Rorate has, from the beginning, done everything we can to shed light on the unjust and problematic Vatican intervention in the Franciscans of the Immaculate (FI). This week, Catholic World Report ran a completely and thoroughly erroneous story on the FI that they could have easily avoided with nothing more than Google searches. But readers of this blog already know the problems with that venue as we have discussed in the past (see here and here)
We now bring you not only a rebuttal of the story but one of the most thorough accounts of this sad and unnecessary situation by a very well-informed source (we cannot underline this enough). While we urge anyone who wishes to reprint this to do so, we must request you cite Rorate Caeli as the source, and either reprint it in full or link to the full story.
From our very well-informed source:
Michael J. Miller, writing for Catholic World Report, wishes English-speaking readers to hear the “other side” of the Franciscans of the Immaculate controversy, namely, the Commissioner’s side. Unfortunately, he has done so by uncritically repeating arguments, some of which were answered months ago, and others more recently.
Perhaps the first point he makes that is worthy of comment is the matter of the survey or questionnaire that was apparently the principal means by which the Apostolic Visit was conducted. It is surprising that anyone would trot this out again three months after it was debunked, but there it is.
For those who missed this the first time, we summarize: the percentage of friars who chose each of the four possible responses was not presented in a straightforward way like A, B, C, D. Instead, the public was given A, B/(100%-A), (C+D)/(100%-A). The fairly obvious intent was to boost the apparent percentages of those who thought that there was some problem, and especially to associate as high a percentage as possible with option D (a Commissioner is needed). Despite requests by the public to have separate figures for C and D, and to know how many friars responded (since it was certainly not all the friars), no further information was forthcoming. Since it was not, we are unable to determine the total who responded A, B, or C, that is, those who thought that if there were problems, they could be resolved by the Institute itself in a General Chapter.
Releasing manipulated data was a PR disaster, as Fr. Alfonso M. Bruno implicitly recognized by distancing himself in a letter to La nuova Bussola Quotidiana published 28 September. He wrote: “It is of no importance, for the purpose of this evaluation [as to whether or not a Commissioner was necessary] what the proportion among the various responses was.” So why were the percentages published in the first place?
We might ask: if one were today to send a questionnaire to the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate regarding the style of government of Fr. Volpi and his decisions in liturgical matters, how many do you suppose would say that there are serious problems, and that an extraordinary intervention of higher authorities is necessary? The fact that over 200 would sign a petition -- which did leak out to the public -- for the foundation of a new Institute is suggestive.
If there is a “campaign of disinformation” being conducted by members of the Institute, or if there are “calumnies” against Fr. Bruno, it behooves the Commissioner and his General Secretary to indicate precisely what false information is being spread or what false accusations are being made. As has been made clear repeatedly on Libertà e persona, which Mr. Miller cites, the accusations against Fr. Bruno are quite clear, and the evidence is solid. First, Fr. Bruno distributed manipulated data regarding the visitation. Second, in front of a large number of members of the lay movement of the Franciscans of the Immaculate (MIM), he seriously defamed Fr. Stefano M. Manelli.
As for the matter of Fr. Manelli’s confinement to the diocese of Cassino, Luisa Scrosati has made herself clear. Her assumption that canon 1337 was relevant was based on the fact that Fr. Manelli was subjected to restrictions not applied to other religious. She charitably assumed that this would only be done after it had been proven that Fr. Manelli had done something wrong. The Commissioner tells us that this is, instead, part of his ordinary way of administering the Institute, and has to do with the fact that religious are required by canon law to ordinarily reside in the house to which they are assigned.
This makes his action look rather arbitrary, since this canon applies to all of the religious. Eventually, he produced another explanation: the restrictions on Fr. Manelli’s movements are necessary in order to make it clear that he is not the General Superior (one might paraphrase: to show who’s in charge). But since all the other friars can leave the diocese in which they reside without having to ask Fr. Volpi’s permission, and without anyone thinking that they are the General Superior, this new explanation is not much more convincing than the first one.
