Lay friars and clericalism

The percentage of lay friars who leave the Order is on average higher than that of the friar priests who leave.

This figure requires interpretation. We might speculate that it indicates an unease linked to a crisis of identity, which can be greater in the case of lay friars because it is not supported by priestly ministry which seems to be a fundamental aspect for many friars.  We can add to this the fact that in the sociological survey [Prof. Mion, 2013] the issue of clericalism in formation emerges; “1 friar in 4 highlights an accentuated clericalism in his formation and mission (25.4%).”

By clericalism we mean a perspective that sees the priest friar as the norm (or default) of the Franciscan identity and that, consequently, thinks of Initial Formation in terms of preparation for the priesthood on a par with (and perhaps more important than) preparation for perpetual Profession. Within this perspective, it is normal to ask a young friar to justify his choice of asking not to become a priest — the path to the priesthood seems to be “taken for granted” or “normal”. A sign of this clericalism lies in the fact that Initial Formation programmes expressly designed for lay friars are rarely to be seen, while the route of philosophical and theological studies, based on that of diocesan seminaries, seems to be the “normal” model. Perhaps then we should not be too surprised that, some years later, many leave the Order to become diocesan priests. In some cases (without generalising) perhaps it is ultimately the right choice, which might not have been possible at the beginning, but that in a clerical Formation was insufficiently challenged.

The slow but persistent decrease in lay vocations should also be noted. From 2003 to 2017, the percentage of Solemnly Professed lay friars dropped from 16.9 % to 16%. This decrease might also be interpreted as a sign that these friars are not always easily inserted into the Province — a kind of specific identity crisis of the lay friar within our fraternities, due to an “imbalance” towards a somewhat clerical identity. The slow and steady decline of lay friars in the Order is perhaps reflected in the fact that some of the countries that have strong growth in vocation numbers have very few candidates to be lay friars, because almost all of them aspire to the priesthood. This option may also reflect a desire for social advancement and poses the question of how clear the Franciscan identity is to young candidates. (F&P Document, pp.  29, 30)

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