Fr. Martín Pablo Bitzer, OFMConv




I would like to introduce the theme of collegial assistance to the Secular Franciscan Order according to the Statutes for Spiritual and Pastoral Assistance to the Secular Franciscan Order.




            The first statement that we find in the Statutes concerning the collegiality of the assistance to the SFO is the following:


“The spiritual and pastoral care” (Art. 2) to the SFO “is exercised according to these present Statutes, common to the four religious Orders (OFM, OFMConv, OFMCap, TOR) and must be performed collegially at all levels above the local level (Art. 3.2)[1].”


            Let us dwell for a moment upon this text.


1.1.     A “twofold” care


The first element concerns spiritual and pastoral care. This means a twofold attention: “spiritual and pastoral”.

It is “spiritual” in so far as it deals with the Holy Spirit, who gave rise to the Franciscan Family in the Church (among the “spiritual families” in its bosom)[2], which has its specific spirituality, that is Franciscan.


Here is our first duty with regard to the Secular Franciscans: “to foster a deeper insight into Franciscan spirituality”[3], “animating spiritually”[4] and offering suitable spiritual reflection[5]. The care is also “pastoral”, in that it deals with the office of pastor as it is understood and exercised in the Catholic Church.


1.2.     Care according to the “Statutes, common to the four religious Orders”


The second element is this: The spiritual and pastoral care of the SFO “is exercised according to these present Statutes, common to the four religious Orders (OFM, OFMConv, OFMCap, TOR)”.


This is our second commitment: to know the Statutes that were approved by the Conference of General Ministers of the First Order and the TOR on the 25th March 2002.

It is an easy reference tool for our tasks. And I say “our” because “from Franciscan history and from the Constitutions of the First Order and the TOR, it is clearly evident that these Orders recognize that they are committed to the spiritual and pastoral assistance of the SFO in virtue of their common origin and charism and by the will of the Church. See Constitutions OFM, 60; Constitutions OFM Conv., 116; Constitutions OFM Cap., 95; Constitutions TOR, 157; Rule of the Third Order of Pope Leo XIII, 3, 3; Rule approved by Paul VI, 26”.[6]


1.3.     A collegial care


The third element rightly refers to collegiality, in so far as the spiritual and pastoral care must be performed collegially at all levels above the local level, that is to say, at the regional,[7] national and international level.


The main agents of this spiritual and pastoral care to the SFO are, in the first place, Major Superiors, and in the second place Spiritual Assistants.





2.1.     A duty to perform


When dealing with this subject we have to keep in mind that “the spiritual and pastoral care of the SFO is the duty above all of the Major Superiors of the First Order and the TOR” [8].


It is a matter of a “duty”[9]. It is not optional: “The Franciscan major superiors remain responsible for the quality of spiritual assistance and pastoral care”[10]. “Therefore, as a concrete sign of communion and co-responsibility, religious superiors must assure spiritual assistance to all the fraternities of the SFO”[11]. “They should also foster the formation and the interest of their own religious in the SFO and ensure a specific preparation for the Assistants so that they will be suitable and well-prepared”[12]. “They may exercise this office personally or through a delegate”[13].



2.2.     The way in which Major Superiors exercise their office


In what way do Major Superiors exercise their office?


According to the Statutes, General Ministers, Provincial Ministers and Major superiors “exercise their office through:

-     the establishment of local fraternities;

-     pastoral visits;

-     spiritual assistance.”[14]


2.3.     The collegiality of the Ministers general


Besides “the Ministers general exercise collegially the altius moderamen and the pastoral assistance in regard to the SFO as a whole” (Art. 8.1)[15].


