The Seven Capital Vices of the Movements, According to “La Civiltà Cattolica”

By Sandro Magister

Three “dangers” and four “challenges”: through the magazine of the Rome Jesuits, the Vatican makes a critical appraisal of the movements. A warning for the Neocatechumenal Way, Focolare, Sant´Egidio, and Bose

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ROMA – With John Paul II, the communities and movements that have arisen within the Catholic Church during the past few decades have enjoyed a mild climate, wrapped up in the friendship of the pope. But shadows gather where light shines. A recent editorial in “La Civiltà  Cattolica” listed the “dangers” and “challenges” posed to the Church by many of these movements.

The editorial – dated June 19, 2004, entitled “The ecclesial movements today,” and signed by Jesuit Fr. Giuseppe De Rosa – is all the more important insofar as it was reviewed and authorized before printing by the Vatican secretariat of state, as is the rule for every edition of “La Civiltà  Cattolica.” Reading it is like glancing over a reminder note, not for the use of the current pontificate, but for that of the next, with a list of unresolved questions. And the answers must be found.

In making a survey of the “dangers” and “challenges” posed by the movements, the magazine does not mention names. But it´s not difficult for the experts to identify the institutes under criticism, point by point.

According to the editorial by “La Civiltà  Cattolica,” “the most serious and difficult challenges that the ecclesial movements pose to the Church today” are the following four.

The first is “the lack of an overarching law.” “The present code of canon law does not deal explicitly with the ecclesiastical movements,” and this generates confusion. They must be “given canonical systemization”: an undertaking “which, however, shows itself to be particularly difficult.”

This observation is valid for most of the movements. An important exception is represented by Opus Dei, which, since it became a personal prelature – the only one in the Church today – has enjoyed a solid and untouchable juridical framework.

The second concern is the presence in some movements of religious men and women belonging to other institutes: this “has provoked an identity crisis for some of them and has induced others to leave their own institutes or to establish a sort of dual membership.”

This phenomenon is observed especially among the Charismatics and members of the Neocatechumenal Way. It frequently happens, for example, that Jesuits or Franciscans become part of these movements. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, official preacher of the papal household, is a famous case of dual membership: he is a Franciscan friar, and at the same time he is part of the Charismatic movement Renewal in the Spirit. There are many cases of dual membership among the Charismatics. In the Neocatechumenal Way, on the other hand, it happens more frequently that a religious abandons his own institute of origin and shifts completely to the movement founded by Kiko Argüello e Carmen Hernández. It is understandable that ancient and glorious religious families would not look with a kindly eye upon the exit of their own consecrated men and women, and the passage of these into new movements.

The third challenge “is constituted by the fact that some ecclesial movements […] admit baptized non-Catholics”: if these “were to become very numerous, they might influence the general assemblies to make substantial statutory changes, putting in danger the Catholic nature of the movement itself.”

This brings to mind the Focolare movement founded and headed by Chiara Lubich, which counts among its members thousands of non-Catholics and non-Christians, among whom are many Muslims and Buddhists. It is true that the non-Catholics belonging to Focolare do not enjoy any deliberative power, but the fear is that they might gain influence as a pressure group and weigh upon the public image of the movement and of the Church, in a relativistic sense.

More substantial is the case of the monastic community of Bose, the founder and prior of which is Enzo Bianchi. There are some non-Catholics who have full membership in this community: the Swiss Reformed pastor Daniel Attinger, two other Protestants, and the Orthodox monk Emilianos Timiadis, previously the metropolitan archbishop of Silyvría. And this is enough to make it impossible for Bose to receive canonical approval from the Holy See, not to mention the other obstacle constituted by its being a mixed community, with monks and nuns in the same monastery.

The fourth critical point mentioned by “La Civiltà  Cattolica” deserves to be cited in full:

“The most delicate challenge is that of the participation of priests in the movements. It must be remembered, in the first place, that some movements have created their own seminaries, in which the students are formed according to the charism of the movement and prepared to be priests at the service of the movement itself. Then there remains the open question of the canonical incardination of these priests: if the movement has as its marks universality and missionary activity, which are recognized and approved by the Holy See in granting the movement the status of a public association, who should incardinate its priests? Generally, recourse is had to an instrumental incardination, in which a bishop well disposed toward the movement incardinates the priest into his diocese, while leaving him available – in general full time and with full freedom of movement – to the movement itself, through a written agreement. This means that a priest thus incardinated is at the service of the movement, wherever it may need him. But difficulties can arise if a bishop is succeeded by another who does not agree with this type of incardination, or if urgent and grave pastoral needs require the presence of the priest in the diocese: in this case, it can happen that the bishop tends to restrict the freedom of the priest and ignore the written agreement. Among other issues, such an agreement has more a formal than a juridical value, as it is not provided for in canon law.”

Many movements correspond to this profile. The most visible case is that of the Neocatechumenal Way, with more than fifty “Redemptoris Mater” seminaries throughout the world, from which thousands of priests have emerged and been juridically incardinated in the dioceses, but are often, in fact, at the exclusive service of the Way.

Analogous cases include the Community of Sant´Egidio, Focolare, the Marian Oases, the Missionary Community of Villaregia, and many more: all with priests at their service, ordained or contributed by friendly bishops.

The solution proposed by “La Civiltà  Cattolica” is that “the movements that are by nature universal and missionary should obtain the faculty of incardinating their own clergy,” as is the case for the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits, and for the institutes of consecrated life in general.

In effect, among the movements that have arisen during the past few decades, some have already obtained the faculty of incardinating their own priests: the Legionaries of Christ, the Lefebvrists who re-entered the Catholic Church, the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo – linked with Communion and Liberation and with superior general Fr. Massimo Camisasca – and, naturally, Opus Dei, as it is a personal prelature.

The Neocatechumenal Way has tried, in the past, to obtain the status of a personal prelature. But without success. Many of the new movements have characteristics that make them unsuitable for full approval by the Vatican Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life. The Marian Oases, for example, apart from having a woman as superior general, have communities of men and women together: under these conditions, it is unlikely that they would obtain from the Holy See permission to incardinate their own priests.

* * *

To this list of four unresolved problems, the editorial of “La Civiltà  Cattolica” adds three warnings of other dangers inherent to the movements.

The First Danger:
“The tendency to make absolute their own Christian experience, holding it to be the only valid one, for which reason the ´true´ Christians would be those who are part of their own movement.”

The Second:
“The tendency to close themselves off; that is, to follow their own pastoral plans and methods of formation for the members of the movement, to carry out their own apostolic activities, refusing to collaborate with other ecclesial organizations, or seeking to occupy all the territory themselves, leaving scarse resources for the activities of other associations.”

The Third:
“The tendency to cut themselves off from the local Church, making reference in their apostolic activity more to the methods of the movement and the directives of its leaders than to the directives and pastoral programs of the dioceses and parishes. From this arises the sometimes bitter tensions that can be created between the ecclesial movements and the bishops and pastors.”

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