Rorate Caeli

For the record: Franciscans of the Immaculate under severe Vatican persecution.
RORATE brings you all texts:
* Apostolic Commissioner: FI problem is its "crypto-lefebvrian and definitely traditionalist drift"
* Seminary closed: no ordinations for one year
* Ordinands must take unprecedented oath on Novus Ordo
* Ordered "by the Vicar of Christ"

Marco Tosatti is Italian daily La Stampa's best Vaticanist. On the 4th of December he posted an article consisting mainly of a letter from "a member of the laity who is close to the Franciscans of the Immaculate" (FI), which was soon followed on the 6th of December with another article featuring a long response by Fr. Fidenzio Volpi, Capuchin, the Apostolic Commissioner appointed by the Holy See for the Franciscans of the Immaculate. 

Both articles appear below, followed by links to the harsh December 8 letter of Fr. Volpi to the FI announcing further sanctions and measures versus the community.

Notable are Fr. Volpi's affirmation that the intervention into the Franciscans of the Immaculate was "specifically ordered by the Vicar of Christ" and his speculation that the FI "has become the battleground of a struggle between different currents in the Curia, with the specific involvement of persons in opposition to the new pontificate of Pope Francis"!

For the ease of our readers, the links are followed by a listing of some of the measures taken by the Apostolic Commissioner. 

We end this post with a translation of the impassioned open letter of professor Roberto De Mattei, summarizing the situation and calling for the removal of Fr. Volpi. 

These documents, and especially the two interventions from Fr. Volpi, speak for themselves and confirm what we already knew: the intervention in the Franciscans of the Immaculate was precipitated by their increasing attachment to Traditional Catholic theological positions -- not just to the Traditional Latin Mass.

We always maintained this position despite the denials and rationalizations invented by some non-expert commentators.  One must not feel secure that this will end with the FI -- and if we say this, it is because we have a true basis for saying so. 

It should be noted for the sake of truth that the accusation of "crypto-lefebvrianism" is a red herring: a religious Congregation that in practice continued to celebrate the Novus Ordo in the great majority of its apostolates even as it made liberal use of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum can scarcely be accused of "Lefebvrist" tendencies! The accusations of "embezzlement" (explained at length in the Dec. 8 letter of Fr. Volpi, the 3rd document in this post) also refer to events that occurred after the appointment of Fr. Volpi, and therefore could not be held as the reason for the Vatican's intervention. 


Document 1: Marco Tosatti's December 4 column for La Stampa.

What did the Franciscans of the Immaculate do?

By Marco Tosatti

We have received a letter from a member of the laity who is close to the Franciscans of the Immaculate, the order placed under “an external commissioner” and considered a highly disputable affair by some sources who denounce the remarkable harshness towards the order [shown] by the new administrators of the situation.  But what could these “purged” religious have done to justify such severity?

We know after long experience, that the cruelty shown to brothers in ecclesial environments is no different to that which occurs in any other environment. But Pope Francis, the one who signed the order for the external commissioner, in an interview with the director of Civiltà Cattolica, encouraged an attitude of “mercy” and “tenderness”, compared the Church to a “field-hospital” after battle and stated: “I see clearly that the Church today is in great need of the capacity to heal wounds” since “eventually people get tired of authoritarianism.”

Read and see just how much authoritarianism and its sister ‘arrogance’ are present in this situation. Here is the letter:

“What happened after the news of the external commissioner is not well-known. Now it would be right to draw up a summary of the events.

