Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hype and hope for the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate

A verbal war of charges and counter charges surrounds the Vatican crackdown on the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate appointing an outside commissioner and restricting their use of the Latin Mass. Some traditionalist groups see this as an attack on the Latin Mass. This war is now spilling over from the Italian to English speaking world as attested to by the two articles below.

Michael J Miller
Catholic World Report
December 16, 2013

Pity the poor Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, persecuted by heartless bureaucrats who despise all things preconciliar! Weep for their Superior General, put under house arrest, his councilors banished to Earth’s remotest ends! Woe to the Vatican commissar, systematically demolishing the community, its charism, and its apostolic works!

Victimization by the authorities makes for gripping headlines. Since Capuchin Father Fidenzio Volpi was appointed in July 2013 as Apostolic Commissioner to govern the FFI temporarily, the Italian press has publicized a steady stream of serious accusations: the spokesman for the community had acted treacherously and exceeded his authority; severe penalties were imposed on the aged founder, Father Stefano Manelli, without due canonical process. French-, German-, and English-language traditional Catholic websites and blogs have spread the stories as proof positive that insidious forces in the Vatican Curia are dead-set on eradicating the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

Curiously absent from all these accounts is any explanation grounded in fact of the actions taken by the Apostolic Commissioner in governing the FFI. Seemingly harsh decisions made by Father Volpi are reported, but not his own stated reasons for those decisions. Instead, every real or perceived slight, setback, inconvenience, or disciplinary measure is ascribed to hostility toward the traditional Latin Mass and those devoted to it.

The axiom “Audiatur et altera pars” applies here: “The other side deserves a hearing.” This article calls attention to some basic facts that have been overlooked in the media hype and summarizes Father Volpi’s written responses to a number of objections and accusations. The source material used is the Italian-language documentation—survey results, press releases, open letters, clarifications—posted at the order's website,

Note that Catholic World Report respects the confidentiality of internal communications of the Apostolic Commissioner with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate and will neither publish nor comment on their contents, unless and until such documents are posted on the official website of the religious community.

Background information

The Institute of Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate was founded in 1970 by Father Stefano M. Manelli and Father Gabriel M. Pelletieri, who were then Conventual Franciscan Friars. Their purpose was to renew Franciscan consecrated life based on historical Franciscan sources, the spirituality of Maximilian Kolbe, and the conciliar decree Perfectae caritatis. As they started their austere life of prayer, penance, and apostolic work, they chose as their new home the poorest friary in the Province of Naples, located in Piano della Croce in Frigento. One year later they started a novitiate, and in 1975 an internal seminary. The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate were founded by the same co-founders in 1982, with the specific apostolate of diffusing the Gospel through the mass media. In 1990 the archbishop of Benevento granted the institute of friars the status of Diocesan Right. That same year, an affiliated public association of laypeople was founded, the Militia of the Immaculate Mediatrix. The FFI rapidly spread worldwide, and based on recommendations from many bishops it was officially recognized by the Holy See as an Institute of Pontifical Right on January 1, 1998, the Solemnity of the Mother of God. The Holy See approved the Sisters’ Institute on November 9, 1998.

In 2012, five Franciscan Fathers from the motherhouse at the Casa Mariana Frigento formally petitioned the Congregation for Religious, asking them to intervene, because they had found it impossible to dialogue with Father Manelli about the governance of their tripartite community. As a result, the Holy See ordered an apostolic visitation of the Institute, which took place from July 2012 to July 2013.

No one disputes the fact that the FFI is one of the rare postconciliar religious communities that has thrived and done excellent apostolic and missionary work. It is naive, however, to assume that the government of a fledgling institute with three branches should be running smoothly and trouble-free less than 15 years after it received papal approval. The call to Rome for help came, not from a handful of malcontents, as they are often portrayed, but from friars who had collaborated closely with the Minister General of the Institute.

On September 19, 2013, authorization was obtained from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life to publish the results of a questionnaire sent by the Apostolic Visitor to all the friars in perpetual vows. Slightly less than two-fifths said that the Minister General was governing well; 61 percent said that there were significant problems. Of the latter group, almost three quarters thought that the problems could not be resolved by an Ordinary General Chapter but required either an Extraordinary General Chapter or a Vatican-appointed Commissioner. The response to the question about the Minister General’s decisions in liturgical matters was similar: almost two to one, the friars admitted that there were problems, and about half of the respondents said that extraordinary measures were needed to resolve them (77 percent of 64 percent = 49.3 percent). Finally, more than half (53 percent) said that relations with the Superior General of the Sisters’ Institute were problematic, and of them, 85 percent considered extraordinary measures necessary.

Again, the argument that all was well until Vatican bureaucrats unfairly singled out the “conservative” FFI for persecution is baseless. Members of a religious community, like loyal members of a family, usually do not air their disagreements in public but try to deal with them privately. The statistics summarized above clearly indicate that it was high time for the FFI to seek outside help from the authorities in Rome and that there was significant support for that petition.


read the entire (long detailed) article at the Catholic World Report

The traditionalist site Rorate has already rebutted this article in the following entitled
Informed source picks apart erroneous Catholic World Report propaganda piece

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). This week, Catholic World Report ran a completely and thoroughly erroneous story on the FI that they could have easily avoided with nothing more than Google searches. But readers of this blog already know the problems with that venue as we have discussed in the past (see here and here)

We now bring you not only a rebuttal of the story but one of the most thorough accounts of this sad and unnecessary situation by a 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.

From our very well-informed source:

Michael J. Miller, writing for Catholic World Report, wishes English-speaking readers to hear the “other side” of the Franciscans of the Immaculate controversy, namely, the Commissioner’s side. Unfortunately, he has done so by uncritically repeating arguments, some of which were answered months ago, and others more recently.

----- read their entire argument at Rorate Caeli

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