Rorate Caeli recently “broke” the story of the suspensions of six clerics of our Institute who left their religious houses without permission in order to take “refuge” with “understanding bishops.” There are several things to consider in the interests of fair-mindedness.
Many are rightly scandalized. The question is why?
RC says that the friars departed without permission because “the atmosphere within the Institute had become intolerable and suffocating for them, with extremely grave effects both physical and psychological.” For the sake of argument, we concede hypothetically that this might be true. But on the other hand, the departure of friars from their religious houses without permission might also reflect the fact that there were valid reasons for the intervention of the Holy See in the first place. Perhaps—just perhaps—what led certain friars to take their case to the Holy See was their concern over the existence of a mentality within the Institute that was on the very edge of ecclesiality.
I just visited all the houses in the United States and Australia. Not one friar in any of the seven houses has left the Institute or asked for a dispensation. Certainly, no one has become a fugitive from their ecclesiastical superiors or vagrant from the religious house to which they were legitimately assigned. All of us in the Institute are suffering regardless of how one feels about the situation. Please careful about drawing conclusions from the gossip broadcasted from individuals who do not have the courage to put their real names to what they paste across the blogosphere.
Fr. Volpi has suspended from active ministry individual priests who are living, by their own choice, outside their religious houses without a superior, contrary to their vow of obedience. No major superior (or ordinary) responsible for priests is going to allow individual clerics to depart from his jurisdiction without permission and continue to exercise the clerical ministry.
It is not in the first place a question of how many times the friars have been warned. Their ordinary has simply said, “unless you are willing to live under my authority, I am not going to take responsibility for the exercise of your ministry.” If they return and agree to fulfill the most basic obligations they freely contracted by solemn vow to God, then their situation will change.
The “understanding” bishops with whom these friars have sought refuge are not their superiors and do not have (and cannot have) canonical responsibility for them. In all things pertaining to the exercise of the clerical ministry, the canonical ordinary of the respective priests is responsible. That person for these friars is Fr. Volpi. As long as they choose to live outside the friary contrary to their vow of obedience, he is not going to take responsibility for the exercise of their clerical ministry, and, therefore, he has suspended them until they return to the most basic requirements of religious obedience.
And consider these questions: What if, say, five of these friars were from the same national jurisdiction and their defection was causing grave problems to the local superiors and the good order of the jurisdiction? Further, what if part of the problem with having the monitions (written warnings) delivered to them in a timely fashion was precisely their vagrancy? And what if, at least in one case the suspension proceeded from another motive than vagrancy, say, one that was more serious and pressing.
But you might respond: “Father, why don’t you just be plain and if we are wrong enlighten us with the details.” And my reply: No, I will not respond in detail to gossip proceeding from those with an axe to grind, who themselves don’t have the courage to take responsibility for what they say. The only thing that would have a chance of satisfying those who are outraged would be to be to drag more of the dirt out into the open. Fr. Volpi did not drag this issue into the public, New Catholic did.
New Catholic did not have, and does not have, all the information. And even if he did he would not publish it, just like he does not publish links to those who disagree with him, or just as he only mentioned the problem with Fr. Urrutigoity when it was virtually impossible for him to ignore the situation any longer. Nothing gets published on Rorate Caeli that does not serve its agenda. It’s not a news agency. It’s a blog.
Hypothetically, it may be true that friars want to leave because the Institute has become repressive; or it may be that friars are acting contrary to their vows because their are real problems in the Institute for which reason the Holy See rightly intervened. If the latter, then not only are the suspensions understandable (the ordinary has every reason to fear that one who formally refuses to obey may be a risk in the exercise of his ministry), but also the fact that the Holy See wishes to resolve the problem internally and is not disposed to permit friars to depart to other jurisdictions or otherwise sanction the erection of a new institute.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and biased sources will not tell you anything that does not serve their agenda. Rorate Caeli continues to suggest that these friars will have no other choice than to leave the priesthood and wishes for the suppression of the whole Institute if things don’t go their way. That is not reporting. That is propaganda.
