Pope Francis Allows Unordained Lay Brothers to Lead Orders

(PresidentialHill.com)- The Vatican announced last week that religious orders may choose lay brothers to serve as provincial superiors or superior generals of the communities.

The exemption to canon law was allowed by Pope Francis in February, according to a rescript from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which regulates religious orders. The rescript does not grant permanent authorization for a brother to be elected as superior general. Those interested in the post must instead get a license from the governing organization. According to reports, the Vatican further stated that it reserved the right to analyze individual cases presented by the supreme moderator or the general chapter in appointing a brother.

Pope Francis made the decision five years after the request of the Franciscans.
The Franciscans comprise the Order of Friars Minor, Capuchins, Conventual Franciscans, and Third Order Regulars.

According to reports, Father Michael Perry, a former general minister of the Order of Friars Minor, informed Vatican Radio in 2017 that the pope was looking at the prospects for pushing this initiative ahead in terms of lay brothers being elected or selected for the roles. Perry said they left a letter as an official request for a dispensation from canon law restrictions. In addition, they discussed the significance of permitting lay friars to serve in different orders in a regular capacity.

Father Michael Perry explained to a Catholic publication that the authorization would allow the Franciscans to embody the order’s goal of leadership, which should challenge the friars, whether ordained or not, “to minority,’ to not moving up, but going down.” Minority is the polar opposite of clericalism, according to Father Perry. He states it is a push forward as if upward mobility gave something, some stability, and assurance of faithfulness, a method of regulating people to remain committed to the truth. The Franciscans don’t view things that way.

Father Perry pointed out that St. Francis of Assisi was never a priest. The friars were able to elect brothers to leadership posts, including minister general, throughout the first 30 years of the order’s existence.