Ask a Franciscan

Franciscan or Roman Catholic?

Statue in a church

I like what I read in St. Anthony Messenger and enjoy other products from Franciscan Media. One question keeps coming back to me: Are you Franciscan or Roman Catholic? I ask this because these days I feel much closer to the Franciscans than to the Roman Catholic Church in which I was baptized and yet is plagued by many terrible scandals.

Our magazine and wider ministries are Roman Catholic first and Franciscan second. They are also catholic, an English word coming from the Greek term for “universal.” Francis of Assisi rightly has a wide ecumenical and interfaith appeal.

Yes, many people feel more at home with Francis of Assisi than with other past or present members of the Roman Catholic Church.

Three years before he died, St. Francis wrote, “The Rule and life of the Lesser Brothers is this: to observe the holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without anything of one’s own, and in chastity.”

Similar statements open the foundational documents of all Franciscan groups officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church.

St. Francis was perceptive enough to see that he—and the Roman Catholic Church—could sometimes be a counterwitness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The painful scandals in the Church should motivate individual and collective conversion. St. Francis didn’t invent that Gospel but rather received it from generations of believers who, unfortunately, divided East (Orthodox churches) and West (Roman Catholic Church) in AD 1054.

There were plenty of people in Francis’ day with similar ideas, but no one incarnated Gospel living the way that he did.

St. Francis is occasionally used as a blank screen onto which people project some favored image or agenda that he would not recognize or endorse. Trying to separate Francis from the Roman Catholic Church is a bit like trying to separate Jesus from the cross: Both always go together.

Ask a Franciscan


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