Carl Schafer OFM

"Higher management"

"Higher management" or "higher government" is a literal translation of the Latin words "altius moderamen". These are the words used in the Code of Canon Law, in its definition of third orders, where they are translated, not successfully, as "overall direction". Any translation of moderamen needs explanation, as no translation by itself is adequate. "Government" seems too much, "moderation" seems too little. Perhaps, the translation "higher management" is better because it presupposes the "high" management or government of the third order which is the responsibility of the elected secular leaders. The "higher management" is the responsibility of the major superiors of the religious institute(s) to which the third order is entrusted for pastoral care and spiritual assistance.

Code of Canon Law

The term altius moderamen is used by the Code of Canon Law only once, in canon 303, where it says that "associations whose members live in the world but share in the spirit of some religious institute, under the overall direction (sub altiore moderamine) of the same Institute, and who lead an apostolic life and strive for Christian perfection, are known as third orders, or are called by some other suitable title."

Canon 315 uses another term, altior directio, (literally "higher direction") when it makes clear that public associations "are governed by statutes, but under the higher direction (sub altiore directione) of the ecclesiastical authority mentioned in can. 312 1". In that canon, we find that the Holy See is the competent authority for erecting universal and international public associations, which include the Secular Franciscan Order. "Higher direction" presupposes the "high" direction of the OFS, which is the responsibility of the elected Councils.

OFS General Constitutions

The OFS General Constitutions mention altius moderamen four times. They stress that the First Order and the Third Order Regular (TOR) are the "Institutes" who are responsible for the altius moderamen that can. 303 refers to (Art. 1.4). Then they specify:

- "The altius moderamen is the duty above all of their general and provincial ministers and belongs to them." (Art.85.2).

- "The purpose of the altius moderamen is to guarantee the fidelity of the SFO to the Franciscan charism, communion with the Church and union with the Franciscan Family" (Art. 85.2). At an early stage, the Tertiaries fell into heresy, and so the Holy See clamped responsibility for their orthodoxy on the four Orders of friars.

- "The altius moderamen must be exercised by the General Ministers collegially" (Art.87.1), for all that concerns the SFO as a whole.

The experimental General Constitutions of 1990 stated: "The pastoral visit is an expression of the altius moderamen and of the pastoral care of the SFO entrusted by the Church to the First Order and the TOR" (Art.94.1). The approved Constitutions of 2000 avoid the Latin words. They state: "The pastoral visit is a privileged moment of communion with the First Order and the TOR ... The visit is carried out with respect to the organization and the law proper to the SFO itself" (Art.95.1). This rewording seems to downplay altius moderamen in relation to the pastoral visit, but in both texts the central sentence defines the scope of altius moderamen, namely, that the pastoral visit is "carried out also in the name of the Church and serves to guarantee and promote the observance of the Rule and the Constitutions and fidelity to the Franciscan charism."

Statutes for Assistance

The Statutes for Spiritual and Pastoral Assistance to the SFO have not been revised yet, after the approval of the General Constitutions. In them, the term altius moderamen appears four times:

- "the exercise of the altius moderamen" belongs to the major Superiors (cf. 2);

- "In the light of the altius moderamen the Ministers General and Ministers Provincial of the First Order and TOR have the responsibility to guarantee: the fidelity of the SFO to the Franciscan charism, its communion with the Church; its union with the Franciscan Family" (6);

- "The Ministers General exercise the altius moderamen. and the pastoral assistance collegially with respect to the SFO as a whole" (31);

- It belongs to the Minister Provincial "in exercising the altius moderamen to animate spiritually and visit the local fraternities assisted by his own Province" (20).


The Ministers General and Provincial of the First Order and TOR, by force of the altius moderamen "exercise their office by means of: the canonical establishment of local Fraternities; the pastoral visit at all levels; the appointment of the spiritual assistants at all levels, after having consulted the respective SFO Council" (Stat.Assist. 6).

(a) Establishment of local Fraternities

The Secular Franciscan Order is a single public association in the Church (cf. CCL, can. 312 1, 1; Gen.Const. 1.5), not a multiplicity of associations. That is to say, the national fraternities do not constitute so many other independent associations, which must be erected by the competent ecclesiastical authorities that can. 312 1 speaks about. Australia comprises six Regional Fraternities and belongs to the National Fraternity of Oceania, together with the other Regional Fraternities of New Zealand, Singapore-Sabah, and (on paper) Papua New Guinea.

The local Fraternity must be canonically established (cf. Rule 22) by the "competent (i.e., appropriate) religious major Superior" (Gen.Const. 46.1). However, it is not an association in itself, but it is an articulation of the universal SFO, as are the Fraternities at all levels.

The expression "canonical establishment" in the legislation of the SFO refers only to the local or personal Fraternities of the SFO (cf. Rule 22; Gen.Const. 28.3; 46.1-2; 86.1; 95.2: Stat.Assist. 6; 21). For the Fraternities at other levels, we speak of division (cf. Rule 20; Gen.Const. 1.5)., structuring (cf. Rule 21), and grouping (cf. Gen.Const. 29.1). They are constituted by the SFO authorities, in consultation with the Orders of friars.

With regard to the internal articulation and the organization of the SFO, canon 309 applies: "Associations that are lawfully established have the right, in accordance with the law and the statutes, to make particular norms concerning the association". The SFO General Constitutions, approved by the Holy See, say explicitly, "National fraternities have their own statutes approved by the Presidency of the International Council of the SFO" (Art. 6.2).

The National and Regional Statutes are no more than "particular norms" (cf. can. 309) concerning the organization of the SFO, or "orientations" (cf. canons 94-95).

Canonical establishment of a local Fraternity is considered a formal act of an ecclesiastical authority, while the constitution of national and regional Fraternities is considered to be an act of the internal organization of the SFO.