We are faced here with three issues: a) the need to consider the SFO as a whole; b) the altius moderamen; and c) the collegial way to exercise this fraternal office. It is important to underline the latter expression: “fraternal office”, that appears for the first time in our own legislation (Art. 2.1).


a) “The SFO as a whole”


This expression alludes to the present configuration of the SFO, “not so much as a spiritual confederation or of communion”[16], or of a “federal union”, but as “an organic union of all Catholic fraternities scattered throughout the world”[17]. Secondly, the Fraternities on all levels, local, regional, national and international, which make up the SFO, are coordinated and united among themselves[18]. Thirdly, “the councils on various levels shall ask for suitable and well-prepared religious for spiritual assistance of the superiors of the four religious Franciscan families, to whom the Secular Fraternity has been united for centuries”[19]. “The union, therefore, is established by the Supreme Pontiff, not with one or other Order, but with the entire Franciscan Family, through an implicit abolition of the prescription in can. 702 § 1 of the CIC17, where a union was foreseen only with a concrete religious Order”[20].


b) What is the altius moderamen?


Altius moderamen is a Latin juridical expression[21] found in canon 303 of the Code of Canon Law (CIC):


“Associations whose members live in the world but share in the spirit of some religious institute, under the overall direction 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[22].


The juridical relationship between a religious institute and the association of faithful called a third order (or other suitable title) with which it shares a spirituality is called altius moderamen or “higher direction”[23]. The juridical relationship of the altius moderamen existing between the First Order, TOR and SFO, in contrast to other associations of faithful and of other religious institutes, has its own characteristics (because of what we have already said)[24] in virtue of the apostolic privilege granted by the Church to the SFO[25]. This privilege directly commits the First Order and the TOR. In what way? Let us go from the general to the particular. Can. 305 submits all the Associations of faithful to the “supervision of the competent ecclesiastical authority, which is to ensure that integrity of faith and morals is maintained in them and that abuses in ecclesiastical discipline do not creep in. The competent authority, therefore, has the duty and the right to visit these associations..."  Can. 312 § 1 defines who the competent ecclesiastical authority is: for the SFO, as an “international public association in the Church”[26], it is the Holy See. For the apostolic privilege, the competence, to which can. 305 refers, is exercised by the Major Superiors of the First Order and TOR. What does the particular legislation say? The SFO General Constitutions, corresponding exactly to the CIC, say:


“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 [27].


It is a question of a triple fidelity[28] which is important not to ignore. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that the altius moderamen is “a fraternal service”, which, together with spiritual assistance to the fraternities and their Councils, constitutes a double service which “completes but does not substitute for the secular councils and ministers whose responsibility it is to guide, coordinate, and animate the fraternities at the various levels”[29].


Here I would like to recall that all the associations of faithful have a right to self-government as is established by the CIC in can. 215: “Christ’s faithful may freely establish and direct [moderentur] associations which serve charitable or pious purposes or which foster the Christian vocation in the world...” In the SFO also, governance is not the competence of others but of its own moderators, legitimately elected. So, for example, no. 21 of the Rule, says: “On various levels, each fraternity is animated and guided [animatur ac ducitur] by a council and minister (or president) who are elected by the professed according to the Constitutions”. Further on, the same no. 21 says: “Within themselves the fraternities are structured in different ways according to the norm of the constitutions, according to the various needs of their members and their regions, and under the guidance [sub moderamine] of their respective council”. It is a question of the autonomy of the SFO which has always to be lived in “a life-giving union” with the First Order and TOR.


c) The collegial exercise of the altius moderamen


The way General Ministers exercise collegially the altius moderamen and the pastoral assistance with regard to SFO as a whole is described concretely in Art. 8.2:

              “It belongs specifically to the Conference of General Ministers of the First Order and the TOR:

--    to conduct relations with the Holy See concerning legislative or liturgical texts requiring the approval of the Holy See;

--    to visit the Presidency of the International Council of the SFO[30];

--    to preside over and to confirm the election of the Presidency of the International Council of the SFO[31];

--  if the case arises, to accept the resignation of the general Minister of the SFO”[32].


One must note that the General Ministers in these cases act as a “Conference”.


2.4.     The collegiality of Provincial Ministers


This theme is dealt with in Art. 10, 2, that reads:

“Where more than one major Superior have jurisdiction in the same territory, they are to establish together the most adequate means for carrying out collegially their mission with respect to the regional and national fraternities of the SFO”[33].


