Another topic that the Conferences were asked to report on at the 1996 gathering was the presence of lay friars in ministries of authority in the Order. Most Conferences reported having lay brothers serving as guardians. In a few Conferences, lay brothers had been elected to the Provincial Definitory. A few had been elected and confirmed as Provincial Vicars and, in one case, a lay brother had been elected and confirmed as Provincial Minister.
Today, the General Definitory receives a great number of requests each year for permission to appoint lay friars as guardians and vicars. The number of lay brothers elected as Provincial and Vice Provincial Definitors has also increased. In general, I would say that lay brothers today are fairly represented in the leadership of the Order.
The Order continues to request the Holy See to permit us to return to the original inspiration of our founder, St. Francis, by allowing us to elect both cleric and lay brothers to the office of major superior. In the meantime, many jurisdictions are not content to just patiently wait for the Holy See to change its stance. Instead, they are reviewing their own structures and traditions with a view to changing those that are more fitting for a clerical Order. For example, many, if not most provinces hold the installation of their newly-elected provincial definitory during a Mass, with the provincial minister as main celebrant and the definitors as concelebrants. This structure basically assumes that the provincial minister will always be a priest. To avoid this perception, therefore, several jurisdictions now have the installation of the newly-elected provincial definitory during morning or evening prayer. If we looked hard enough, probably we could all find other structures in our provinces that similarly presume a clerical orientation.