On November 14-15, 2021, the friars of the Province of St. Elizabeth in Germany and the Provincial Custody of St. Leopold and St. Nicolas of Flüe in Austria-Switzerland gathered at the friary in Schwarzenberg, Germany, to address the theme of “spiritual abuse”. About twenty friars from the three aforementioned countries participated. It was the first time in a long time that they were able to meet in person.

Professor Christoph JACOBS and Sister Barbara BIERLER led the friars in reflecting on this topic, which has increasingly captured public awareness. The reflection was mainly focused on the topic of power and the abuse of power. Particular attention was paid to the question of spiritual abuse in the context of sacramental confession.
On November 16-17, another meeting took place for Guardians. The Guardians of the six friaries of the Province of Germany met with the Guardians of the two friaries in Switzerland and the three friaries in Austria. Unfortunately, one friar was unable to attend due to suspected contagion. The Provincial Custos of Austria-Switzerland, Friar Dariusz ZAJĄC, also participated.
During a working session, the friars addressed the questions: “How do we see our friars? How do we talk about them?” Then they put themselves in the shoes of the other friars in order to address the question: “How do the friars evaluate their superiors?”
After that, the Minister Provincial of Germany, Friar Andreas MURK, gave a lecture on the “Penguin Principle” (cf. Professor John KOTTER, Harvard Business School) as a possible way of initiating change, especially in difficult situations, and to actively involve as many people as possible.
Next, there was a lecture by Bernd SCHMIES of the Fachstelle Franziskanische Forschung in Münster, Germany, an inter-Franciscan institution that fosters the historical tradition of Franciscan research and science. The speaker gave a historical overview on the way the Order has handled various difficulties, especially regarding “difficult friars.” However, it became especially clear that certain historical solutions could never be transferred to the present. For example, structures such as the “conventual prison” are absolutely inconceivable today.
Another topic at the Guardians’ meeting was the Synod called by Pope Francis, to which religious must also make a contribution. To this end, the friars addressed the ten thematic areas the Pope outlined.
Finally, three short sessions were held via the Zoom Internet platform: Friar Thomas FREIDEL, a contact for German-speaking pilgrims in Assisi, reported on his work in Assisi. Friar Vicente IMHOF, a missionary from the Province of Germany serving in Peru, discussed his work with migrants. Christina WOLF, a young volunteer in the Vatican pavilion at the Dubai Expo, talked about her experience.
The meeting concluded with an online greeting from the Minister General, Friar Carlos A. TROVARELLI. The friars were very grateful to have this meeting, which was carried out in a good fraternal atmosphere.

Friar Andreas MURK