Let Them Be Catholic: A Letter from Bro. Larry and Fr. Francis, May 23, 2010

May 23, 2010

Re: ‘Let them be Catholic’

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you His peace!

There has been something on our minds that we believe must be addressed for the sake of truth and the integrity of our Franciscan Family.  We have hesitated writing this letter because I believe that some will be offended and others, for the sake of friendships, will criticize and maybe even give ultimatums to their Fraternity or Regional councils.

One of the strong characteristics of the spirit of St. Francis himself, was his undisputed obedience and fidelity to the Roman Catholic Church and its legitimately elected Pontiffs.  St. Francis makes it quite clear, without equivocation, that his followers must be Catholic.

There are many Christians and non-Christians around the world who have a respect for and even devotion to St. Francis of Assisi, among these specifically are our Anglican and Lutheran sisters and brothers. The life and words of St. Francis of Assisi have touched their lives and encouraged many to follow his Rule of life in a more formal and segregated manner from the lay members of their churches. God undoubtedly blesses them and all who seek the truth and strive to live it.

Participation in the Secular Franciscan Order, as envisioned by its Founder our Seraphic Father and confirmed by the Roman Catholic Church and its Pontiff, professes to obey the Church and Holy Father in all things, impacts life in the spirit, flows from centuries of tradition and history, follows  specific organizational requisites, and encounters definite social and psychological consequences. Unless one is a baptized Catholic Christian in full communion with the Church of Rome, one cannot profess faithfulness to one way of life while believing in another form, thus creating inner tension or a spirit of indifference which inevitably will affect the lives and faith expression of others. Consequently, that person cannot be a professed member of the I, II, III Regular, and Secular Orders of the Franciscan Family within the Roman Catholic Church.  Each independent group is an autonomous Order within the Church.  They are not loosely knit social associations, but are bound by canonical legislation (i.e. Church Law) that guides the spirit and life of the group within the parameters of the same Roman Catholic Church.  Therefore, only baptized Catholics in union with Rome can be accepted into profession as Secular Franciscans after the established preparatory period of formation has been fulfilled.

These brief, and we hope clear and straightforward remarks, are in response to a number of questions and requests regarding the possibility of permitting those not in union with Rome or non-Christians who admire St. Francis of Assisi to be permitted to be admitted to the Secular Franciscans of the Roman Catholic Church.  The requisites for full and valid admission into any branch of the Franciscan Order do not depend on an arbitrary decision made by one individual or group (e.g. Regional, National, or even International Councils); admission, formation and ultimate formation is a matter of Church Law.  This is also the will of our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi that he conveyed and enforced numerous times in his writings and also in his actions.

With every best wish for all of you, we pray this letter may dispel some confusion regarding the matter of valid admission to the Order in the Catholic Church.  The integrity of our charism is founded on our fidelity to the Gospel and to the Church into which we are baptized.  Never forget your dignity.  For over eight hundred years we have been a bulwark of the Catholic Faith and Church; to seek only common denominators to make others comfortable, is to destroy the basic roots of the Order and our ministry within the Church and world.

Peace and Blessings

Brother Lawrence J. Hilferty, T.O.R.
Fr. Francis A. Sairego, OFM Cap.
Regional Spiritual Assistants