Franciscan of Immaculate marching for life. New points for victory, but without a rethinking in the Vatican there seem no end to the torments in sight.
(Rome) The Franciscans of the Immaculate, oppressed by the Congregation of Religious with the approval of Pope Francis, have achieved another victory, at least a moral victory, which should more than ever be the occasion of a process of reflection in the Vatican. There aren’t any indications so far.
Despite its young age, the Order, which was not established until the early nineties, stood out for the great number of religious and priestly vocations, even in Europe, where most of the orders are moaning because of a lack of vocations.
Old Rite and missionary – and a thorn in the eye
The secret: As large parts of the Church and also many members of the Order, especially during and after the Council, were enthusiastic about “cutting off old braids” and introducing all sorts of innovations in the name of new “freedoms,” from the setting aside of the Order’s name to the abandonment of the Order’s habit, from the convenient expansion of the cells while at the same time reducing the communal prayer of the hours, two friars minor went the opposite way. They asked to leave the company of their “progressive” confreres and retire to an abandoned monastery and revive it. There, they did not seek to subject their religious rule to an “aggiornamento” but to build on the first Franciscan rule of the order and deepen Marian spirituality.
The two Minorites, Fr. Stefano Maria Manelli and Fr. Gabriele Pellettieri, were joined by others, and they became the founders of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, a Marian and traditional order. As Pope Benedict XVI. freed the Immemorial Rite with the Motu proprio Summorum Pontificum and procured a home in the church, the young religious community did not hesitate to follow him in it. The Franciscans of the Immaculate became the first and so far only new religious order, which has returned to the traditional rite, but remained pastoral and bi-ritual. The special charisma that has distinguished the Order from other altruistic communities was its missionary zeal.
Benedict XVI. held his protective hand over the Order, which seemed to become as unique and interesting a model as it was to young members of other orders.
Then there was the unexpected resignation Benedict XVI. and election of Pope Francis. In the Order, a tiny minority of five disgruntled, liberal brothers had complained because of the change to the Immemorial Rite in the Vatican. Under Benedict XVI. the Congregation of the Religious did not dare to take action. Under Francis, it immediately received the tiny minority’s complaint as an opportunity to crack down on the unloved model – and radically.
Order’s founder, Father Manelli
Manelli was deposed as Superior General and placed under house arrest. The order’s leadership was removed from office, the priests were forbidden to celebrate the Immemorial Rite, and an apostolic commissar was appointed. In contradiction to Summorum Pontificum, each priest had to individually apply for a special permission to celebrate in the forma extraordinaria.
In order to exorcise the Order’s charisma, monasteries were closed, its seminary closed and evictions were carried out. The conversion into an Ecclesia Dei community was prohibited as well as the founding of a new order. Bishops were threatened if they accepted Franciscans of the Immaculate who left the Order.
In that summer of 2013, a veritable destructive campaign was kindled. The consequences did not remain: the first was the drying up of the vocations.
The Summit: To date, the Vatican has not given any reasons for this radical interference, let alone any charges. So far there was no possibility for the Franciscans of Immaculate to defend themselves against the oppressive measures of the papacy or at least to defend themselves. The requests and queries of Fr. Manelli to be received and heard by the Pope were not answered by Francis.
As Commissar, the Congregation of Religious used the Capuchin, Father Fidenzio Volpi. A man who was possessed of no sympathy for the tradition or the Immemorial Rite. Accordingly, he raged against the Order. Unofficially, let it be cryptically hinted that the order was being cleaned up because of “Lefebvrian deviationism.” Later, he even claimed that the Order had been put under temporary administration four months after the election of Pope Francis, because it wanted to “overthrow” the Pope. That tradition and the Immemorial Rite is the real enemy became more and more clear, if there was any need for further proof.
In May 2013, founder Manelli celebrated his 80th birthday (see Father Stefano Maria Manelli is 80 – success story of the Franciscans of the Immaculate: Old Rite and Missionary), unaware of what a storm would soon rage over his work. Meanwhile, Fr. Manelli is 85 years old and has been under house arrest for nearly five years, as ordered by the Vatican.