After the accusations made against the founder, Father Stefano Manelli, stating that he had forced the friars to deviate from the charism of the foundation, with no explanation to date of exactly what Father Manelli’s deviation was;

after having deposed the Friars faithful to the charism of the Founders from their offices and transferring them elsewhere in great haste; 

after having promoted those Friars who support the “new” line in the various F.I. convents throughout the world;

after having removed from teaching Padre Apollonio - General Procurator, Rector of the Theolgical Seminary and Guardian of the convent in Boccea, Rome - with no clear reasons given, subsequently transferring him to Portugal;

after having removed Father Lanzetta from teaching, - Vice-Deputy of the F.I. in Italy, Superior in Florence and Professor at the Seminary, then having him assigned in Austria;

after having moved Father Settimio Manelli and Father Siano, respectively Rector and Vice-Rector of the Seminary, deposed from their teaching positions, and subsequently substituted by two friars of the “new” line - one of them does not even have a bachelor’s degree in theology;

after having sent Father Budani suddenly to Africa, with no regard for canon law, and impeding him in the continuation of his studies; 

after having exiled the always obedient Father Manelli and depriving him of visitors, including his own blood-relations, under pain of grave sin; 

after having forbidden Father Manelli to receive phone-calls and blocking any direct contact with the world to him;


With the letter dated the 27th of November and sustained by Padre Alfonso Bruno, Father Fidenzio Volpi retained it opportune to direct his war without limits also against the laity. In fact, he suspended all of the activities related to the MIM (Mission Immaculate Mediatrix) and of TOFI (Third Order of the Franciscans of the Immaculate) and he prohibited the third order from wearing the habit.

So, is it with this unimaginable harshness and Stalin-like purgation, that internal difficulties in a religious congregation are settled?  Or is it like this that a charism is destroyed? A charism which was not only able to foster numerous and growing vocations, but was also praised ‘just yesterday’ and sustained by some of the highest prelates in the Vatican.

Just think, that only a few months ago Father Manelli and Father Lanzetta, who are now reprobates, frequented bishops and cardinals and found hospitality in the Osservatore Romano.”

Marco Tosatti, La Stampa 
4th of December 2013

Tosatti then received an ominous response from the Vatican commissioner inside the Franciscans of the Immaculate, Fr Fidenzio Volpi, O.F.M. All emphases are in the original

Document 2: Tosatti's December 6 column for La Stampa, with Fr. Volpi's response

More on the Franciscans of the Immaculate…

By Marco Tosatti

The Commissioner to the Franciscans of the Immaculate replies to the layman from the Congregation, who complained about the closing of the lay activities connected to the FFI. And he defends the Vatican’s decision.

We have received a long letter from Father Fidenzio Volpi, Commissioner to the Order of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. It is in response to the one published two days ago from a layman (not a laywoman, as the Commissioner insinuates) who had complained about the measures curtailing the lay activities connected to the Congregation.  We cite  two extracts:
“Along with the positive  and encouraging aspects in the Institute, not a few difficulties inherent  to unity have emerged: the apostolic activity, the initial and permanent formation of the friars, the style of government and the administration of temporal goods.”  

Now, I believe that these type of problems are also somewhat diffused in all religious congregations, not to mention dioceses.

The second extract appears to be more illuminating: “The founder and ex- MinisterGeneral, Father Stefano Maria Manelli, in January 2012, had already evaded constructive dialogue with the religious who had complained of a crypto-lefebvrian and definitely traditionalist drift [in the community]. To my recent invitation of clarification this past 16th November, in search of recomposition and also to request an account of all the works, temporal goods and the property of the Institute, entrusted to its family and spiritual children during the external commissioner’s [visit], Father Manelli answered with a medical certificate which came from a private clinic where he is still a patient at his own request.”  

And he concludes with: “If it is true that the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate have done and continue to do many good and beautiful things for the glory of God, it is also true that some of them, at one time in the governing or inassigning positions of responsibility, “have done something” not so good and beautiful…”

So, it seems to me, if I understand correctly, that the concrete problem – laying aside the temporal goods and the property – is “the crypto-lefebvrian and definitely traditionalist drift.”

In the letter there is no mention of what appeared to be the “casus belli” i.e. the Mass according to the Vetus Ordo. But perhaps that is included in the “drift” mentioned above.

The impression deduced from the tone of the letter is, however, of great severity; and in many years of experience we do not recall that the external administration of the Jesuits comes close to this [in sternness]. And perhaps we are a little bit obtuse, but we are astonished. Unless the external administration is a general indication to say that there is no place in the Church for Christians who are “ definitely traditionalist” – so much for Pope Benedict.

