Thursday, August 8, 2013
Why the Franciscans of the Immaculate have been placed under the supervision of a commmisioner
ANDREA TORNIELLI Vatican Insider VATICAN CITY The Pope’s decision to place the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate under the supervision of a commissioner - after the Congregation for Religious requested him to do at the end of an apostolic visit which began last year – and to forbid them to celebrate Mass according to the Old Rite without prior authorisation, has sparked heated media reactions originating from traditionalist circles and critics of Francis’ papacy. There is one basic reason for this: Francis is seen as going back on a Motu Proprio issued by Benedict XVI in 2007 which liberalised the pre-Vatican II missal. Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi has denied that this is the case. American traditionalist blog Rorate Coeli published the text of the decree which announces the appointment of a commissioner to supervise the Institute, including the clause on the traditional Latin Mass. On 29 July, Italian traditionalist blog, Messainlatino, published the official version of the letter the commissioner sent to the Institute’s religious. The news was discussed in greater detail that same day, by Vatican correspondent Sandro Magister, who presented it as the first open “contradiction” to Ratzinger’s pontificate. A reaction also came from Italian news agency Corrispondenza Romana, headed by Professor Roberto De Mattei, who has ties with the traditionalist world and has written a book about the Second Vatican Council, which presents Vatican II as an event which broke with past tradition. Corrispondenza Romana also gathered signatures for a petition to support the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate being able to use the Old Rite. The petition was then sent to the Congregation for Religious. On 7 August, two journalists with close links to the traditionalist world, Mario Palmaro and Alessandro Gnocchi, wrote an article for Italian newspaper Il Foglio with the eye-catching title: “Quella sberla ai Francescani nella chiesa di Francesco” (“Francis’ Church gives Franciscans a slap in the face”). The article says the style of the letter sent by the Holy See-appointed commissioner Fr. Fidenzio Volpi, resembled that of Romanian Communist politician Ceaușescu’s bureaucrats. The two journalists mocked Francis’ message to Muslims for the end of Ramadan as well as his recent trip to the Southern Italian island of Lampedusa. Comparing Francis’ pontificate against the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, the journalists said the latter “are poor and humble without being ostentatious”, whilst the “new pontificate seems to love the cameras and being in the spotlight.” Gnocchi and Palmaro defined the decision to appoint a supervisory commissioner for the Institute a “draconian” measure which aims to weaken the friars in their determination to rediscover and preserve the traditional Latin Mass. The 1962 missal corresponds to the Mass that has been celebrated for two centuries whereas the post-Vatican II liturgy is not linked to tradition. In a recent interview with Vatican Insider, the former Procurator General of the Franciscan Friars, Fr. Alessandro Apollonio, flatly denied that the Institute’s friars and women religious were in any way involved in spreading the idea that the decisions affecting the Institute disavow Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio. But doubts remain regarding the obvious attempts to transform the Institutes internal issues and tensions to do with faithfulness to the original charisma, into an open battle over the traditional Mass and the supposed betrayal of Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio. This seems to suggest that the Holy See’s decision was either taken light-heartedly or based on “false” information, as Fr. Apollonio himself stated. It is worth remembering that the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate – an Institute which has a strong Marian and missionary ethos, was established in the 70s and takes its inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi and especially St. Maximilian Kolbe – did not originally spring out of a traditional context. The founder, Fr. Stefano Manelli took the Institute in this direction after the promulgation of the Motu Proprio issued by Benedict XVI in 2007, liberalising the Old Mass. In the General Chapter held in 2008, Fr. Manelli suggested a review of the Institute’s Constitutions, to make the use of the Old Rite in conventual Masses obligatory. Opposition to the proposal was so great that it was withdrawn without even putting it to the vote. But in the three years that followed, it was suggested again that Mass be celebrated according to the the Old Rite and sometimes the Rite was imposed. In an interview published on a French blog in 2010, Fr. Apollonio himself admitted that the Old Rite “is our conventual form of Mass and was recommended by our founder.” The Old Rite was even a favourite for priestly ordinations. Although no written law or decision was introduced in the Institute’s General Chapter to make the use of the Old Rite official, it was the “preferred” Rite in convents run by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. Some countries, in fact, issued bilingual editions of the book of hours, in English and Latin, so as to encourage people to pray in Latin. In 2012, this led a group of friars – Frs Antonio Santoro, Michele Iorio, Pierdamiano Fehlner, Massimiliano Zangheratti and Angelo Geiger – who formed part of the original community and held important roles in the running of the Institute and in its development and were transferred on various occasions as punishment for their non-traditionalist views – to ask the Vatican Congregation for Religious for the original charism to be restored. They also asked for traditionalist ideas not to be imposed on them, including those which reduced the influence of the Second Vatican Council or presented it as an event which marked an irreconcilable break with previous tradition. Fr. Geiger wrote a letter stating that there were some influential figures within the Institute who claimed the New Mass was for ordinary Catholics, whereas the Old Mass was “for Catholics who were more serious about the faith.” According to this point of view, the “extraordinary form of the Roman Rite” liberalised by Benedict XVI was seen as automatically superior. A separate chapter addresses the mistrust some of the Institute’s heads feel towards the new pontificate. This opinion is fully shared by certain websites and blogs that try to portray the friars as victims “persecuted” by “enemies” who support the Old Mass and their Vatican sponsors. Those who oppose the line taken in recent years do not believe that the Old Mass and traditionalism should form the exclusive basis of young seminarists’ training. They also do not agree that traditionalist “opinions” should be treated as “law” within the Institute and passed off as a sign of loyalty to its founder, when they should not be imposed on anyone. Particularly, these friars say, as the General Chapter did not consult or issue a mandate on this matter. Traditionalism “has nothing to do with our charisma” and “according to our legislation is not obligatory.” Added to this, are other problems to do with the running of the Institute, the growing role of its female component which is more united in its support for the proposal regarding the Old Mass, and the pastoral problems linked to parishes where the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate carry out their ministry. A year ago, Benedict XVI’s reaction to all this was to order an apostolic visit. On 9 May 2012, even before the visit took place, in one of his public audiences, Ratzinger greeted consecrated women, seminarists and the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, praying that they would allow themselves to be nourished by the Word of God and the Eucharistic bread, so as to feel cum Ecclesia. This message is echoed in the letter sent by Francis’ appointed commissioner to the Institute’s members. The apostolic visitor handed out a very detailed questionnaire which dealt with all these problems and as Vatican Insider has been able to learn, most of the members consulted said they were in favour of an extraordinary General Chapter being held or of a commissioner being appointed. This is proof that there are tensions within the Institute and that they are not limited to just a handful of rebel friars who supposedly managed to falsify the truth. So the theory that Pope Francis’ decision is a disavowal of his predecessor’s Motu Proprio does not seem to hold water, as Vatican Insider wrote last 30 July. It is therefore understandable that the Holy See did not take the decision to appoint a supervisory commissioner lightly and only went ahead with it had carefully considered every little detail. The Institute’s official website says that its founder, Fr. Stefano Manelli and the entire Institute of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate pledge obedience to the Holy Father and trust that given this obedience, greater mercy would be shown towards them. In the coming weeks, the commissioner will decide whether this statement should prevail over the pressure being placed on the Institute’s friars by traditionalist circles, to celebrate consciously according to the Old Rite, without asking for prior authorisation. According to these traditionalists, the fact that the Vatican decree does not at any point specify who the “competent authorities” are, gives the friars the right to continue celebrating the Old Rite.