(b) The Pastoral Visit

The pastoral visit normally is requested by the Secular Franciscan Executive from the respective conference of spiritual assistants every three years (cf. Rule 26; Gen.Const. 92.2a), and is "a privileged moment of communion with the First Order and the TOR" (Gen.Const. 95.1). It is often made in conjunction with the fraternal visit, but great care must be taken that both visitors are given proper attention.

For urgent and serious reasons, the pastoral visit may be carried out upon the initiative of the competent conference of spiritual assistants (cf. Gen.Const. 92.3), without having been invited.

The visitor "will promote collaboration and a sense of co-responsibility among the secular leaders and the religious Assistants" (Gen.Const. 95.3).

(c) Appointment of Spiritual Assistants

The appointment of the Spiritual Assistants is the competency of the Franciscan major Superiors of the First Order and the TOR (cf. Gen.Const. 86), having heard the Council of the Fraternity concerned (cf. Gen.Const. 91.3). This is the meaning of "consultation."

The appointment of the National or Regional Assistants is done by the Ministers Provincial of the various obediences with jurisdiction in the territory of a national or regional Fraternity (cf. Stat.Assist. 38-39; 44-45).

It belongs to the Ministers Provincial or to their delegates, always in agreement with the respective SFO Council, "to establish collegially the norms with regard to the spiritual assistance" at the national or regional level (cf. Stat.Assist. 39; 45).

The National or Regional Assistants, "if more than one, constitute a Conference", that attends collegially to the assistance to the SFO within the national or regional fraternity (cf. Stat.Assist. 40, 46). The Conference of Assistants can have its own internal regulation (cf. Stat.Assist. 40, 46).

It is clear, then, that the altius moderamen foreseen by the Church for public associations is, in the case of the SFO, entrusted to the Franciscan major Superiors, that is, the Ministers General and the Provincial Ministers.


The style and the way in which the altius moderamen is exercised is to be consonant with the fact that the Secular Franciscans and the religious of the First Order and TOR share the same charism as Saint Francis. There is only the one charism, but there are different expressions of it. In fact, the SFO is "in life-giving union" with the whole Franciscan Family, as its Rule states:

"The Franciscan family ... unites all members of the people of God - laity, religious and priests - who recognize that they are called to follow Christ in the footsteps of Saint Francis of Assisi. In various ways and forms but in life-giving union with one another, they intend to make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church" (Rule, 1).

This article of the Rule was inspired by the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, which states: "The laity who in pursuit of their vocation have become members of one of the associations or institutes approved by the Church try faithfully to adopt the special characteristics of the spiritual life which are proper to these as well" (Apostolicam actuositatem, 4m).

The purpose of the altius moderamen, as a concrete sign of the friars' communion with and co-responsibility for the SFO, are: to guarantee the fidelity of the SFO to the Franciscan charism, communion with the Church, and union with the Franciscan Family (cf. Gen.Const. 85.2). These duties are carried out through the pastoral visit (cf. Stat.Assist. 4; 20) and the appointment of capable and well-prepared spiritual Assistants (cf. Rule 26, Gen.Const.88.1).

The Provincial Ministers can exercise their dutiful service personally or through their delegates, the Provincial Assistants (Gen.Const.86.1).

"It is the duty of the Minister Provincial to see to it that the religious demonstrate feelings of true fraternity toward the Secular Franciscans; provide that the SFO has a place in the programs of the initial and continuing formation of the religious; ... see that the Assistants have adequate means for their specific formation and for the optimal fulfilment of their duties; inform himself about the spiritual assistance given to the SFO, above all on the occasion of the visitation of the friars" (Stat.Assist. 22).

While the Statutes for Assistance are strictly a juridical document, some spiritual and pastoral principles, derived from "life-giving union", can be drawn from Title I:

- the mission of the spiritual Assistant is based on the strong awareness of his belonging to the Franciscan Family, in which he lives in life-giving union with the Secular Franciscans (Art.1);

- at the level of the local Fraternity, his is the fraternal service of spiritual and pastoral animation of the Fraternity and of the Council (Art.2);

- he plays a particular role in the initial and continuing formation of the Secular Franciscans (Art.3, 10);

- he should be able to function through dialogue rather than by imposing himself on the other Assistants or on the Secular Franciscans. He should be able to co-operate collegially (i.e., work in a team) with the other Assistants (Art.4) in co-responsibility (Art.5), and in collaboration with the Councils of the SFO (Art.10);

- he must put away any idea that the Secular Franciscans or the Fraternities to which he gives spiritual assistance belong to him or to his religious Order (Art.10, 11) or to his religious Province. They belong to their own autonomous secular Order.

The religious major Superiors, in exercising their altius moderamen, are aware of the autonomy of the Secular Franciscan Order, whose Councils exercise the government, management and direction of the fraternities at all levels. The distinction between government and "higher" government (altius moderamen), and the definition of the limits of "higher government or management" safeguard the equal and autonomous belonging of the religious and secular Orders to the one Franciscan Family.

Our "life-giving union with one another" is an expression of our sharing spiritual assets, our oneness of aims, and our reciprocal help in keeping alive today the spirit and ideals of St Francis in our own Franciscan lives and in the mission of the Church.


In order to conclude the "profile" of the Assistant, some reflections must be added on his role of openness within the Franciscan Family. He must be the bond of communion with other groups and between the groups within the Regional Fraternity. The local fraternity forms part of a whole, gathered together in the Secular Franciscan Order.

Along with the other Assistants, he seeks to be open to the new problems of society so that the Fraternity is never outside the great current questions that run through the Church.

If he is a friar of the First Order, in his own fraternity he helps each of his brothers, especially the younger ones, to take an interest in the life of the Secular Franciscan Order for greater mutual sharing.