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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Follow the Money... or the Ideology: Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate Update Featured

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I’ve been debating with people over the main motives of the current efforts of the regime in Rome to block or dismantle all attempts to return the Church to her original Catholic course. Many have said, not without justification, that we need to follow the money. Certainly in nearly every case of a concerted attack by the Bergoglians against a Catholic organisation, staggeringly large sums of money are nearly always involved. Still, we can’t discount the ideological motive either.

But “follow the money” is never bad advice for a journalist. This week, our friend Marco Tosatti stirred up the debate again, when he gave us another fascinating glimpse into the Vatican’s ongoing persecution of the saintly Fr. Stefano Manelli and the order he founded, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. 


(As usual, caveats apply: this is what journalists call an “analysis piece” – which in journospeak means the writer is putting things together to see if there is a narrative here that makes sense. It’s not supposed to be news, so much as food for thought. Still less is it a prediction from any higher source. But let’s just put a few ostensibly disparate things together and see if it makes a picture, shall we?)

Apparently the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious has demanded that Fr. Manelli turn over to them the real assets they continue to maintain he is withholding from them. 

Marco writes: 

The heritage is not insignificant: about 59 buildings, 17 parcels of land, 5 photovoltaic plants, 102 cars, more numerous bank accounts. These were places seized by the earlier Commissioner [Volpi]. The judge decided that they had to be dissequestrati [de-sequestered] and riaffidati [returned] to the associations of lay people who were the owners, because of the absolute vow of poverty practiced by the FFI.

Rejected by the ordinary justice, the Congregation [for Religious] has increased pressure against the 83 year old Father Manelli, forced by the Vatican into a form of seclusion… Among other things, Father Manelli, recently, has been formally asked on behalf of the Pope, to confirm his loyalty and obedience to the Pope himself. Which he did.

About a fortnight ago Father Manelli has, however, received a letter from the Congregation for Religious in which he was asked to put in the availability of Church temporal goods now under the control of lay associations.

If this sounds familiar it is because we have been down this garden path before. These are properties and other objects said to be valued at about 30 million Euros. The exact properties that a court ruled a few years ago were not Fr. Manelli’s to give away – and therefore also not the Vatican’s to demand. 

In July, 2015, a court in Avellino ruled that the accusations by Fr. Fidenzio Volpi, the Vatican’s Commissioner, were totally unfounded. He had accused Fr. Manelli of absconding with the order’s property by transferring it to laymen loyal to him. Volpi had filed a lawsuit for suspicion of fraud, forgery of documents, and embezzlement, and Fr. Manelli answered these with a libel actionagainst Fr. Volpi for defamation. The court, after an investigation, ordered Fr. Volpi to return the assets that he had already confiscated, fined him 20,000 Euros and ordered him to issue a public apology. 

None of which budged the course Vatican’s steamroller an inch, despite the fact that, apart from a distaste for traditional liturgy, these were the only substantial charges ever made against Fr. Manelli or the order. The Court of Avellino ruled that there had been no misconduct of any kind by Fr. Manelli or anyone else associated with the FFIs and ordered the release of property belonging to Mission of the Immaculate Mediatrix (MIM) and the Third Order of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (TOFI) that Volpi had seized. Shortly after this, the intemperate Fr. Volpi had a stroke and died and was replaced by the FFI’s cardinal persecutor with a more moderate Salesian, less given to hysterical accusations but no less determined to rewrite the FFI to more closely conform to the New Catholic Paradigm. 

Fast forward to today, and – apparently without the slightest qualm that the rest of us are watching their every move and broadcasting it to the whole world –  here’s the same Vatican telling Fr. Manelli, “Now you just hand over the money and it won’t go hard on you, see? There’s a good chap. Don’t be difficult, and just never mind what the courts said.” I must say, one admires their brass, if nothing else. And it’s a pretty good dodge. He hands over the properties and they get the money, or he refuses and they get to accuse him – for the very first time – of disobedience, and they rid themselves of an annoyingly popular priest. Either way it’s a win.

Now we also hear that Fr. Sabino Ardito, a Salesian chosen to carry on Fr. Volpi’s work, will be rewriting the institute’s constitutions. Given what we have heard so far – that the complaints against the order were mainly about their “definite traditionalist drift” – it’s hard to imagine that this rewrite will be anything but more of the same: the Vatican’s single-minded stripping of the Franciscans of the Immaculate of their founding charism. (And one is forced to laugh darkly at the accusation, that we can assume still stands, that the institute was developing a “lefebvrian” tone. This is as Pope Francis is ostensibly making friendly overtures to the SSPX. At least get your stories straight, lads.)

In other words, the Vatican is carrying on with the institute’s transformation from a flourishing, faithful bastion of Catholic orthodoxy and piety, for which it drew vocations from around the world, to another post-conciliar dead zone. 

