The Franciscans of the Immaculate under surveillance

Source: FSSPX News

A Roman decision affecting the Franciscans of the Immaculate has caused quite a commotion in Rome, right in the middle of the summer.  In fact, following an Apostolic Visitation that began a year ago, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life issued, with the explicit approval of Pope Francis, a Decree dated July 11, 2013, but made public only several days later, which appoints an Apostolic Commissioner to govern the Franciscans of the Immaculate until their next General Chapter convenes in 2014, and which imposes the Mass of Paul VI on all its members, unless they obtain the express authorization from the Commissioner.

The Congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate was founded in 1970 by two Franciscans, Fr. Stefano Manelli and Fr. Gabriele Pellettieri.  This congregation was approved according to diocesan right by the Archbishop of Benevento, Abp. Carlo Minchiatti, in 1990.  On January 1, 1998, it was raised to the status of an institute of pontifical right.

The Franciscans of the Immaculate, who today number around 400 religious in more than fifty houses, head several radio and television stations throughout the world;  they direct several websites and a publishing house, Casa Mariana Editrice, which has published dozens of volumes, among them the book by Msgr. Brunero Gherardini, The Ecumenical Vatican Council II:  A Much Needed Discussion.   The female branch, the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, erected as an institute of religious life of pontifical right in the same years as the Friars, includes more than 400 nuns.

Now, six years ago, following the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum dated July 7, 2007, which acknowledged that the Mass of Saint Pius V had never been abrogated, the congregation of the Franciscans of the Immaculate began to adopt habitually—but not exclusively—the Traditional Mass.  That is why the Roman decision raises several questions.

The historian Roberto de Mattei asks himself:  “What is the intention of the supreme ecclesiastical authority?  To suppress the Ecclesia Dei Commission and to abrogate the Motu Proprio of Benedict XVI?  Then it is necessary to say so explicitly, so that the consequences thereof can be drawn.  And if that is not the case, why issue a Decree that is uselessly provocative with regard to the Catholic circles that adhere to the Tradition of the Church?  These circles are going through a period of great expansion, especially among young people, and perhaps that is the chief reason for the hostility that is directed against it today.”

The last five lines of the July 11 Decree are the most astonishing:  “In addition to the above, the Holy Father Francis has directed that every religious of the congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate is required to celebrate the liturgy according to the ordinary rite and that, if the occasion should arise, the use of the extraordinary form (Vetus Ordo) must be explicitly authorized by the competent authorities, for every religious and/or community that makes the request.”

The Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister emphasizes:  “The astonishment stems from the fact that what is decreed contradicts the dispositions given by Benedict XVI, which for the celebration of the Mass in the ancient rite ‘sine populo’ demand no previous request for authorization whatsoever....  While for Masses ‘cum populo’ they set out a few conditions, but always guaranteeing the freedom to celebrate.

“In general, against a decree of a Vatican congregation it is possible to have recourse to the supreme tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura....  But if the decree is the object of approval in a specific form on the part of the pope, as it seems to be in this case, recourse is not admitted.  The Franciscans of the Immaculate will have to comply with the prohibition on celebrating the Mass in the ancient rite beginning Sunday, August 11.”

What are the reasons for this Roman Decree?  The journalist Yves Chiron asked an Italian historian, Fabrizio Cannone, in Aletheia (no. 204, July 31, 2013), about possible dissension within the community of the Franciscans of the Immaculate.  Here is his response:  “For some time now there have been differences among the members of the Institute.  Differences essentially of two types.  First, there have been increasingly strong criticisms aimed at the Founder and Superior General, who recently turned eighty, whom some consider no longer capable of supervising the many activities and the development of the Institute....

“The second internal criticism came to light after the 2007 Motu Proprio:  although the majority of the priests accept the document and have made extensive use of it, while nevertheless always respecting diocesan pastoral guidelines, some religious have not looked kindly on this supposed “Tridentinization”, which was perhaps unexpected.  The significant reason, in my opinion, is that the Institute is perhaps the only one in the world, at least among those that have a certain numerical importance, that has tried to go over to the traditional liturgy, at least for the internal celebrations within the community:  and this, I repeat, was greeted with great joy by most of the priests, simple brothers, nuns and third-order lay people.  This was a sign that there should be and there is a connection between their spirituality and the typical spirituality of the traditional rite.  Some priests did not accept this development, which was however foreseen by the text of the Motu Proprio itself, and they began to find fault with Fr. Manelli, with his co-founder Fr. Pellettieri, and the other members of the [General] Council.  Hence the Apostolic Visitation, the Decree and the nomination of a Commissioner.”

Fabrizio Cannone concludes:  “This measure seems to be a punitive measure, in the sense that the possibly deficient government by the Superiors and the supposed lack of a sensus Ecclesiae are not the same thing as the liturgical form that they may have adopted—far from it.  What is more, in this case one can observe also the copious fruits of young vocations.”

When asked about the Decree, Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Press Office of the Holy See, stated that this was a decision aimed at responding to specific problems and tensions within the community of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, and he assured the reporter that it was not a matter of contradicting the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum that liberalized the use of the old rite.

This was the context in which the public learned, on Saturday, August 2, that the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei had a new secretary.  Indeed, the pope had just appointed to that post Archbishop Guido Pozzo, Archbishop of Bagnoregio in Italy, who until then had been the Papal Almoner, and who had already occupied that post from July 2009 to November 2012.

According to Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux and a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to which the Ecclesia Dei Commission is attached, the reappointment “of someone who knows the files very well” will allow this Commission to “benefit from his experience and knowledge” at a moment when it is confronted by several crucial issues.  In the August 5 issue of La Croix Cardinal Ricard reflects that with regard to the Society of Saint Pius X it is time to “recognize a failure of the negotiations, meetings and dialogues”;  the recent statement of its bishops on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the episcopal consecrations (see DICI no. 278 dated July 5, 2013) “is a categorical and definitive refusal”. According to the french bishop, the “new” secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission might be able “to tell whether some of the files can be reactivated”, whereas Abp. Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith [and ex officio  President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission] “finds it more difficult to understand” the refusal of the Society of Saint Pius X to recognize the Second Vatican Council as a whole, and Abp. Augustine Di Noia, Vice-President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission since June 26, 2012, “can only declare that the dossier is complex”.

In Rome, an attentive observer of this story informs us that “there are not yet any unofficial or official explanations” for the reappointment of Abp. Pozzo.  The only conclusion that can be drawn from it is that for the moment no one intends to abolish this Commission, as some had rumored.  The strong reactions provoked by the Decree concerning the Franciscans of the Immaculate surprised more than one Roman dignitary.  Let us wait for what happens next....  For we are in the month of August, many are on vacation, and it is difficult to get reliable information.”

(Sources:Apic / IMedia / Aletheia / LaCroix / / / / private sources – DICI no. 280 dated August 9, 2013)