Mr. Miller has somehow gotten the impression that Fr. Manelli’s poor health was just an excuse for not answering Fr. Volpi’s questions. We call to his attention a letter of Fr. Volpi that shows that the Commissioner was promptly and duly informed of the actual problems by Fr. Manelli’s physician and expressed his understanding of the latter’s condition. So Fr. Volpi did not think it was just an excuse.
As regards the non-profit associations that own goods used by the Institute, if there is wrong-doing here, Fr. Volpi must prove it in court, not with a “traditional Advent letter” or in the media. Dr. Circelli, the president of one of these associations, has provided an explanation of the situation.
The Franciscans of the Immaculate (friars and sisters in two separate Institutes) practice not only personal poverty, but also the poverty in common that has historically distinguished Franciscans, but is no longer the rule for the three major branches of the Franciscan Order. This means that not only do the friars not own property, but neither does the Institute. Following the suggestion that the Holy See made when the Institute was founded, the temporal goods it uses are owned by non-profit associations.
Initially, these associations were managed by laymen; later, friars and sisters managed them, and not long before the Commissioner was assigned, it was decided to return to the original system of having the laity manage the associations. This is more in keeping with what the Franciscan rule says about having “spiritual friends” concern themselves with the temporal needs of the friars. Likewise in keeping with this principle is the idea that the General Superior of the Institute does not directly dispose of the goods.
There is nothing remarkable in that fact that one officer of one of the organizations is related by marriage to Fr. Manelli. That laymen make the decisions does not mean that they are free to line their own pockets. The statues of the associations ensure that the goods are used in keeping with the intentions of the donors. The friars continue to use the property held in trust for them by the associations, with one exception. By decision of Fr. Volpi, they are no longer permitted to collaborate with the magazines of their Italian publishing house or distribute its books. So, in the end, if anyone has deprived the friars of temporal goods they need for their life and apostolate, it is the Commissioner.
As to Fr. Manelli’s failure to respond to the question of “whether he realized the consequences of his action—his failure to protect the ecclesial character of the material goods of a Religious Institute of Pontifical Right”: we know from the Commissioner’s statements that he sent Fr. Manelli a letter containing questions, that he received a reply, and that he was not satisfied with that reply, because it did not respond to some direct questions, presumably including that under discussion. Now, why might the reply not contain an answer to this question? Perhaps because the question presumes guilt. If he says, either “yes, I realize that this was a consequence” or “no, I did not realize that this was a consequence,” he accepts the Commissioner’s premise that he has, indeed, failed to protect the ecclesial character of said goods.
Now we come to the four summary points. As to the first, anyone who has followed this story from the beginning knows perfectly well why there was no legal recourse against the decree assigning a Commissioner: because the decision that a Commissioner was needed, having been directly approved by the Pope, did not admit of appeal. Perhaps Mr. Miller was ignorant of this, but it is not credible that the Commissioner would be. Why, therefore, would he try to convince the public that the fact that there was no recourse against the decree meant that there was nothing illegitimate about it?
The second point regards the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, and it is interesting because it demonstrates that Mr. Miller did not actually base his article solely on the documentation posted at www.immacolata.com, but also has some other source, evidently close to the Commissioner. The accusation is also curious because it is rather gratuitous: since the sisters are a separate Institute, the accusation, if true, would not in any way justify what has been done to the friars. As for the truth of the accusation, we will have to await someone who knows more about what happened, since the matter has not publicly been discussed. However, given the inaccuracy of other accusations, this one should be suspect.
The third point claims that “Manelli imposed Mass in Latin as the only form of celebration permitted in the seminary and novitiates”. This is doubly false, for it was never the only form of celebration, and its use was not imposed. Where it was celebrated regularly, and this does not appear to include all the novitiates, it was adopted by a decision of the local community. Fr. Manelli simply exhorted to use it, and with his council, approved the norms governing its use, in execution of the mandate of the General Chapter. These norms were found by Ecclesia Dei to be in keeping with the mind of the Holy Father. This was explained back in early August with an official note.
The fourth point has already been dealt with above.
Now, all of these oversights may not be Mr. Miller's fault. It may be that he simply put too much trust in whoever fed him his information (perhaps the same person who has lost the trust of more than one Italian journalist), and having not followed the story in Italian, was unaware of what has been explained above.
We trust that in the future he will be more careful.