Rorate Caeli

The Passion of the Franciscans of the Immaculate - 11 months
The Pope receives a delegation of the FI
- and an introductory explanation with some exclusive information
UPDATE: Holy See Press Office

What happened on June 10?

Two weeks ago, Pope Francis received around 60 [typo corrected] members of the Franciscans Friars of the Immaculate, along with the commissioner appointed by the Congregation for Religious for the intervention on the FI, Capuchin Father Fidenzio Volpi. Though it was a large and scheduled meeting, it was kept in secret and unrecorded in the Vatican official media.

Silence from the official sources.

Oddly enough, it was only made public today, along with a photograph, still not by Vatican Radio, L'Osservatore Romano, or the Holy See Press Office, but by La Stampa  (full report below) -- one of whose journalists has been acting as a kind of unofficial spokesman of the Volpi Intervention since July 2013. In such cases, the Holy See Press Office usually comes out to clarify something -- after all, it is a large meeting, on a very delicate matter, and some points may be obscured by the report, but that has not happened. Why? That is not the usual Vatican modus operandi.

What is strange about the report on the Traditional Mass and Summorum?

It is that if it reflects the whole sentiment of the Pope, then the intervention should never have even happened. The Traditional Mass was not "part of the founding charism" of the Friars? Who did not know this? But if it is understood as a right of all priests of the Latin Church -- which is the whole purpose of Summorum Pontificum -- then it makes sense that priests with a traditional sensibility (as the Franciscan Friars always were) feel attached to it. In any event, it was never the Mass celebrated exclusively by the Friars, and no faithful who ever went to any Traditional Mass ever celebrated by the Friars ever heard anything against the Paul VI Mass; quite simply because it was never an ideological banner, but a sign of liturgical sensibility. The precedent of the intervention regarding the curtailing of the rights recognized by Summorum Pontificum, the need for a prior "authorization by the superiors" (an authorization that, Rorate has learned, has gone unanswered or denied to the immense majority of those who explicitly asked for it) remains grave. Other than the very small proportion of priests ordained for institutes under the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (fewer than 1000 out of over 410,000 priests), the excuse of the Traditional Mass not being their specific "charism" or of "ideological manipulation" can be used in the future to curtail the rights of any priest of the Latin Church, except (perhaps) those of the Ecclesia Dei institutes (for whom, strictly speaking, Summorum Pontificum was a very good thing, but legally unnecessary). So despite the papal assurances, this intervention remains and will remain an enormous shadow over the application of Summorum Pontificum. Of course the Pope will not alter the text of Summorum Pontificum -- but this is a Pope for whom texts are not as important as what he understands to be the needs of the Church required by the spirit of the times.

What is strange about the report on theology and the Theological Institute of the FI?

Second, and most strangely, if there was one --a single one-- institute in the Catholic Church working to try to implement the vision of Benedict XVI regarding the Council it was the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. It is scandalous that their Theological Institute was shut down and that the decision is defended by the Higher Authority. Is there a sign that it was propagating heresy, schism, apostasy? Where is the evidence? If it was, there are two congregations of the Roman Curia ready to study the matter in its educational (Congregation for Catholic Education) and in particular doctrinal (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) points of view. In the history of the Institute, it is clear that the call to help bridge any apparent differences between Vatican II and the preceding Magisterium came only after the public call of Pope Benedict XVI in his December 22, 2005, address to the Roman Curia. So any true investigation would find nothing at variance with Catholic Doctrine. Can it really be said, defended, by anyone who sees daily what is taught and defended in most Catholic universities, seminaries, schools that the priority is to shut down a small theological institute led by friars whose orthodoxy and morals were never in question? Let us admit, for argument's sake, that this institute was promoting heterodoxy and heresy: is it not strange that the patience shown to every single heretic in the past few decades, with dissident universities, with dissident theologians, simply did not apply to these friars?

