, whether ordained or not — “to ‘minority,’ to not going up, but going down,” Father Perry said. Minority is the opposite of clericalism, which is “a drive upwards as if upward mobility offered something, some security and guarantee of fidelity, a way of controlling people so they remain faithful to the truth. Franciscans, we don’t see it this way”.

From 1208 to 1209 when Pope Innocent III approved St. Francis’ initial rule for his order and up until 1239, Father Perry said, the Franciscans were allowed to elect brothers to leadership roles, including as minister general, and they did so.

Massimo Faggioli, a church historian and professor of theology at Villanova University, said that if Pope Francis grants the friars’ request, “it would signal to the whole church a shift in the sense of a de-clericalization of the religious orders and the return to the original inspiration of the founders: Francis was not a priest but a lay person, and the clericalization of the Franciscans came later”.