1. Organization (see Diagram)

Fraternities and their Councils: local, regional, national, international.

Assistants and their Conferences: regional, national and international (general).

Friar Ministers and their Conferences: provincial and general.

Roman Congregations and the Pope.

2. Structures of SFO Fraternities

a. Local

The local fraternity is the primary cell of the one Secular Franciscan Order (GC 46.1).

The canonical establishment of the local fraternity belongs to the competent Franciscan religious major superior (GC 46.1). The SFO cannot establish its own local fraternities.

The written consent of the local Ordinary is necessary for the canonical establishment of a fraternity outside the houses or churches of the friars (GC 46.1).

For the valid establishment of a local fraternity, at least five perpetually professed members are required (GC 46.2).

Each local fraternity is entrusted to the pastoral care of the religious Franciscan Order that canonically established it (GC 47.1). A particular Order of friars is responsible for providing spiritual assistance to the local fraternities that it established canonically.

b. Regional (e.g., PNG potentially)

The regional fraternity is the organic union of all the local fraternities existing in a territory. It assures the link between the local fraternities and the national fraternity in respect to the unity of the SFO and in accord with the cooperative efforts of the Franciscan religious orders that provide spiritual assistance within the territory (GC 61.1).

c. National (e.g., Oceania)

The Statutes of the National Fraternity of the SFO in Oceania (1.1) read: "The National Fraternity of Oceania is the organic union of the Catholic local fraternities existing within Oceania, and which are joined and coordinated through the regional fraternities (named) ... and also through other regional fraternities which may be officially constituted in the future by the Council of the National Fraternity (e.g. Papua New Guinea)."

The Presidency of the International Council of the SFO provides for the constitution of national fraternities (GC 65.2).

d. International, General (the SFO)

The international fraternity is constituted by the organic union of all the Catholic secular Franciscan fraternities in the world. It is identical with the Secular Franciscan Order (GC 69.1)

It is organized and it functions in conformity with the General Constitutions and the Statutes of the International Fraternity.


On the part of the Pope (altior directio)

The Holy See is the competent authority for erecting universal and international public associations, which include the SFO (CCL 312.1). The Pope has the "higher direction" of the SFO (CCL 315). "Higher direction" presupposes the "high" direction of the SFO, which is the responsibility of the elected Councils.

a. Constitution of the Secular Franciscan Order by the approval and confirmation of its Rule

On 24 June, 1978, Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Letter, Seraphicus Patriarcha, wrote: "Having consulted with the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes..., we approve and confirm with our apostolic authority and sanction the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order. By this letter and our apostolic authority, we abrogate the previous rule of what was formerly called the Franciscan Third Order." The original text is in Latin.

b. Approval and confirmation of the Ritual and the General Constitutions, through Roman Congregations.

The Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order was approved by the Sacred Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship, on 9 March, 1984. The original text is in Latin. Translations in the main European languages were approved. Adaptation to local requirements was permitted.

The SFO General Constitutions were approved and confirmed by a Decree of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, on 8 December, 2000. The original text is in Italian. The definitive approval came after ten years of an approved experimental text. They replaced the Constitutions of the Third Order Secular of Saint Francis of Assisi, of 1957.

On the part of the friars (altius moderamen)

"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". No translation of moderamen 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.

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."

The SFO General Constitutions stress that the three branches of the First Order and the TOR are the "Institutes" who are responsible for the altius moderamen that can. 303 refers to (Art. 1.4).

a. Juridical and Formal Aspects:

The Ministers General and Provincial of the First Order, 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).

1. Establishment of local Fraternities.

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" refers only to the local Fraternities of the SFO. The Fraternities at other levels are constituted by the SFO authorities, in consultation with the Orders of friars, except that the international Fraternity , the Order, is constituted by the Pope.

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

2. Pastoral visitation of Fraternities and their Councils at all levels.

The SFO General Constitutions state: "The pastoral visit is a privileged moment of communion with the First Order ... The visit is carried out with respect to the organization and the law proper to the SFO itself" (Art.95.1). 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."

The pastoral visit to the local Fraternity is normally requested by the fraternity Council from the respective Regional Spiritual Assistant (or 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" (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 Regional Assistant (or 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).

3. Appointment of Spiritual Assistants to Fraternities and their Councils.

The appointment of the Spiritual Assistants is the competency of the Franciscan major Superiors of the First Order (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.

b. Spiritual and Pastoral Aspects:

1. "Life-giving Union"

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 share the same charism of 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).

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).

2. Statutes for Assistance

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.2, 13);

- 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.3) in co-responsibility (Art.1), and in collaboration with the Councils of the SFO (Art.17,19,21);

- 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.13, 14) 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.

On the part of the Secular Franciscans

a. Fraternity Councils at all levels, composed of elected ministers and offices.

The Council of the local Fraternity is composed of the following offices: minister, vice-minister, secretary, treasurer, and formator. Other offices may be added according to the needs of each fraternity. The spiritual assistant of the fraternity forms part of the council by right (GC 49.1). If other offices are added, they have to be specified, not just "Councillor".

The regional fraternity is animated and guided by a council and a minister, and it is ruled by the national statutes and by its own statutes (GC 61.3).

The regional council is constituted according to the provisions of the national statutes and of its own statutes.

The regional chapter elects the regional minister and officers and has deliberative power (GC 64).

The regional officers form a regional executive council (GC 62.1), together with the regional assistants.

The national fraternity is animated and guided by a council and a minister, and is governed by its own statutes (GC 65.3). The national officers form a national executive council (GC 66.1), together with the national assistants.

The national chapter elects the national minister and officers, and has legislative and deliberative power (GC 68).

The international fraternity is guided and animated by the International Council which convenes in the General Chapter (GC 69.2).

The general chapter is the highest governing body of the SFO. It elects the general minister and presidency councillors, and has legislative and deliberative power (GC 70.3).

Outside the General Chapter, the international executive council is the Presidency (GC 70.2), which includes the international president (general minister), the presidency councillors, and four general assistants (GC 72.1).

b. Constitution of national and regional Fraternities by the higher Council.

The International Council in General Chapter constitutes the national fraternities.

The national council constitutes the regional fraternities (GC 61.2), that is, decides on their configuration and sets them up. The national council informs the friar religious superiors from whom spiritual assistance must be sought (GC 61.2).

c. Fraternal visitation of Fraternities and their Councils, by the higher Council

The Regional Minister or his/her delegate carries out the fraternal visitation of local Fraternities, at least every three years (GC 92.2). This visitation was introduced into the SFO by the 1978 Rule (Art. 26). It is normally requested by the local Fraternity Council, but for serious reasons it can be carried out upon the initiative of the Regional Council (GC 92.3). The two visitors, secular and religious, may make the visit at the same time, but in a way that both perform their proper function (GC 93.5).

d. Approval of national and regional statutes by the higher council.

The Presidency of the International Council approved the Statutes of the National Fraternity of Oceania in 1997. These Statutes have been revised after the approval of the SFO General Constitutions in 2000, and are awaiting the approval of the Presidency.

The National Executive of the SFO in Oceania approves the Regional Statutes, after a National Committee for the Approval of Statutes has worked with the Regional Council to present an acceptable draft of the document. The National Executive provides a model draft of Regional Statutes which the Regional Executive needs to adapt to the requirements of the particular Regional Fraternity.