But here is the letter, interesting also because of its style:

“With regard to the article on Dr. Marco Tosatti’s blog, on the 4th of December 2013, with the title “What did the Franciscans do?”, in order to re-establish truth and charity inside our Religious Institute, for which I have been appointed Apostolic External Administrator ad nutum Sanctae Sedis, I extend my sense of duty for justice and mercy also towards unaware readers, long time victims of misinformation, with its aim of vindictive, personalized targeting towards worthy and respectable religious, “guilty” only of having indicated abuses and irregularities in their Institute and of having obeyed the Church with the subsequent calling into question of the ex-government of their religious family.

Their petition, which was favorably received by the  Congregations of the Institutes of Consecrated Life, the Societies of Apostolic Life and the Doctrine of the Faith, determined the dispatching of an Apostolic Visitor to the Institute with the nomination CIVCSVA dated 5th July 2012, decree no. 52741/2012.

The result of the investigation, based on numerous testimonies from bishops, parish priests, clergy, religious, ex-religious/as well as lay people connected or not to the Institute, in turn activated the  external administrative measures, by nominating me on the 11th of July 2013, this, fortified by specific formal approval from the Holy Father, Francis,on the 3rd of July 2013.

Despite making the effort to act in a brotherly fashion, by looking for the fullest collaboration from the friars and without ever resorting to any disciplinary measures, this decree approved and coming from the highest Church Authorities is still depicted like it was a usurpation, followed by the installation of an arbitrary regime.

Along with the positive and encouraging aspects pertaining to the Institute, not a few difficulties  inherent  to unity have emerged: the apostolic activity, the initial and permanent formation of the friars, the style of government and the administration of temporal goods.

The founder and ex- Minister General, Father Stefano Maria Manelli, in January 2012, had already evaded constructive dialogue with the religious who had complained of a crypto-lefebvrian  and definitely  traditionalist drift [in the community].  To my recent invitation of clarification this past 16th November, in search of recomposition and also to request an account of all the works, temporal goods and the property of the Institute, entrusted to its family and spiritual children during the external commissioner’s [visit], Father Manelli answered with a medical certificate which came from a private clinic where he is still a patient at his own request.  

In this certificate, the doctor  declared that the patient had to have “complete physical rest” and not only could he not travel, but could not even receive visitors, all of which rendered vain my intention of going to visit him.

Given the importance of the questions that I had to put to him, I therefore sent him a letter. However, the replies I received were unsatisfactory.

On the 29th of November, from the same clinic and from the same doctor, I received an identical certificate with the added assertion that it was impossible for Padre Stefano Manelli “to write or receive correspondence” (sic).

With regard to the Friars who were transferred, I would call to mind that itinerancy is a characteristic of the Franciscan tradition which does not recognize monastic stabilitas loci. Every change of government, in all institutions be they civil or ecclesiastical, involve a parallel revision of functions with related transfers.

The Vow of Obedience implemented for the Institute of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate with a  specific Marian Vow, would always require adherence to the Will of God: readily, joyfully and lovingly, as our Founder himself wrote.

I recall that most of the religious who were transferred were involved in formation, the constituent sector - one of the knots that the Holy See asked me to loosen.

It is always a good thing for clergy to have  pastoral and missionary experience, in virtue of their vocation and priestly ministry.  

It is from this wealth of experience that they will be able to transmit more concretely some values to the youngest in formation.

I have always acted in perfect harmony with the Apostolic See and - in some cases – the Diocesan Bishop even thanked me showing his approval.

Having clarified these points, I will now go into that last part of my reply which refers to my dispositions of the 27th of November 2013.

The suspension of the activities of  the cenacles and the MIM plus the Third Order Fraternities was contested by the anonymous layman (or perhaps laywoman?) “close to the Franciscans of the Immaculate.”

We read – and I quote: “ a war without limits also against the lay faithful” , with “ the support of Father Alfonso Bruno.”

