Rorate Caeli

Franciscans of the Immaculate part 2, from our very well-informed source
Friars who signed petition told by Volpi they were "outside the Church"
Threatened to deny them Sacraments if they didn't sign retractions

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). Last week, Catholic World Report ran a completely erroneous story on the FI, and Rorate's very well-informed source wrote a thorough rebuttal. Then, yet another piece was written by the website owned by Ignatius Press, which must be corrected for the record. 

This is the second piece written by our 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. To read all of Rorate’s coverage of this sad situation, click the label “FFI under intervention” at the bottom of this post.

From our very well-informed source:
Commissioner Fr. Volpi, who has brought the interdiction upon the FI, at the order of Pope Francis.

I see that Michael J. Miller has done me the courtesy of replying. Some further comments and clarifications seem appropriate.

Let us begin with algebra. In my critique, A, B, C, and D represented values which are independent (except that their sum must be 100%) and correspond to the four possible responses to the questions. Mr. Miller’s B is simply 100%-A, and if he wishes to call the last figure D/(A-100%) rather than (C+D)/(100%-A), it would appear that he has not understood that it conflates two rather different responses. One (which i called C) supposed that the problems could be resolved by an Extraordinary General Chapter, while the other (which I called D) said that the problems require the assignment of a Commissioner for the Institute. 

Those who chose the former response believed that the Institute could resolve its own problems, if only the General Chapter could be held in 2013 prior to the regular one in 2014. With respect to this, a Commissioner is a far more drastic solution. If the statistics were published for the sake of transparency, I cannot see how this purpose was served by reporting these two responses as if they were one, and declining to supply separate figures even when asked.

As to the practice of dividing the non-A responses by 100%-A, there is a fine book from the middle of the last century on How to Lie with Statistics, which explains how one can give quite different impressions of a situation, while appearing to be scientific and not actually saying anything false. 

The serious analyst and the skilled critical thinker are unlikely to be fooled, but the general public will be. Now, to present statistics to the public in this manner is what I and many call a manipulation. If it is easily sorted out, I call it a clumsy manipulation, but I do not call it transparency.

As to the number of respondents: yes, one reason why this was less than the whole of the Institute is because the questionnaire was sent only to solemnly professed friars. Another reason why it was less than the whole Institute was—according to my FFI sources—because not all of the solemnly professed friars responded. What happened is that the Visitator stopped counting questionnaires one day without having ever informed the friars that there would be a deadline, much less what it was. 

Consequently, the statistics represent a self-selected sample of those who responded promptly. Since one is more likely to respond promptly if one believes that there are problems, and all the more so the more serious he believes the problems to be, one would expect a bias in the percentages in this sense. Thus, the statistics probably overstate the percentage of solemnly professed friars who thought there were problems.

This effect was amplified by the fact that the questionnaire was not neutral, but contained questions with false premises apparently designed to influence the views of friars compiling the questionnaire. One such question was: “If you had to choose between the two forms (Ordinary and extraordinary) for all the members of the Institute, which would you choose and why?” This question implies that the Institute planned to choose the exclusive use of one form, which was never Fr. Manelli’s intention (cf. the note already cited). This misrepresentation of Fr. Manelli’s decisions regarding the liturgy can be expected to have increased the number of those who said that there were problems regarding those decisions.

Furthermore, I was told by an FFI priest that the English translation of the questionnaire was rather poor. The option regarding the assignment of a commissioner was translated in this way: “There are very serious problems that require the Commissioner of the Institute.” Who might the commissioner of the Institute be? He would seem to be someone in the Institute, since he is called “of the Institute.” Keep in mind that this was filled out a year ago, when there was no Commissioner assigned, and that all of the other options propose solutions internal to the Institute. It is quite possible that this option was selected by friars who had no intention of requesting what actually happened.

