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Franciscans seek canonical change to allow a brother’s election to lead order

April 11, 2017

Franciscan leaders have asked Pope Francis to consider allowing a dispensation from the canon-law requirement that the head of a religious order must be an ordained priest.

At an April 10 meeting, the leaders of the four major Franciscan orders—the Friars Minor, Capuchins, Conventual Franciscans, and Third Order Franciscans—asked the Pontiff to consider whether a brother could be elected as superior of a Franciscan order. St. Francis himself was not ordainedas a priest, they observed. “With us, Pope Francis is looking at the possibilities for moving this project forward,” said Father Michael Perry, the minister general of the Friars Minor.

The Second Vatican Council estabished the rule that religious orders should have, as their top leaders, a priest. The Synod of Bishops in 1994 discussed the possibility of exceptions—with reference particularly to the Franciscans—and in 1996 Pope John Paul II established a commission to study the matter. However that commission never produced an answer to the question.

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  • Posted by: feedback - Apr. 11, 2017 10:42 AM ET USA

    It is a matter of Church hierarchy: whether non-ordained men can exercise ecclesiastical authority over ordained priests and deacons, and the Canon Law says that they cannot. St. Francis was ordained a deacon later in his life.