Secular Franciscans are laypeople who are following The Secular Franciscan Rule promulgated in 1978 under Pope Paul VI. This rule is a revision of two earlier rules, both derived from the Rule of Life given by St. Francis of Assisi to the laity in the year 1221. Secular Franciscans consider as their original point of reference two letters which Saint Francis of Assisi wrote to all the faithful laity of his time. Historians believe that these Letters to the Faithful were written to encourage the penitent lay people in their way of life. Historians disagree as to whether these letters predated or posted the lay religious Rule of 1221 for the laity, which codified the lay penitential life.
The Confraternity of Penitents uses as its original starting point, not the Letters to the Faithful, but the original Rule of Life itself. This Rule for the penitent laity, men and women, was written by Cardinal Hugolino di Conti de Segni and approved by Saint Francis of Assisi in the year 1221. In contrast to the letters of exhortations to pray, fast, and do penance, the Rule of 1221 is prescriptive, describing exactly how penitents living the Rule are to fast, abstain, pray, and dress. The Confraternity of Penitents uses modern, prescriptive Constitutions, canonically approved by our Bishop, to adapt the original Rule of 1221 to the modern world.
Unlike the Confraternity of Penitents, the Secular Franciscan Order requires that each member be associated with an established local fraternity, even if it is a great distance away. The member is expected to attempt to attend at least a few meetings a year of the local fraternity, if possible. Unfortunately, some Secular Franciscan members relocate to an area where the closest fraternity is too far away for commuting purposes. In other cases, Secular Franciscan fraternity members have grown elderly and are unable to hold office and so the local fraternity is disbanded.
Sometimes there are other reasons why Secular Franciscans have difficulty remaining in their local fraternities. These can be due to financial inability to pay their dues, to concerns over policies, or for other reasons. The Confraternity of Penitents is open to Secular Franciscans who wish to be at peace with all, to live humbly, and to follow Christ closely in the manner of St. Francis.
The Confraternity of Penitents offers three levels of entry, whether an individual is part of a local group or isolated (approximately 2/3 of CFP members are isolated. Contact with other penitents takes place by phone, email and/or postal mail.)
Levels of Entry into the CFP are:
1. Member. In order to enter as a member of the Confraternity of Penitents, the individual would have to resend any Secular Franciscan membership. However, we do not encourage this option for Secular Franciscans. Why? Because rescinding your Secular Franciscan membership means relinquishing the promise of eternal life which goes with living the Secular Franciscan Rule. We encourage you not to lose this great privilege unless you have completed formation in the Confraternity of Penitents and wish then to pledge to live the CFP Rule for life which also carries with it the promise of eternal life for those who live the CFP Rule. It is prudent to maintain your Secular Franciscan membership and complete formation as an Associate of the Confraternity of Penitents, putting off the decision to rescind your Secular Franciscan profession until you know for sure that you are ready, willing, and able to profess to the CFP Rule.
2. Associate. Associates enter and complete formation with the Confraternity of Penitents, but are not members. They cannot hold office, vote or act as formators for others, but they can receive support by the Confraternity whether they are near a local Confraternity group or are isolated. They attend meetings and are welcome at CFP retreats and other events.
Remaining Associates allows Secular Franciscans to retain their own Secular Franciscan profession well receiving instruction in the Franciscan lifestyle from the Confraternity of Penitents. Should Associates wish to become members of the Confraternity when they are near the end of their formation, they would then have to resend their Secular Franciscan membership to become members of the CFP at their current stage of formation. This would then make them eligible to pledge in the Confraternity. However, they could complete their formation as Associates and continue to associate with the Confraternity of Penitents as some Secular Franciscans are doing.
3. Affiliate. Affiliates retain their Secular Franciscan membership. They do not do formation in the Confraternity. However, affiliates can meet with local CFP groups, with the permission of the group members, and can attend Confraternity events and retreats. They live the spirit of the Rule, particularly section 26. They are on our mailing lists and receive our newsletter if they do not have email. Affiliates are not members of the Confraternity but are affiliated with it. The Confraternity prays for them and they for the Confraternity. See this link for additional information.
If you are a member of the Secular Franciscan Order who is now isolated or who is part of a fraternity that has been disbanded, or have other concerns, please read our Rule and Constitutions and see if these resonate with you. If so, please contact us. We welcome your inquiry.
May God bless you!