            The text says “they establish together”, that is they reach an agreement (both verbal and written, such as a short set of rules) concerning certain norms to be adopted that take into account the following:


“They are likewise to jointly draw up procedures for the appointment of the national and regional Assistants and also to establish from which Superiors the national and regional Councils of the SFO should request an Assistant” (Art. 10.3)[34].


            There are two elements that must be considered in this respect: a) the dialogue of Major Superiors with national and regional SFO councils so that they are able to identify whom to ask for the Assistant; and b) the appointment of national and regional Assistants and its procedure, for example establishing which Superior has to make the appointment and for how long it will last.  This latter point is dealt with in Art. 15.2; 19.1 e 21.1.





This theme deals with the spiritual assistance to fraternities and their councils. It is the responsibility mainly of Assistants at the different levels.


3.1.     Purpose of spiritual assistance


Art. 2.3 reads:

“The purpose of spiritual assistance is to foster communion with the Church and with the Franciscan Family through witness and sharing of Franciscan spirituality, to cooperate in initial and ongoing formation of secular Franciscans and to express the fraternal affection of the religious towards the SFO”[35].


We already found some of these elements when dealing with the issue of the altius moderamen:

1.      communion with the Church;

2.      union with the Franciscan family.


These two elements have now to be translated, through the work of the Assistants, into practice:

1.      through witness and sharing of Franciscan spirituality;

2.      to cooperate in initial and on-going formation of secular Franciscans;

3.      to express the fraternal affection of the religious towards the SFO.


3.2.     Collegial service for the spiritual assistance


            Art. 16.1 reads:

“At the international, national, and regional level, the Assistants, if there are more than one, form a Conference and give their service collegially to the SFO and to the Franciscan Youth”[36].


            The collegiality of Assistants at the different levels depends on the possibility of forming a Conference, that is to say, if there are more than one. The same idea applies when dealing with the theme of national (Art. 19.2) and regional (Art. 21.2) Assistants.


            Point 2 of the same Art. 16, reads:

“Each Conference of Assistants functions according to its own internal by-laws”.


                        These by-laws do not have to be very long and complex. Quite the contrary, being an internal by-law it can easily be contained in one page provided it covers the following points:

1.      The fundamental principle upon which the Conference of Spiritual Assistants (CSA) is grounded (for example: what the Statutes say in this regard);

2.      The responsibilities of the CSA;

3.      The place where the Conference is located, that might correspond with that of the national of regional Conference;

4.      The quorum that has to be reached in order for it to function;

5.      The procedures to be followed to take decisions;

6.      The duration in office of the CSA President and Secretary;

7.      The procedures for calling and presiding over the meetings, as well as for establishing the agenda;

8.      The responsibilities of the Secretary;

9.      The criteria to designate the Visitor and who can participate in the national Chapters of the SFO;

10. The representation of CSA (the President or a spokesperson);

11. Any other task that might be performed.


Point 2, concerning the tasks of the CSA, it must not repeat what the Statutes already say on the subject: “the responsibility of the Conference of national Assistants [or to the national Assistant if there is only one]:


--    to collaborate with the national Council in the task of spiritual and apostolic animation of the secular Franciscans in the life of the Church and the society of the country, and in a special way in the formation of the leaders;

--    to provide for the pastoral visits of the regional Councils of the SFO[37] and to ensure a presence at the regional elective Chapters[38];

--    to coordinate, at the national level, the service of spiritual assistance, the formation of the assistants, and the fraternal union among them;

--    to foster the interest of the friars in the SFO and in the Franciscan Youth”.

Or what is written likewise concerning “the responsibility of the Conference of regional Assistants, or to the regional Assistant if there is only one…” (Art. 21.3).


Point 3 of the same Art.16, recalls that:

“The national and regional Statutes of the SFO establish the number of Assistants who are members of the national or regional Council”.


