Rorate Caeli

First the friars, and now the sisters
Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate placed under visitation

Corrispondenza Romana reports that the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, also founded by Fr. Stefano Manelli FI, has been placed under visitation by Cardinal Braz de Aviz. The visitation was announced on May 19 with immediate effect.

There's another report in English, here.

Perhaps our readers remember that in December of last year, the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate had issued an official statement courageously attacking Fr. Volpi's accusations against them as totally unfounded: a statement that has been all but ignored in the rush of certain sectors to justify every step and every measure taken against the Franciscans of the Immaculate. 

This tragic news comes on the heels of Rorate's reporting last week that a large number of Friars are seeking to be released from their pontifical vows (see here).


UPDATE. The following is a translation of the original Corrispondenza Romana report. Many thanks to a reader of Rorate, Seamus O'Halloran.

Salus animarum suprema lex?
by Roberto de Mattei. 

There can be no further doubts for anyone who still had any. There exists a plan for the systematic destruction of the Franciscans of the Immaculate and Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, the two Religious Institutes founded by Fr. Stefano Maria Manelli currently caught up in the storm.

On Monday 19 May 2014 João Cardinal Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, informed the Superior General of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate that he was to appoint, with immediate effect, a “Visitor” for the Institute with utmost powers which would make her a sort of “Commissar.” At the Generalate in Frattocchie near Rome, Sister Fernanda Barbiero of the Institute of the Sisters of St. Dorothy, a “grown-up” and “up-to-date” nun with moderately feminist tendencies and a follower (although somewhat later than all his other followers) of Jacques Maritain, has already been installed.

The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate are a Religious Institute of Pontifical Right distinguished by its very young average age, high number of locations, and especially the strictness of their charism in accordance with the Rule of St. Francis. Many of them are living an intense missionary apostolate in Africa, Brazil, and the Philippines, and others are living the contemplative life in a spirit of asceticism and prayer. The Sisters, drawing inspiration from St. Maximilian Kolbe, run publishing houses, radio stations, and print many popular magazines. This great apostolate, together with their love for Tradition, is certainly one of the reasons for the hatred many feel towards the Sisters and towards their Confreres (the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate).

On 11 July 2013, Cardinal Braz de Aviz entrusted running of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate to an “Apostolic Commissar” who, in less than one year, has shattered the Order and forced some of the best Friars to ask for dispensation from their vows and to leave an Institute which now looks like a bomb site, and they have tried to live their vocation to the Priesthood elsewhere.

The situation for the Sisters is now even more serious. The pretext for the “visitation” and “commissioning” of the Friars was the presence of a tiny but highly aggressive group of “dissidents,” encouraged and fired up from the outside. There have been no dissidents among the Sisters, who have been living in a spirit of perfect Christian charity. Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Immaculate are to be suppressed, mainly because they are so close to Tradition and are thus in conflict with the general procedure in other Institutes of Consecrated Life. I use the word “close” very guardedly, because these two Franciscan Congregations were born and live completely away from the “traditionalist” environment.

In the light of all the theological and pastoral disasters which came in the wake of Vatican II, they have shown their love for that orthodoxy which is in complete contrast with the prevailing doctrinal and liturgical creativity in today’s Church. The Congregation for Religious considers this “traditional” thinking with the church incompatible with any Vatican-II equivalent.

The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life clearly committed an abuse of power when it forbade the Franciscans of the Immaculate from saying Mass according to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. And the Friars themselves committed another error by accepting that anyone could stop them saying the Tridentine Mass. They gave two reasons for accepting the ban: obedience and bi-ritualism. But the underlying problem cannot be brought down to mono-ritualism or bi-ritualism.

The fact remains that the traditional Mass was never abrogated and cannot be abrogated, and all priests are entitled to say it. This was set out by Benedict XVI in his Motu proprio Summorum Pontificum on 7 July 2007, where His Holiness gave every Priest the right to “celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal, which was promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Church’s Liturgy.” This is the universal law of the Church, and merely confirms St Pius V’s Bull Quo primum (1570). No Priest has ever been punished for saying the traditional Mass, nor indeed could he be.

Layfolk and religious sisters cannot be forced to forgo a Rite which has been canonised by almost two thousand years of use by the Church.

Obedience is a virtue, probably the highest of all, about the problem in today’s Church is how this obedience is to be practised and who is to be obeyed. When obedience to instituted authority does not affect our spiritual life, but rather jeopardises it and puts our eternal salvation in danger, it must be rejected with all our energy; “we ought to obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5, 29).

Perhaps Cardinal Braz de Aviz wants to push the Sisters en masse into the Society of St. Pius X, and thus show that there is no room for “schismatic” traditionalists in the “post-conciliar” Church. If His Eminence did so, he would be showing two things: firstly, that many Bishops – and indeed Bishops’ Conferences – are now much more separated from the Church in matters of Faith than the Society of St. Pius X is from the Authorities; and secondly, that Canon Law allows Sisters and Friars to be released from their vows and to reorganise as a private association of faithful, thus living their vocation away from any arbitrary imposition (Canons 298-311).

Does his Congregation really want to deny 400 Sisters any dispensation from their vows? It would be a brutal violation of that very freedom of conscience which everyone talks about nowadays, usually in the wrong way. The traditional teaching of the Church considers freedom of conscience to be an inviolable right, because nobody can be forced to choose something, but the same cannot be true for the public sphere: only the truth, not error, has any rights. Fanatics of Vatican II talk about religious liberty in the public sphere, and hand out rights to all sorts of cults and sects, but they do not do so where it really matters, and judge intentions and think they can see into people’s consciences.

How dare they think they can force Friars and Sisters to remain in an Institute where they no longer feel at home because its very identity has been destroyed? The idea that salus animarum suprema lex is the underlying principle of Canon Law itself, and indeed of spiritual growth for any baptised Catholic. Its rule must be the salvation of our soul.

If someone in a situation like this wanted to follow their conscience and fight back against injustice, what do you think would happen to them? Dialogue? Open discussion? Mercy? A big stick, more like. Are expulsions, censures, suspensions a divinis, excommunications and interdictions only reserved now for those who are faithful to proper Catholic teaching?

One final question is still awaiting an answer. Is the big stick used by Cardinal Braz de Aviz in open contradiction with the mercy preached by Pope Francis? Or is it merely one means for expressing it?

(Roberto de Mattei)