Regarding the Secretary General of the Institute, to the esteem that he enjoys both from me and the Holy See for the sacrifices and services he rendered to the Church, prior to and during the External Commissioner’s visit, a constant increase in gestures of solidarity from ordinary lay people can be added. The latter know how to read between the lines and understand the one who is truly patient, the one who is truly being attacked, the one who truly loves the Church and the Institute. And this is what truly counts!

If I disposed a mere suspension of the lay activities connected to the Institute, it was to avoid every meeting being transformed into an occasion of derision against the Pope, against me and against other friars, something which has already happened.

The lay movement belonging to a religious Institute lives its choice with coherence if it  recognizes legitimate authority and if its path leads to Christ - not to men.

Otherwise we will find ourselves in the presence of a sectarian dynamic.

The Church, Mother and Teacher to the baptized, has always been concerned about correcting errors and deviations whether they be doctrinal or disciplinary. The agitation on blogs and in the MIM Cenacles disclose and confirm new and deeper problems, which confirm the goodness of the measures [implemented] by the External Commissioner, still in course.

If it is true that the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate have done and continue to do many good and beautiful things for the glory of God, it is  also true that some of them, at one time  in the governing or in assigning positions of responsibility, “have done something” not so good and beautiful…”

Father Fidenzio Volpi O.F.M. Cap.
External Commissioner of the Franciscans of the Immaculate

Marco Tosatti , La Stampa
6th of December 2013

It should be noted that Fr. Stefano Manelli is 80 years old and his health is in a fragile state, as reported by the Italian Traditional Catholic blog "Cordialiter" on December 1 of this year. 

Document 3: Letter of Fr. Volpi to the whole family of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, December 8, 2013.

Also on the 8th of December a long letter from Fr. Volpi addressed to the whole family of the Franciscans of the Immaculate was publicized by Correspondenza Romana: The full letter in English translation is here (click here) and in original Italian here (click here). 

In this letter, Fr. Volpi imposes various drastic following measures, including but not limited to the following that, as far as we know, have no analog in the last 50 years in the treatment of any liberal religious congregation:

1) The STIM is suspended until further notice; thus, studies are interrupted. In addition, students in the philosophical biennium will transfer to the Mother House in Frigento, where they will attend -- when given license to do so by the undersigned -- the interdiocesan theological College of Benevento; students in the theological triennium will go to the Generalate in Rome at Via Boccea, from which they will frequent -- as and when I decree -- the Pontifical Universities of Rome. As a result of these transfers, the Marian House at Sassoferrato will close.  

2) Diaconal and priestly ordinations are suspended for one year. In addition, candidates for Orders who are presently in formation must personally subscribe to a formal acceptance of

  • The Novus Ordo as an authentic expression of the liturgical tradition of the Church and therefore of Franciscan tradition (without prejudice to what is permitted by the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, once the current disciplinary decree of veto, ad hoc and ad tempus, is revoked for the Institute), and
  • the documents of the Second Vatican Council, in accordance with the authority accorded them by the Magisterium.

Any candidate who does not accept these provisions will be immediately dismissed from the Institute. 

3) Every religious in the Institute must clearly and formally express in writing his willingness to continue his journey in the Institute of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, according to Marian-Franciscan charism, in the spirit of St. Maximilian M. Kolbe, according to the directives concerning religious life contained in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. 

4) MIM groups in Italy are formally suspended until there is, as mentioned in a previous circular, a formal declaration of adhesion to the new authority. The same is true of the TOFI. The Apostolic Commissioner will appoint three religious to whom the members of the said groups may refer for eventual clarifications. 

Further down the list of measures, Fr. Volpi also orders the suspension of the distribution to the public of "Casa Mariana Editrice" publications, which include many books and articles championing what might be called a moderate Traditional Catholic viewpoint on the liturgy, on theology, and on Vatican II.

Note: STIM refers to Seminarium Theologicum Immaculata Mediatrix, the house of studies of the F.I.

MIM refers to the Mission Immaculate Mediatrix and TOFI is the Third Order of the Franciscans of the Immaculate


Document 4: Open Letter of Roberto de Mattei demanding the resignation of Fr. Volpi, as publicized on Corrispondenza Romana.