As to the petition, I’m sure the friars who signed it will be glad to hear that Mr. Miller believes it is a hopeful, first step toward a proper canonical solution. Unfortunately, the Commissioner reacted quite differently. His emissaries told friars who signed or were suspected of having signed the petitions that they were “outside the Church,” threatened to deprive them of the sacraments, and tried to get them to sign retractions. Then he had the gall to cite the retractions in his letter of 8 December as evidence that the signatures of the petition had been extorted.

Apart from the Commissioner’s reaction, the logical connection (suggestive and not demonstrative) between the petition and approval of Fr. Volpi’s governance lies in the fact that his declared goal is to pursue unity. The petition is an implicit vote of no confidence in his ability to achieve this goal. Indeed, one would expect unity to be pursued by promoting dialog and acting as a mediator, not by systematically placing representatives of one side in positions of power and deposing representatives of the other.

As to the “odd argument” that appealing canon 665 makes Fr. Volpi’s actions seem arbitrary, some further explanation is obviously needed. Certainly, Fr. Vopi’s actions do not contradict this canon, but neither does the canon explain them. The canon requires all religious to have the permission of their superior (the Superior of the religious house, not the General Superior) in order to leave the religious house in which they reside. This offers no explanation of why Fr. Manelli must ask the General Superior for permission, and since it offers no explanation, to appeal to it makes the Commissioner’s action look arbitrary (unjustified, without explanation).

Is it credible that it is out of respect for Fr. Manelli that he is required to obtain permission from the General Superior? If he could obtain permission either from the local Superior or from the General Superior, this would offer him a special liberty, and could well express respect. However, requiring him to ask permission only of the General Superior is an extra burden, and does not appear to express respect. Furthermore, what he has done recently does not show much respect. After having prohibited Fr. Manelli from receiving visits or telephone calls, he has proceeded to make grave accusations against him to the entire Institute in his letter of December 8, accusations to which these prohibitions keep him from responding.

If Mr. Miller is not able to imagine the Apostolic Commissioner being rude in a letter, perhaps he should get over his scruple about leaked correspondence and read some of the letters Fr. Volpi writes. He could begin with a recent letter to 300 former parishioners of Fr. Serafino M. Lanzetta, who had written the Commissioner and others to complain about the (“administrative”) transfer of their parish priest from Florence to Austria. Since this is a small parish in a secularized area, 300 is probably the great majority of those who regularly attend Mass. Fr. Volpi nevertheless responds that they have no right to call themselves “the community of the lay faithful” of the parish, because only the pastoral council of the parish can do so. He then proceeds to strongly imply that they are sedevacantists. Why? Because among the numerous ecclesiastical authorities to whom they addressed their appeal, they failed to include the Pope himself. He does not explain why sedevacantists would address an appeal to members of the Roman Curia.

I have some difficulty in reconciling Mr. Miller’s statement that he “did not write that ‘Fr. Manelli’s poor health was just an excuse for not answering Fr. Volpi’s questions’” with his prior statement that “Father Manelli has been uncooperative, using poor health as an excuse not to communicate about his foundation with the Apostolic Commissioner.” Likewise, when in his original article he attributed the sentiment “have it your way” to the Commissioner, he seemed to be saying that Fr. Volpi also believed the health to be merely an excuse. 

The best I can work out is that Mr. Miller believes that it is an excuse, but not just an excuse, or an excuse, but not wholly baseless, and attributes a similar view to the Commissioner. However, it can hardly be an excuse at all, since was not even Fr. Manelli’s idea, but the doctor’s orders, that the former be hospitalized and not receive visitors, as that same doctor has explained. Fr. Manelli did respond to queries by letter. The Commissioner is not satisfied. Without access to their letters, I do not see how one can judge whether he is rightly or wrongly unsatisfied, although one can have suspicions based on what one knows of the character of the two men.

