Leaders of the four major Franciscan branches 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.
According to Catholic World News (April 10, 2017) posting of a report by the Catholic News Service, 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 ordained as 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 report notes that at a Synod of Bishops on religious life in 1994 the issue was brought up and a special commission was set up in 1996 to study a proposal but the commission never produced an answer.
The CNS report further states, the rules governing eligibility for leadership in religious orders with a strong mix of brothers and priests – especially if those orders, like the Franciscans, were founded without distinction between lay and ordained – has been going on since the Second Vatican Council.
The council’s decree on religious life said, “Monasteries of men and communities which are not exclusively lay can, according to their nature and constitutions, admit clerics and lay persons on an equal footing and with equal rights and obligations, excepting those which flow from sacred orders.”
For the entire report, click here.