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Vatican Rejects Calls for Removal of “Apostolic Commissioner” Tyrannizing the Franciscans of the Immaculate

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Two Peas in a Pod: “Fr.” Fidenzio Volpi with “Pope” Francis

UPDATE 12/19/13: Deep Dive into the Vatican Crackdown (click here)


Pope’s Crackdown on Order Alarms Traditionalists
By Nicole Winfield (AP)

[Excerpts taken from ]

 — Pope Francis may have been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year, but he has come under scathing criticism from a growing number of traditionalist Catholics for cracking down on a religious order that celebrates the old Latin Mass. The case has become a flashpoint in the ideological tug-of-war going on in the Catholic Church over Francis’ revolutionary agenda, which has thrilled progressives and alarmed some conservatives.

The matter concerns the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, a small but growing order of several hundred priests, seminarians and nuns that was founded in Italy in 1990 as an offshoot of the larger Franciscan order of the pope’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.

[…]

The Vatican in July named the Rev. Fidenzio Volpi, a Franciscan Capuchin friar, as a special commissioner to run the order with a mandate to quell the dissent that had erupted over the liturgy, improve unity within its ranks and get a handle on its finances. In the same decree appointing Volpi, Francis forbade the friars from celebrating the old Latin Mass unless they got special permission, a clear rollback from Benedict’s 2007 decision.

[…]

And on Dec. 8, [Volpi] took action, issuing a series of sanctions in the name of the pope that have stunned observers for their seeming severity: He closed the friars’ seminary and sent its students to other religious universities in Rome. He suspended the activities of the friars’ lay movement. He suspended ordinations of new priests for a year and required future priests to formally accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and its new liturgy or be kicked out. And he decreed that current priests must commit themselves in writing to following the existing mission of the order.

In a letter detailing the new measures, Volpi accused friars loyal to [founder Fr. Stefano] Manelli of seeking to undermine him and accused some of embezzlement. He denounced a cult of personality that had grown around Manelli, saying it “reveals a great spiritual poverty and psychological dependence that is incompatible with” the life in a religious community.

The sanctions seem harsh when compared to recent actions taken by the Vatican against other much larger religious orders or groups found to have doctrinal or other problems, such as the Holy See’s crackdown on social justice-minded American nuns or the Vatican’s reform efforts of the disgraced Legion of Christ. In both cases, a papal envoy was named to rewrite constitutions or statutes and oversee reforms, but Volpi’s actions with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate would appear to go much further.

Traditionalists have charged that a double standard is at play, with a conservative, tradition-minded order being targeted for particular sanction on ideological grounds by a pope with a progressive bent.

[…]

Francis has called Benedict’s 2007 decree allowing wider use of the Latin Mass “prudent,” but has warned that it risks being exploited on ideological grounds by factions in the church; Francis has made clear his disdain for traditionalist Catholics, saying they are self-absorbed retrogrades who aren’t helping the church’s mission to evangelize.

[…]

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, defended Volpi as a sage, esteemed and experienced administrator and dismissed calls for his removal.

“He knows religious life well, was for many years head of the Italian conference of religious superiors and I think his nomination was a wise choice,” Lombardi said in an email to The Associated Press. “While the situation seems difficult and painful, it appears the letter is yet another demonstration that the naming of a commissioner was necessary and that he knows what to do with the powers he has.

“I don’t have any reason to doubt it,” Lombardi concluded.

[…]

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