The Book of Slander
By contrast, Commissioner Volpi has been long dead. Today, the second Commissar, who is a bit more reserved than his predecessor, is in office today. Volpi died in the midst of a civil and criminal dispute before Italian courts. The way in front of state courts is at least open to Father Manelli and representatives of the lay organizations affiliated to the Order because the Vatican has no access to it.
The book by Loredana Volpi
Volpi had been condemned by the Italian court for defamation, to payment of damages, the execution of which was prevented by his death.
Loredana Volpi, a niece of the deceased commissar, saw the reputation of her uncle damaged. Together with Mario Castellano, she wrote the book “Truth and Justice for Father Fidenzio Volpi. A dark matter in the pontificate of Pope Francis” (Verità e giustizia per padre Fidenzio Volpi, Una oscura vicenda nel Pontificato di Papa Francesco). Now, she has admitted to accusing the Order of unproven things and writing slander against those in charge of the lay religious organizations.
“While the Acting Administration of the Franciscans of the Immaculate continues in its sixth (!) year, without for the time being, foreseeing a possible solution to this unusual affair, which together with other actions bordering on arbitrariness (see the Order of Malta) like a blemish on this pontificate, has been a important manner of procedure in the indictment and slander-construct that has poisoned this story,” said Vatican Marco Tosatti.
Mario Castellano, the co-author with Loredana Volpi, was a consultant to Commissar Volpi. Numerous hints, tips and “recommendations” from Fr. Alfonso Bruno, the main opponent of Fr. Manelli, who became the main beneficiary of the provisional administration of the Order, were probably included in the book.
In each country there are keywords that function as ciphers. If you want to slander someone, it is sufficient to incorporate these keywords and to drop some allusions in the subjunctive. Castellano and Volpi in their book brought the Order and lay organizations into contact with the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia. The mafia is good for slander in Italy.
Loredana Volpi was received in audience, apparently for merit in the struggle against the Franciscans of the Immaculate, even by Pope Francis, to whom she presented a copy of her book.
The two authors, however, made a mistake. In their references in the book, they named the leading lay representatives by name. These filed a criminal complaint for defamation. This was to prove the truth, which was obviously not possible. To escape prosecution, Loredana Volpi decided to come to an out of court settlement with the plaintiffs. She undertook to write a letter of apology to be published in the leading daily newspaper of Southern Italy, in Il Mattino, and in the national daily La Repubblica. The left-liberal Repubblica was not the only newspaper to participate in the campaign against the Franciscans of the Immaculate. The ruling may have fallen on it because it is the only newspaper that Pope Francis reads daily, according to his own statement.
However, in order for the message to arrive at the governing pope, who bears the responsibility for the whole case, Volpi must, as she had handed him a book, also make her apologies directly.
Tosatti published excerpts from the letter of apology:
“It is absolutely certain that the statements employed are […] not justified, being untrue, and for that reason they must be considered absolutely baseless and unjustified. In that sense, I renew to you my formal apology for the unfortunate and unjustified conduct towards you, and I inform you that the present letter will be published in the following … media organizations and also on the Internet so that it may be widely used to redress the damage caused.”
In return, those affected withdrew their ad.
The one most principally responsible is Pope Francis
The incident proves “once more,” according to Tosatti, that the whole affair, which brought a most extraordinary, flourishing, young order to the brink of annihilation, is based on a construct of unproven allegations, rumors, baseless allusions, numerous verbal aggressions, and unbelievable slander. In short: it is an intrigue. The intriguers, that’s for sure, seem partly personal, but partly ideologically motivated.
The ultimate responsibility for this lies not only with Pope Francis, because he endorsed the interventions of the Congregation of Religious, but above all because he has put both the male and the female branch, which was also placed under provisional administration at a later time, with two separate actions he refused to appeal to the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signatura against the measures of the Congregation of Religious. Thus, he decided by virtue of his powers as an absolute monarch. Why so much emphasis on an Order with which he had never had direct contact? The ordinary legal process would have clarified the legality and validity of the measures of the Congregation of Religious and above all revealed what it is all about. That was (and is) precisely, obviously not desired.
Loredana Volpi’s apology, according to Marco Tosatti, “casts a heavy shadow on the credibility of the Fronde [faction] of adversaries,” arrayed against Father Manelli and his Order.
Image: MiL / Chiesa e postconcilio / Corrispondenza Romana
Trans: Tancred firstname.lastname@example.org