THE APPOINTMENT AND FORMATION
OF SPIRITUAL ASSISTANTS
SFO statements regarding appointment and formation of Spiritual Assistants:
SFO Rule, 26: As a concrete sign of communion and co-responsibility, the councils on various levels, in keeping with the Constitutions, shall ask for suitable and well prepared religious for spiritual assistance. They should make this request to the superiors of the four religious Franciscan families, to whom the Secular Fraternity has been united for centuries.
SFO General Constitutions 47.1: Each local Fraternity... is entrusted to the pastoral care of the religious Franciscan Order that canonically established it. 86.1: The general and provincial ministers exercise their office with respect to the SFO through ... the spiritual assistance to the fraternities at the various levels. They may exercise this office personally or through a delegate. 91.1: The council of the fraternity at each level requests suitable and prepared assistants from the competent superiors of the First Order and the TOR. 91.3: The competent major superior, having heard the council of the fraternity concerned, appoints the assistant according to the norms of these Constitutions and of the Statutes for Spiritual and Pastoral Assistance to the Secular Franciscan Order.
Statutes for the Spiritual and Pastoral Assistance to the SFO, 19.3: It is the responsibility of the Conference of National Assistants ... to coordinate, at the national level, the service of spiritual assistance, the formation of the Assistants and the fraternal union among them. 21.3: It is the responsibility of the Conference of Regional Assistants... to coordinate, at the regional level, the service of spiritual assistance, the formation of the Assistants and the fraternal union among them.
Statutes of the National Fraternity of the SFO in Oceania, 8.6.1: It is the responsibility of the religious Franciscan obedience which canonically established a local Fraternity to provide pastoral care to that Fraternity (GC 47.1). However, a local Fraternity may pass to the pastoral care of another religious Franciscan obedience by agreement of the relevant religious superiors (GC 47.2). 8.6.2: It is the right and duty of the Council of a Fraternity to request a suitable and prepared spiritual Assistant (GC 91.1).
APPOINTMENT OF SPIRITUAL ASSISTANTS
The "provincial ministers" in Oceania are those of the three Orders of Franciscan friars assisting the SFO in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore and East Malaysia. These three Orders are the Friars Minor, Friars Minor Capuchin and the Friars Minor Conventual. There are no friars of the Third Order Regular in Oceania. With the Friars Minor in New Zealand, the President of the Federation has the same faculties as a Provincial Minister with regard to the SFO. With the Friars Minor in Singapore and East Malaysia, the Custos has the same faculties.
"The general and provincial ministers exercise their office with respect to the SFO through ... spiritual assistance to the fraternities at the various levels. They may exercise this office personally or through a delegate" (G.C.86.1). Often, their delegate, in the structures of the friarsís Orders, is the Provincial Assistant to the SFO who, in the structures of the SFO, is a Regional or National Assistant. The terms and extent of such delegation is at the discretion of the friar minister. Therefore, the delegation may differ in different cases, especially with respect to the acts which the friar minister reserves to himself.
When it is not possible to appoint a friar of the First Order or TOR, the SFO General Constitutions enable the provincial minister or his delegate to entrust the service of spiritual assistance to persons other than Franciscan friars. The enabling comes directly from the General Constitutions, approved by the appropriate Roman Congregation, and is not dependent on the permission of a local Fraternity Council of the SFO, or of a Regional or National Council. But the appointment of the Spiritual Assistant is made by the religious Superior or his delegated Assistant, "having heard the council of the fraternity concerned", for example, the local Fraternity Council. The religious major Superior or his delegated Assistant is not obliged to consult the Regional Executive, but if it is possible he would be wisely advised to ask for their advice before he makes the appointment. He should seek good advice wherever he can find it, but he remains responsible for the appointment.
Spiritual Assistants can be any priests, or religious men and women from any Order or Congregation, or lay persons who are Secular Franciscans (GC 89.4). The Superior or his delegated Assistant, in appointing them, should give priority to the witness of life and to the capacity to communicate Franciscan spirituality (GC 90.1).
The Franciscan major superior remains responsible for "the quality of the pastoral service and of the spiritual assistance given" to the local Fraternity (GC 89.5).
So, it is clear from the General Constitutions of the SFO that it is the responsibility of the religious Major Superior or his delegate, the Provincial Assistant, to appoint Spiritual Assistants to the fraternities of the SFO at the local level. The friars are obliged to appoint a Spiritual Assistant to each local Fraternity and at all other levels of the SFO (GC 89.1).
Spiritual Assistants who are not friars or priests have already played an important role in the National Fraternity of Oceania.
FORMATION OF SPIRITUAL ASSISTANTS
The Spiritual Assistant is to be "suitable and prepared" (GC 91.1), indeed, "specially prepared for such service" (GC 89.4). Remote preparation for the task can come from professional training, for example as a pastoral counsellor, spiritual director, successful mother or father of a family, etc.
The responsibility for the specific formation of Spiritual Assistants to the SFO lies principally with the friars who appointed them (GC 89.5).
The Statutes for Assistance to the SFO state that the Conference of National Assistants "coordinate, at the national level, the service of spiritual assistance, the formation of the Assistants, and the fraternal union among them" (19.3). The same Statutes state that "It is the responsibility of the Conference of Regional Assistants to coordinate, at the regional level, the service of spiritual assistance, the formation of the Assistants, and the fraternal union among them" (21.3)
While the main responsibility for the formation of the Spiritual Assistants lies with the friars, the Secular Franciscan Councils are also involved in providing this formation.
One of the duties of the Regional Council and Executive is "to provide for the formation of those responsible for animation" (GC 62e). For this reason, a seminar for the formation of Spiritual Assistants can be held profitably at the regional level. The initiative could come, if not from the Conference of Regional Assistants, then from the Conference of National Assistants, who would engage the full collaboration of the Regional Executive of the SFO.
One of the duties of the National Council and Executive is "to animate and coordinate the activities of the Regional Councils" (GC 66e). The proper task of the National Executive (which includes a National Assistant) is to provide the Regional Executives with guidelines, texts and resource persons for holding the seminars (GC 66.2d).