Now we come to the question of the temporal goods. An article (in Italian) that sheds further light on the question has recently appeared. The author writes:

"The goods used by the Institute of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate have always had their title held by non-profit Associations. The fact that the Founder gave his consent for laity to be members [of the associations] should be a praiseworthy act, but no, it is called into question, making it appear an astute stroke to subtract the goods from the control of the Holy See. If one knew better the statutes of the non-profit associations, one would understand that the lashing criticisms against the Franciscans of the Immaculate are devoid of foundation: no transfer of property took place, nor of disponibilità [the right to freely make use of goods], nor of use, nor [was there a transfer] under any other title: simply, the members of certain associations have changed.”

Before reading this article, I sought information from FFI I know. Someone who is well informed regarding the associations wrote confirming what was said above (there was no transfer in any sense), and added: 

“Yes, it’s true: the statutes were changed. Because laity entered the associations we had to change the statutes. Since there was no transfer of goods, the other accusations fall (administration of ecclesiastical goods, etc.). Our Institutes have always only just used the real property, therefore there is no question of ecclesial goods. The associations are of civil law and not canon law.”

RORATE NOTE: Another important detail has recently come to light. "In reality, the goods never belonged to the Institute, but to non-profit associations that flank the Institute. To give more responsibility to the laity in the management of the good was always the thinking of the Father Founder and of Pope Francis, who wants a truly poor Church, more so the Franciscans. Moreover, as it appears from various sources, Fr. Manelli had informed Fr. Volpi of the change in management of the associations; the latter received the news with joy, because he saw that they sought to live the Franciscan Rule." Source in Italian here

In the light of these clarifications, it is clear that the canons Mr. Miller cites in his reply are irrelevant to the case. The goods in question are not and never were ecclesiastical goods. If I let my parish priest habitually drive an extra car I have, it does not thereby become an ecclesiastical good or subject to canon law.

The idea behind this arrangement, which the Commissioner may find difficult to understand, is faithfulness to the ideals of St. Francis, as expressed in the Rule he wrote: “the friars are not to take anything as their own, neither house, nor place, nor any other thing” (quoted in the article cited, as are other texts). What donors give remains their property. The friars only accept the use of it. If it is burdensome for the donors to retain the title (because of property taxes, for example), the title can be passed from the donor to a suitable non-profit association. This is, however, purely a matter of civil law.

I will concede that the point regarding the sisters does not demonstrate that Mr. Miller had a source besides, but it is something of a moot point, since he has admitted to having another source by citing him.

As to the third point, I am sorry to say that even if Fr. Volpi is understood to have meant that “Father Stefano M. Manelli imposed Mass in Latin as the only form of celebration permitted for the Conventual Mass in the seminary and novitiates,” the statement remains doubly false: it was not imposed (a point which Mr. Miller seems not to contest), and it was not the only form of celebration used for Conventual Masses. For I know of no novitiate where the Conventual Mass was celebrated in Latin every day of the week, and it only takes one novitiate to make this a false statement. Furthermore, I do not see the relevance of the liturgical distinction between the Conventual Mass and other Masses that the entire community was required to attend. No one with a strong aversion for the Novus Ordo would last through years of FFI formation, going to that Mass week after week, especially since he knows that after ordination, he will likely have to celebrate the Novus Ordo more frequently than the Vetus.

Now, as for my errors, misunderstandings, and obfuscations: to deduce the presence of another source from what was said about the sisters was an error, although the conclusion was true; I admit to having difficulty understanding what Mr. Miller wrote about Fr. Manelli’s poor health being an excuse; I do not see what I obfuscated. As to my “animus”, I do have ill feelings in the Commissioner’s regard, but since these are the natural consequence of his own words and actions, I do not see that he has anyone to blame for this besides himself. I have always tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, and to interpret his actions as charitably as possible, but he has succeeded in progressively falsifying a series of theories as to how his words and actions could be well-intentioned. 

I expect Mr. Miller justifiably has better feelings in the Commissioner’s regard because he has not seen as much.