A Letter to all of the Friars of the Order
My dear brothers, may the Lord give you peace!
In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul writes: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Eph. 5, 8-15).
In an effort to live as children of the light, the General Definitorium and I wish to bring to light a grave situation in which the General Curia of the Order now finds itself. The matter involves our financial stability and the patrimony of the Order. While our first concern has and remains verifying the nature, extent, and impact of what has occurred, we also recognize the significant role that external actors, people who are not members of the Order, have played in creating this grave situation.
In September 2014, the General Definitorium initiated a series of steps in order to conduct an internal inquiry into the financial dealings of the Office of the General Treasurer. A sub-commission within the General Definitorium was created to serve as an advisory group. Together we charted a course to collect reliable information, identify potential concerns, and examine all available documents in order to reach well-informed decisions about how best to proceed to guarantee the financial soundness of the Order in a manner consistent with our Franciscan values and way of life. We immediately sought advice from a highly regarded group of lawyers who continue to work for the Order. Competent ecclesiastical authorities also were informed of our concerns and have been updated on a regular basis. In addition, Provincials and Custodes in a number of the Franciscan Conferences also were provided with a brief, albeit incomplete, explanation of our situation and were requested to demonstrate their solidarity with the General Curia through prayer and in other significant ways. I regret that not all Provincials and Custodes were contacted. I ask of all Provincials and Custodes your understanding and for a financial contribution to help address the current situation, which involves also the repayment of significant debts.
A second series of steps were initiated to help gain control over the financial dealings of the General Curia. The General Treasurer resigned from his duties as treasurer and also as Legal Representative. The Assistant General Treasurer assumed the functions of the General Treasurer and another friar was appointed by the General Definitorium to become the new Legal Representative. In addition, a friar with expertise in economic and organizational affairs was named to the newly created role of Special Delegate of the Minister General for the Economic Affairs of the General Curia. He began his work at the beginning of October 2014. All of these changes were communicated to the Order through the web site.
These three friars, working in close collaboration, became members of an operative working group appointed by the General Definitorium. They were given a three-fold task: (a) to verify the current economic situation in which the General Curia finds itself; (b) to examine and evaluate existing systems for financial oversight and propose changes to strengthen and enhance these systems; and (c) to examine the practices of the Office of the General Treasurer from 2003 until the present, with special attention to any activities that might be a cause for concern. This working group has conducted its investigation with relative independence from the Minister General and the General Definitorium even though it has offered timely reports and updates with respect to the three areas with which it has been tasked. The working group continues with its investigation.
Three important elements have emerged from the internal investigation. First, the General Curia finds itself in grave, and I underscore ‘grave’ financial difficulty, with a significant burden of debt. Second, the systems of financial oversight and control for the management of the patrimony of the Order were either too weak or were compromised, thus limiting their effectiveness to guarantee responsible, transparent management. We have initiated steps to address these concerns. Third, there appears to have taken place a number of questionable financial activities that were conducted by friars entrusted with the care of the patrimony of the Order without the full knowledge or consent of the former and current General Definitorium. Because of the scope and magnitude of these activities, they have placed the financial stability of the General Curia at grave risk. These questionable activities also involve people who are not Franciscan but who appear to have played a central role. For these reasons, the General Definitorium, working in unanimity, has decided to call upon assistance from civil authorities to take up this matter.
We are encouraged by the example set by Pope Francis in his call for truth and transparency in financial dealings both in the Church and in human societies. We Franciscans can be expected to do no less than give witness to the values we profess as brothers of the Gospel and the evangelical life, values made most evident in the recent publication on the Franciscan Management of Finances. We must trust that by following a course of truth, God will lead us on the journey of conversion.
As St. Paul reminds all of us Lesser Brothers of the Gospel, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” I invite all of you, my dear brothers, to live as children of light. I pledge to you that the General Definitorium and I will make every effort to ensure just, transparent and ethical oversight of the financial dealings of the General Curia. We also will make serious efforts to address directly the grave financial situation in which we find ourselves.
I realize that many of you will be seriously disappointed and discouraged by this situation. It will also raise many questions for which you have a right to a response. I hope in time we will be able to provide more information. It is my intention to give a full account of the whole affair to the General Chapter. In the meantime, the General Definitorium and I call upon your prayer and support as we move forward with these matters and as we prepare for the 2015 General Chapter.
Bro. Michael A. Perry, OFM
Minister General and Servant
Rome, December 17th, 2014