Growth of Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate from foundation to eve of Intervention
So, how is the orthodoxy of the Friars' formation guaranteed? Well, they can go to Pontifical universities and seminaries, and the simple fact that these seminaries are under the Pope is a "guarantee" of their "orthodoxy"... We can almost see many readers bursting out laughing with this assumption.

Rorate has learned

Even this sugarcoated report cannot, however, hide the truth: in an institute with under 400 members, about 40 have already explicitly asked for release of vows, over 12%, half of them seminarians. In less than one year! And of course many more will do so, or are just waiting for the best moment to do so.

--- In fact, Rorate can add this was the whole reason for this strangely hidden meeting: the need to stop the hemorrhage by showing that all this is the will of the Holy Father. At the meeting, Rorate has learned, the Holy Father, quoting Loyola,† told the friars that if the Pope says that black is white then we should believe that it is white. Rorate can also ascertain the interesting fact that no one representing the opposing view of the minority who caused the intervention to happen or the former government of the institute was present or even invited. Rorate has also learned that one of those present, offended by the sight of another slight to the majority of the Institute, including the Founders, asked the Holy Father to his face why they were having another secret meeting without the presence of the others, those who are now maligned. All who were present could see that the Holy Father was quite taken aback by the unexpected boldness of this desperate friar. Quite a ¡lío! ---

The report includes a terrible accusation, that one of those present left the "noviciates" (sic) "as he said he was opposed to the II Vatican Council." This absurd statement alone is enough to prove that the report is coming directly from the office of Commissioner Volpi. What is the seminarian's name? Where is his explicit declaration stating this absurdity? What does it even mean to be "opposed to the II Vatican Council"? The Society of Saint Pius X itself, to whom the Friars were nonsensically compared by Commissioner Volpi when he called them "crypto-Lefebvrists", would never state this.* If one is speaking of the actual letter of the conciliar documents, the "Progressives" are the ones truly "opposed to the II Vatican Council" when it does not suit them. The accusation would be as absurd as saying that, because a nun left the convent to marry, she is "opposed to Trent"... We can say for sure that this poor young man, no theologian he, simply decided to leave because, as many others, the meeting convinced him that the new, we might say Anti-Manellian, direction of the institute does not suit him anymore.

Christian scandal

What is left unsaid is that the intervention on the Franciscans of the Immaculate is something that is causing immense scandal in the Christian world, even outside the Church: if those who, upon the exhortation of a Pope (Benedict XVI), tried to the best of their abilities to study the ways to present harmoniously the teachings of Vatican II and eliminate any signs of apparent ambiguity with the precedent Magisterium, are then persecuted harshly, how will the Church welcome those with much more difficult differences, especially in the East? And as they see how this small group of friars is treated under a different Pontificate despite no problems of orthodoxy, obedience or morals, then how would an outside observer see the supreme government of the Catholic Church? They can see that the hens are tied down, but that the foxes are still at large...

Perhaps the time has come for His Holiness to finally give up on the wrong intermediaries, who have certainly not told him the correct information, and personally meet the founders of the Institute, in particular Father Stefano Manelli? That is the wish behind this petition. We pray the Holy Father will give them a chance to hear their version of the facts.

We will have more to say shortly. Below, the text published by La Stampa (which, as we mentioned above, should be understood as a press release of the Commissioner).


The Pope speaks with the young Franciscans of the Immaculate

Andrea Tornielli - Vatican City - The meeting, which lasted an hour and a half, took place on Tuesday 10 June in the chapel of Santa Marta. On the Council, Francis endorsed the hermeneutic proposed by Benedict XVI

The meeting was held on Tuesday 10 June in the chapel of the Santa Marta Residence in the Vatican, despite the fact the Pope had been feeling under the weather and cancelled some appointments the previous day. For an hour and a half, Francis entertained around sixty Franciscans of the Immaculate, the order founded by father Stefano Manelli that last year the Holy See put under temporary receivership to resolve internal differences regarding the government, administration, relationship with the female branch and the use of the by new exclusive old missal and the interpretations of the last Council. Around forty seminarists, novitiates, and theology and philosophy students were present, along with their teachers and the pontifical commissioner, father Fidenzio Volpi.