Again, hypothetically, the Holy See, under the authority of Pope Francis, may be persecuting religious who have done nothing wrong, and are intent upon destroying a healthy religious order because the Pope’s representatives are modernists and Freemasons. Or it may be that pseudonymous bloggers who have long been connected to the aggrieved party in this matter are intrumentalizing individuals for their own purposes. Roberto de Mattei and others have long been encouraging the friars and sisters to disobey the Holy See and New Catholic has repeatedly suggested that the only alternative to the creation of a new Institute will be for its ordained members to leave the priesthood.
Not every data set adds up to real knowledge. Make a distinction between journalism and propaganda. Do this for the sake of everyone who has a real—not virtual—stake in the outcome.
And this is what is most frustrating about the gossip: Mostly it is distributed by people who have a dog in this fight, many of them who otherwise have little or no direct knowledge of what our life is like in any particular friary. They come up with a data set that fits conclusions they reached a long time ago with little or no evidence and they conveniently leave out anything that contradicts their narrative.
One commenter wrote the following:
Your writings on traditionalism have some insight. But this is a situation where “by your fruits you shall know them.” The intervention you requested has had torrid fruits for your Institute.
What does this person really know about what our situation was like before the intervention? And what direct experience does he have of any of our friaries, either before or after? Yes, over the last year we have lost vocations overall. But does anyone have any idea how many vocations we have lost over the last ten years? Or how many religious and priests we have had during that time that have returned to the world?
Does anyone care, for example, that in America, we are still—even this year—at the same average of vocations that we have been for the last decade (currently with five aspirants)? Would that possibly make any difference in one’s assessment?
And what of our so-called “decimated” life? Everyone knows that we have been restricted in the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy. But what does anyone really know about our life from direct experience and not just from the gossip on the Internet? Have we stopped wearing the habit? Have we stopped praying in common five and half hours a day? Have we stopped praying the Rosary in common? Do we know longer have daily Eucharistic adoration and Benediction? Has our religious, spiritual and intellectual formation really become modernist and progressive? Any evidence? Anyone?
Are the books we publish at the Academy of the Immaculate, or our Internet apostolate turned some dark corner? Are our sermons no longer orthodox and traditional? Does anyone know how many books we have published this year? Does anyone care to know?
For the last quarter century we have always been known for our reverent, God-centered celebration of the sacred liturgy. Is that really no longer a value in our community? Does anyone have even a shred of actual experiential evidence to suggest that this has really changed? Do we no longer kneel for Holy Communion or receive on the tongue? In the friaries where for years we have celebrated ad orientem is that no longer the case? Is anyone able to do anything but mouth gossip they have welcomed from cowards?
Earlier this year, I met several of our Italian benefactors on the streets in Rome, who were convinced that the Institute has gone to hell because of the intervention. Unfortunately, my active Italian is still very poor, so I was not able to say much. I wish I had been, because the guy who seemed “to know” the most about our situation said something to this effect: “You know, it really is not about the Tridentine Rite or about Vatican II. It is about the Immaculate. They hate Our Lady.”
This is the same genre as the above, and it is a malicious lie.
I joined the Conventual Franciscans in the Philippines for Our Lady, and then asked for dispensation and joined the new Institute for Our Lady. And those who went to the Holy See, did it for one reason only, because they wished to live the spirituality of St. Francis and St. Maximilian Kolbe, meaning they did it for Our Lady.
Pope Francis told us that we are subject to a satanic persecution because of our Marian charism. But the Church is not persecuting us.
One more hypothetical: It may be true that those of us who appealed to the Holy See ought to acknowledge the scandal and destruction that they have created. But that is only if the gossip, which most people of good will know is not the whole story, is true. However, if those who gossip, like New Catholic, and those who spread it, like Pat Archbold and Tantumblogo are wrong then the responsibility for grave scandal and harm for the common good lies with them.
I know what they will say: I ought to have compassion on all those in the blogosphere who are rightly concerned about the situation. Perhaps. But that still is no excuse for siting behind a computer and electively, without need either in justice or charity, and clicking the publish button. That is entirely their responsibility. And the ones who may be harmed most of all are the ones they say they want to protect.
I have never been more convinced that the appeal was right and just than I am now.