            We have to keep in mind here that within certain fraternities “at the heart of the regional [or national] Council there can be set up an executive council (or board) whose duties are determined by those same statutes” [39]. This means that if a Conference is composed of four Assistants, one of them can be part of the Executive Board and all of them can be part of the national Council. It is also possible that the four of them are part of the national Council and also of the Executive Board, provided it is foreseen in the national Statutes. In the case of a regional Conference this has to be foreseen also in the Statutes of the regions to which they belong.


Finally, since the Assistants are responsible “for the animation of liturgical celebrations and spiritual reflections during the meetings of the Council or of the chapter” (Art. 13.3), these duties can be the object of a fraternal collegial service.


[1] See SFO Const 87.1; 88.5; 90.3.

[2] Rule 1.

[3] Statutes 13.1.

[4] Statutes 11.2; 17.3; 19.3; 21.3.

[5] Statutes 13.3.

[6] SFO Const  85.1.

[7] In those countries divided into Regions.

[8] Statutes 5.1.

[9] Cf. F. CANGELOSI – B . LINO, L’Assistenza spirituale, 21.

[10] Statutes 5.3.

[11] Statutes 1.3.

[12] Statutes 5.4.

[13] Statutes 5.2.

[14] Statutes  5.2. The appointment of spiritual assistants by Major Superiors is part of this last point.

[15] SFO Cons 87.1.

[16] Decision of the Signatura Apostolica, Prot. N. 31858/00 CA, of the 28th June 2003, n. 14. We follow the juridical reasoning of the decision. The complete text in the original Latin can be found at - For the Italian translation see:

[17] Rule 2.

[18] Rule 20.

[19] Rule 26.

[20] Sentencia, n.14.

[21] Altius is the neuter comparative adjective of altus, ‘high’. Moderamen is a neuter noun, the main meaning of which is ‘means of guiding, helm (of a ship)’; it also means: “guide, direction, government”. Altius moderamen literally means “a higher direction”. The official editions of the CIC, which correspond to the four official languages of the SFO, translate the Latin expression “sub altiore eiusdem instituti moderamine” in this way: “bajo la alta dirección de ese instituto” (Spanish), “sotto l’alta direzione dell’istituto stesso” (Italian),  “under the higher direction of that same institute” (English), and “sous la haute direction de cet institut” (French).

[22] The Code of 1917, can. 702.1, simply said sub moderatione, ‘under the moderation’. Through the expression sub altiore moderamine, the present Code has determined, with greater precision, the juridical relationship which is established between an association of faithful and a religious institute, through which two important elements are preserved: a) the “supervision of the competent ecclesiastical authority” in matters of faith and morals (can. 305), on the one hand, and b) the identity, unity and autonomy of the association of faithful, on the basis of which these have the right to self-government (can. 215), on the other (Cf. J. ZUDAIRE, El seguimiento de Cristo con Francisco de Asís. Introducción a la Forma de Vida y Organización de la Orden Franciscana Seglar [Madrid 1995] 230).

[23] Cf. F. QUIROZ C., OFM, L’Altius Moderamen Colegial (of the Ministers General of the First Order and Third Order Regular) in relation to the Secular Franciscan Order, in Cuadernos Franciscanos (Cefepal - Chile, January-March 2002 – n. 137) 14.

[24] In point 3, on the three elements which constitute the basis of the spiritual and pastoral assistance.

[25] Cf. F. CANGELOSI – B . LINO, L’Assistenza spirituale e pastorale all’Ordine Francescano Secolare, in Francesco, il volto secolare (Padua, n.1- January 2006) 19.

[26] Cf. Const. 1.5; 99.2.

[27] Const. 85.2; Statutes 2.2.

[28] Cf. F. CANGELOSI – B . LINO, L’Assistenza spirituale, 21.

[29] Statutes 3.1.

[30] See SFO Const 92.2-3.

[31] See SFO Const 76.2.

[32] See SFO Const 83.1.

[33] SFO Const 88.5.

[34] See SFO Const 91.2.

[35] See SFO Const 89.3; 90.1.

[36] See SFO Const 90.3.

[37] See SFO Const 93.1-2.

[38] See SFO Const 76.2.

[39] Cf. SFO Const. 62.1 and 66.1-