A group of sites and of associations of lay Catholics have started to collect signatures to ask for the dismissal of Fr. Fidenzio Volpi from his duty as commissioner of the Franciscans of the Immaculate.  All those who wish to sign this appeal may do so by clicking here.

We ask for the resignation of Fr. Volpi, commissioner of the Franciscans of the Immaculate

We ask for the dismissal of Fr. Fidenzio Volpi from his duty as political commissioner of the Franciscans of the Immaculate.  In the space of five months, Fr. Volpi has destroyed the Institute, provoking chaos and suffering within, scandal amongst the faithful, criticism from the press, uneasiness and perplexity in the ecclesiastical world. 

It is of little importance to know whether Fr. Volpi is the artifice or the executor of the plan of destruction.  What is certain is that if the plan is not brought to a halt, the consequences will be disastrous and it is to avoid one disaster being added to another that Fr. Volpi must be dismissed.

After the decree commissioning the Institute, dated 11th July last, Fr. Volpi, with the help of a maniple of unrestrained sub-commissioners, amongst whom are Fr. Alfonso Bruno and prof. Mario Castellano, started to bring down his hatchet upon the institute. 

He prohibited the celebration of the holy Mass and of the liturgy of the hours in the extraordinary form, provided for by the Motu proprio Summorum pontificum; he deposed the entire general government of the order, starting from its founder, Fr. Stefano Maria Manelli, who finds himself under house arrest without even knowing the reasons why; he has deprived of authority and transferred, one after the other, the most faithful collaborators of Fr. Manelli, all people of intellectual and moral standing, giving their duties to dissident Friars, often uncultured and deprived of experience in governing; he  has threatened and punished the Friars who sent a petition to the Holy See and who refused to withdraw it; lastly, with a diktak dated 8th December 2013, he has closed the seminary, suspended the priestly and diaconal ordinations; struck the publications of the Casa Mariana with an interdict, prohibiting their distribution in churches and sanctuaries entrusted to the religious; he has extended his personal war to the tertiaries and laity who sustain the Institute, suspending all the activities of the MIM (Mission of the Immaculate Mediatrix) and of the TOFI (Third Order Franciscans of the Immaculate); he has threatened to have the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate commissioned and removed from them and from the Poor Clares of the Immaculate the spiritual assistance of the Friars; finally he wants to impose upon the Friars a “modernistic vow” of faithfulness to the Novus Ordo Missae and to the II Vatican Council (to read the letter click here).

Fr. Volpi accuses all those who criticise him of being against the Pope, but this tyrannical regime, apart from being unknown in the history of the Church, is it not in complete contrast to Pope Francis, who has recommended the avoidance of every kind of  authoritarianism and the use of mercy and tenderness towards friends and enemies? An objective expert on Vatican affairs, Mark Tosatti, also took note of this, asking himself in La Stampa dated 4th December “But what have these poor religious done? Have they gambled, abused minors, led an immoral life? They have done none of these things.” The truth is that Fr. Volpi, on his own initiative, or through a third party, wants to normalize the Franciscans of the Immaculate, making them similar to the other religious orders who are going astray. To achieve this, it is necessary to transform their spiritual and moral doctrine, destroy the internal discipline, put an end to the regaining of the traditional liturgy and for them to become open to the corruption of the world, just as he and his Capuchin order have done, with disastrous results.

Paul VI in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelica testificatio, of 29th June 1971, addressed to religious, reminds that one must obey their superiors, “with the exception of an order that is manifestly contrary to the laws of God or to the constitutions of the institute, or that would implicate a grave and certain evil – in which case, in fact, the obligation to obey does not exist.” If Fr. Volpi will not be dismissed, there will inevitably be a conflict of conscience for those religious, male and female, who want to maintain the charism of the Franciscans of the Immaculate and faithfulness to the Tradition of the Church. (by Roberto de Mattei, translation by Lepanto Foundation).

First posted on Dec 11, 2013, 10:04 PM (GMT) 
Translations by Rorate's Francesca Romana