And I bet I know exactly what Fr. Ardito will be going after. What was the one thing that the Immaculates were known for? (Hint: it’s right in the name.) 

For some time, there were lurid stories circling around about a mysterious “secret vow” that the order “forced” the sisters to take. One of these stories appeared in the Daily Mail, along with juicy allegations from an unnamed “former sister” who said they were told to “flagellate” themselves. (Presumably we’re talking about “the discipline”.) This certainly fed latent but ever-present British anti-catholicism that always loves a titillating Maria Monk style story about convents. But the reality is that the Friars and Sisters of the Immaculate do (or did) take a special “fourth vow,” after poverty, chastity and obedience; one involving total Marian consecration. 

This comes from their following of the spirituality of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Fr. Manelli based his “Traccia Mariana,” the order’s Marian manifesto, on Kolbe’s work, which was approved by Pope John Paul II. The Traccia calls for the institute’s members to devote themselves to “a life lived totally for God through the Immaculate,” in order that “She may transform us, like St. Francis, into Jesus Crucified, and may let us be consumed in the conquest of all souls for God.” 

I suppose it was just too difficult to square this notion of conquering all souls for God through the Immaculate with Nostra Aetate and the Church’s newfound peace with our separated brethren and our Moslem friends. 

With the main objection in the affair of the FFIs remaining officially unspoken, I think we can be justified in making a few educated guesses. All sources say that it was fear of being labeled “traditionalist” in the theological sense – as opposed to merely having an aesthetic preference for the smells and bells – that Fr. Manelli most feared. They say that he was “at pains” to always be seen to celebrate both the old and the new rites, and that it was forbidden in the institute to say negative things about Vatican II. And I think, reading the Traccia, that Fr. Manelli’s discomfort with the New Paradigm of Vatican II, if it exists at all, must have been a later development. The Traccia is full of positive references to Pope Paul VI, not something one would be likely to find in a “crypto-lefebvrian” document. It is possible, I suppose, that their protestations of “acceptance” of the Council were genuine. Indeed, it is hard to imagine such a man dissimulating for political reasons.

It is well known, however, that in Italian ecclesial politics, merely being accused of any sympathy for or likeness to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre is the equivalent of an accusation of communism by the HUAC committee. But the documentation shows that the FFIs were extremely careful never to criticise the Ordinary Form or any of the outcomes of Vatican II, had introduced the Old Rite incrementally and had never issued a blanket order for it in every house.

But stop a moment; what are you really doing when you’re hotly denying being a Traditionalist? What is the one thing that separates the Traditionalist Catholics from the merely conservative novusordoist Catholics? It’s not the Mass. It’s not a matter of preference for Latin, incense or any other external thing. It’s the Social Reign of Christ the King; the “conquest of all souls for God,” as Fr. Manelli’s Traccia put it. Traditionalist Catholics believe that it is the purpose of the Church, founded and mandated by Christ, to convert every single human being on earth to the Faith, and to have Catholic principles guiding every nation. 

Now, what is the one thing that the Francis Vatican is most energetically doing lately?

You will see immediately the problem. It was the conflict, the contradiction, that the FFIs tried to avoid, but that was finally forced on them: a choice between the New Catholic Paradigm so energetically promoted by Pope Francis and co., or the Faith of our fathers, and all its goals. In the 70s this incompatibility was perhaps not so clear. But it’s pretty clear now. 

It is, in fact, the choice that everyone is going to have to make at some point, because it seems clear that the Francis machine isn’t going to stop until everyone is either with them or out. And the fact that the FFIs were chosen, alone among all the communities of religious, to be made an example of, says a lot both about them and about all the other “conservative” communities that weren’t attacked. 
It also indicates that the bold approach is not only more honest, but more effective. All the tiptoeing around on VaticanTwoist eggshells, the self-censoring, accommodating and attempts to walk that friendly, we’re-harmless, “conservative” middle way between the contemporary Church’s two competing proposals didn’t avail them much. So, lesson learned, hey? Be a traditionalist and don’t apologise. They’re going to hate you anyway, so you might as well go all in. Spring the trap before it gets you.

Giuseppe Nardi, writing in German for Katholisches, says that now the Commissioner has actually admitted that the whole thing has been motivated by envy; the Franciscans of the Immaculate were massively succeeding with their “definite traditionalist drift” and this was something that “obviously ought not to exist.” This interesting admission is especially telling, since Fr. Volpi was from the Capuchins, and Fr. Ardito is a Salesian, both orders that stand on the edge of extinction since starting down the progressivist, novusordoist, VaticanTwoist path. 

And this brings me to the larger issues we all face as Catholics. Tosatti explains that the latest attempt by the Romans to separate the institute from its lawful property comes not so much from the Prefect of the Congregation for Religious, Cardinal Braz de Aviz, but from the lieutenant appointed by Francis, Franciscan José Rodriguez Carballo. This appointment was one that has not got nearly enough attention in the English language press. 

