Thursday, September 8, 2011

Conferences, Policies, Decisions

Every three weeks each of the postulants has a meeting, formally called a formation conference, with the postulant co-directors. During this meeting we have a conversation about the postulancy experience. Each postulant gets to speak about how they are doing physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. These are not occasions to evaluate the progress of the postulant or render criticism of his behavior, attitudes, etc. These are easygoing meetings whose purpose is to maintain clear communication between the postulant and the directors. The postulants should always feel free to seek out the directors as they find they need, and they do. Having the formation conferences ensures that the brother postulants and formation directors are at least looking together toward the same object.

Later this afternoon the postulants will gather with the postulant director to review the policies and procedures of the Province of St. Mary. Among the highlights we will discuss from the policy sourcebook:

Automobiles and driving privileges. How, you may ask, can friars have cars when they take vows of poverty? The answer is that all cars are owned, registered, and insured by the province; vehicles are maintained for ministerial and fraternal purposes only; and no purchase of a car can be made without permission from the provincial minister. The provincial minister can limit, suspend, or revoke a friar's driving privileges depending on the friar's physical condition or record of accidents, violations, and offenses.

Health care. The Rule of St. Francis and Capuchin Constitutions dictate that the brothers are to take care of each other when they are sick, ill, or diseased. One of the agreements the postulants sign is a contract stipulating their rights to medical care, the responsibilities of the Province concerning payments and other obligations, and waivers of liability. The policy handbook details how the province ensures comprehensive health care for all its brothers. It outlines the individual responsibilities of the friar for self-care; the communal responsibilities of the province, its brothers and staff; and addresses special situations like mental health, catastrophic illness, and extraordinary means and procedures for prolonging life, as well as advanced medical directives. There is a special section devoted to directives for the treatment of friars with HIV/AIDS.

Sexual misconduct. In 2003, the province revised its policies concerning response to allegations of sexual abuse of minors brought against friars. This was done to reflect and incorporate the norms approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas in December 2002 in the wake of the scandal of its sexually abusive priests. The province's policies mirror the Dallas Charter by providing for the removal of accused friars from public ministry; requiring the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse to civil authorities; and establishing a review board, with lay members and a lay chair, to ensure the safety of minors, assess the allegations it receives, make a final determination of abuse, and recommend removal from public ministry. The policies provide for pastoral care of the victims and their loved ones, as well as legal, canonical, psychological, and spiritual counsel for the accused friar. I look forward to a vigorous discussion of these policies, their meaning and application, and their strengths and weaknesses, with the brothers.


I am all but certain of the ministry I would like to do. The postulant co-directors have affirmed my choice and the way I arrived at it. Tomorrow the postulants will discuss and confirm their ministry selections with the director, and we will begin our assignments next week.

In the next few days each postulant will make contact with his spiritual director. The directors recommended a religious sister to me at our formation conference, and I will call her tomorrow or over the weekend. After our initial meeting, provided we feel comfortable with each other, we will make arrangements for monthly meetings for spiritual direction.

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