The Franciscan Friars sang the Ave Maria di Fatima and renewed in the hands of the Pope their vows of total consecration to the Immaculate. Questions were then put to Francis on the most contested themes regarding the internal operations of the institution. Pope Bergoglio proved to be well informed on all issues, following the matter closely, and several times showed his appreciation for father Volpi, quelling rumours that the actions of the government of the commissioner and his collaborators were undertaken without the Pope’s knowledge.

Following the assignment of commissioners and restrictions applied to the use of the old missal, which, as opposed to what happens under motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum”, in the case of the Franciscans of the Immaculate it can be used without prior authorisation from superiors, there were defections in the friars and the seminarists. Of 400 members in the world, around 40 have requested to be released from their vows, and around half of these are seminarists and therefor still students who had only made temporary vows.

On the motu proprio, Pope Francis said he did not want to deviate from the line of Benedict XVI, and reiterated that the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate remained free to celebrate the old mass, even if for the moment, in light of the controversies surrounding the exclusive right to use that missal – an element that did not constitute part of the founding charisma of the institution – they required “a discernment” with the superior and with the bishop if it concerned celebrations in parish churches, sanctuaries and teaching houses. The Pope explained that there must be freedom, both for those who wish to celebrate with the old rite, and those who wish to celebrate with the new rite, without the rite becoming an ideological banner.

One question concerned the interpretation of the II Vatican Council. Francis once again expressed his appreciation for the work of Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, defining it as “the best hermeneutic” of the Council. He then responded to the objection according to which the II Vatican would only be a castoral council, which has damaged the church. The Pope said that although it is has been pastoral, it contains doctrinal elements and is a Catholic council, reaffirming the line of the hermeneutics of reform in the continuity of the one-subject church, presented by Benedict XVI in his speech to the Roman Curia in December 2005. He then reminded them that all councils have provoked uproar and reactions, because the demon “does not want the church to become strong”. He also said that we must move forwards with a theological and not ideological hermeneutic of the II Vatican.

Francis also said that he had wanted the closure of the theological institute within the Franciscans of the Immaculate (STIM), so that the seminarists would study in the pontifical theology faculties of Rome. He then explained that the Church guarantees orthodoxy through the Pope.

As usual, Bergoglio recounted some of his personal memories, speaking about brother Anselmo, a Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate originally from the Philippines who he met as a cardinal attending the church of Maria Santissima Annunziata on the Lungotevere, where he met him for the first time with a bucket in hand as he did the cleaning. Brother Anselmo is now in Nigeria. “He taught me humility, he did me a lot of good”, said Francis.

At the end of the meeting, the Pope said goodbye to all participants individually. Two of them expressed their bafflement over the treatment of father Stefano Manelli. One of these two seminarists a few days later announced his decision to leave the noviciates as he said he was opposed to the II Vatican Council.


*As Dr. John Lamont wrote last year, "The FSSPX does not reject Vatican II in its entirety: on the contrary, Bishop Fellay has stated that the society accepts 95% of its teachings. This means that the FSSPX is more loyal to the teachings of Vatican II than much of the clergy and hierarchy of the Catholic Church."
† Or paraphrasing, but the reference is exact and obviously is that of the Spiritual Exercises, in which Saint Ignatius says, in the 13th rule of true sentiment in the Church Militant: "To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it."


[Update: June 25, 1200 GMT: The Holy See spokesman was asked by the media on the visit and made the following statement today:

"On the Franciscans of the Immaculate. Both the Commissioner, Fr. Volpi, as well as all seminarians of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, were received by the Holy Father on June 10, in Domus Sanctae Marthae. A gesture that shows the interest with which Pope Francis follows the situation of the Franciscans of the Immaculate and his closeness to the work being done by the Commissioner in the name of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life [Congregation for Religious]. The Holy Father is informed with exactness of all steps that are carried out. In this moment, a house is being searched in Rome where the student friars of said Institute who will attend a Pontifical University of Rome to carry on their studies may live."