Carballo’s is a famous name in Italy; for (putting it mildly) shady business dealings and coming within a hair of bankrupting the Franciscan Friars Minor. And yet, before the investigation into his mismanagement of millions of Euros was complete, Pope Francis took him out of the job he had so spectacularly botched and – handing the mess off to the successor – made him an archbishop, and put him in as secretary for the Congregation for Religious. In fact, Carballo was the new pope’s very first appointment, a scandal that did not pass unnoticed in the Italian press. 

And this is very much Bergoglio’s MO. He has always surrounded himself with shady characters, men of often stunningly bad reputations, putting them into places of high responsibility as his personal henchmen. These are men, of course, who are easy to control by his patented double sided method of carrot and stick, praise and advancement on one side and threats of exposure and ruin on the other. It’s why we still have the notorious homosexual Monsignor Battista Ricca in charge of the papal household. Given the speed and ruthlessness with which the attack on the FFIs was carried out, it’s clear that Carballo was given this as a primary task. Indeed, Fr. Volpi – when he was shouting down bishops at the meeting of the CEI, demanding that no one take in FFI refugees – always insisted that he was working on the direct orders “of the Vicar of Christ,” and there’s no reason not to believe him. 

This Carballo is worth examining more closely, particularly in the light of the accusations of financial mismanagement leveled at Fr. Manelli. On Carballo’s watch, the order founded by the Seraphic Father, St. Francis, had invested “tens of millions” of Euros in a company under investigation for illegal arms dealing, money-laundering and drug trafficking. The new Minister General of the order, the American Father Michael Perry, warned the brethrenin a letter that the order was in “grave, and I underscore ‘grave’ financial difficulty.”

Although the investigation is not yet completed, it is being openly asked if Carballo knowingly allowed the intentional mismanagement of funds by persons “outside the order,” who enriched themselves with it. Given that he is now under the protection of the Vicar of Christ, his personal friend, we may never know. 
Carballo, in one way however, was a natural choice as the executioner of the FFIs. As a break away group from this withering main body of the Franciscan family their stunning success at attracting young and devout vocations was an ongoing rebuke. While he was Minister General, Carballo was known to be particularly peeved about the FFI’s “not only pre-conciliar, but also anti-conciliar” attitude, that he regarded as “treason” against the new Vatican II Catholic paradigm. With this man in charge, it should not be surprising that one of the strictures placed upon the remaining FFI membership is a kind of “vow” of loyalty to Vatican II. 

Carballo was appointed April 6, 2013, and the decree against the FFIs, dissolving their leadership council, came from Rome on July 11. And I must admit to some curiosity as to what use the former Minister General of the financial-scandal-ridden Friars Minor intended for the FFI tertiaries’ property, valued we remember, at about 30 million Euros. 

All this is not to absolve Cardinal Braz de Aviz. It’s worth noting that Pope Benedict appointed the Brazilian cardinal – who is not a member of a religious order – to replace the “conservative” Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé. Rodé had been given the thankless task – 40 years too late – of doing something about the catastrophic state of female religious orders in western countries. 

But the new prefect brought the entire effort to nothing. After 6 years of accusations screeched from the liberal establishment of a “crackdown” and even an “inquisition” persecuting the sisters – Braz de Aviz, a notable Bergoglian progressive, made conciliatory gestures and closed the matter, to the resounding praise of both the secular media and the patently feminist and secularized “sisters” he had vindicated. Pope Francis smoothed the last of the ruffled feathers by celebrating Mass with them, and the sisters turned their attention back to the orderly shutting down of their orders, selling off properties to pay for the nursing care for their last remaining members. 

Significantly, it was Rodé, one of the few cardinals known to celebrate the Mass according to the Old Rite, who was in charge of the Congregation for Religious when the FFIs started adopting the traditional forms in 2008. But this support ended abruptly when Braz de Aviz was appointed in January 2011. The cardinal had already ordered an investigation into the order’s affairs in 2012. The irony was widely noted when it became clear that Braz de Aviz was already attacking the FFIs in 2014 when he appeased the notoriously radicalized and secularized feminist nuns with a friendly pat on the head. 

Going back to my initial question of whether the FFI and related disasters have been motivated, as some have said, by the patent lust for filthy lucre we are seeing in the pope’s immediate circles, or pure neo-modernist ideology, I think we can say with Pope Francis that we’re not here to make artificial, black and white choices, an either/or interpretation. We’re a both-and Easter-people.


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Last modified on Thursday, June 8, 2017
Hilary White

Our Italy correspondent is known throughout the English-speaking world as a champion of family and cultural issues. First introduced by our allies and friends at the incomparable, Miss White lives in Norcia, Italy.