“The Franciscans of the Immaculate under attack by outside lobbies”
Interview with the new secretary general Father Alfonso Bruno, accused of “treason” by some traditionalist groups
Controversy is yet to subside after the appointment of a Commissioner for the Franciscans of the Immaculate. In this interview, the new secretary general explains why.
Father Alfonso Bruno, is your appointment as Secretary-General by the Commissioner a choice in favor of friars critical of the founder?
“The Secretary-General, in accordance with the Constitutions of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, art. 100, ‘assists the Common Father in his personal contacts and correspondence with those outside the Institute; he redacts the acts of the Council; he takes care of the General Archives; he keeps up-to-date the records and statistics on the friars, houses and projects.’ It is a technical role and one of service for the benefit of the whole community, far removed therefore from any factionalism or partisanship. During the first weeks of his mandate, the Apostolic Commissioner spoke first personally, and then on August 30, 2013 in a recorded meeting, with all members of the former government of which I also was a part. After this meeting he insisted that I accept the appointment. His judgment was made after having prayed and thought about it, although I cannot enter into his ‘mens’. Aware of the ongoing tensions and conscious of my apostolic commitments, I did not want to assume this burden, which is challenging as regards both the time and energy required to carry it. Fr. Fidenzio Volpi, who took over the authority of the institute, told me: ‘It is the will of God, you have to help the Church … it is for the good of your religious family.’ I am a religious priest and as such in the Rule of St. Francis have professed obedience to and reverence for the Pope. I embraced my cross with the courage of faith, certain that the grace of God will support me in carrying out the mission entrusted to me.”
Can you explain how and why a Commissioner was appointed? It is true that this was the initiative of a small minority of “rebels”?
“The decree of the Commissioner, dated 11 July, 2013 indicates the purpose of the measure taken which is: ‘the goal of preserving and promoting the internal unity of the Institute as well as the fraternal communion, adequate formation to religious and consecrated life, the organization of apostolic activities, and the correct management of temporal goods.’ Five brothers who in the past had occupied positions of high responsibility in the Institute, at the beginning of 2012 sought out dialogue with the Founder and his Council in order to express what in their view were irregularities, beginning with liturgical choices that did not however, exhaust the list of their concerns. Unsatisfied, they then approached the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Doctrine of the Faith. Those who manifest their conscience to an authority, which in this case is the Church headed by the Pope, by this very action itself, prove that they recognize this authority as such, and which therefore excludes any attitude of ‘rebellion’ on their part towards those in power. The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life recognized extremes and therefore an apostolic visitation began in the second half of that year. Each friar in perpetual vows, as agreed by the General Council then in office, was provided with a questionnaire protected under the secret of one’s conscience.”
Some sites and blogs, have polemicised the questions contained on the questionnaire …
“The questions were read out by the Apostolic Visitor to Fr. Alessandro Apollonio, who at that point was Procurator General. In addition to his tacit approval, it was the same confrere Fr. Apollonio who suggested that the Visitor include four multiple-choice questions on possible resolutions that the friars may envisage. The last question regarded the appointment of a Commissioner. The questionnaire was promulgated and distributed without any objection or reservation. The measure of appointing a Commissioner was made after receiving the results of the questionnaire. Only from that moment were the formulations of the questionnaire brought into dispute and criticized. I can imagine that if it were not for the fact of the Holy See being vacant at that time, already by late February or early March we would have seen this measure now taken already in place. I would also like to add that any investigation is a search for truth to which one cannot apply the rule of the majority; what counts is adherence of the narrative to the truth, even in the case of only one subject denouncing an abuse. I believe, however, that a high percentage of friars have experienced hardships and, through my official role, have learned recently of written reports and testimonies, proven and tried, by religious, priests and lay people connected to our Institute.”
Why did the Holy See restrict the use of the old Mass?
“I don’t know the reasons for the restriction. I celebrated it almost every day in the parish, in private and at the Headquarters of our sisters in Frattocchie, which is about 30 km away from my Friary in Rome-Casalotti. The decree appointing a Commissioner shows that the decision was made by the Holy Father in person. I would not like to enumerate those who abusively interpret the ‘mens of the Pontiff’ with an ‘I think’ or a ‘it seems that …’. I imagine that the only concern of the Supreme Shepherd has been to create an atmosphere of communion with a return to the time of ‘pre- division’, i.e. of that unity and fraternal harmony that reigned in our religious family until 2008 and which was found in liturgical prayer, moments of encounter and not of confrontation.”
What is the situation of the Tridentine Mass in churches run by the Franciscans of the Immaculate? Where is it being celebrated?
“At present I know that the so-called Tridentine Mass has been allowed in the church of La Crosse, Wisconsin (USA), where there is a large group of Lefebvrites who are likely to attract Catholics who love the extraordinary form to their own churches. I know that the Vetus Ordo has been restored in Florence, in the church of Ognissanti, where Archbishop Monsignor Ennio Antonelli requested it for a group of faithful, and also at the shrine of Campocavallo in Osimo (AN), where stable groups of the faithful have requested it. In most other parishes and shrines entrusted to our care, the same conditions were not met. In fact in some cases there were complaints made by the faithful who found themselves at masses, both weekdays and Sundays, attending a liturgical form to them unknown. In at least two of the sister’s convents with churches open to the public, Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form has also been restored. In all these cases there was a preliminary investigation made by the Apostolic Commissioner with the help of the local Ordinary to verify that the canonical conditions regarding their feasibility, referred to in Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae, were satisfied .”
You have been portrayed as the “main accuser” of the founder Fr. Manelli and also as a “traitor.” How do you respond?
“Given the climate of confusion that arose in the crisis of appointing a Commissioner and the psychological mechanism of dealing with a problem by sacrificing a scapegoat, I shared the accusation, especially at the beginning of everything, with at least two other brothers. Father Angelo M. Gaeta, ‘guilty’ of working for decades in the Nunciature in Italy and therefore suspected of being the ‘conspirator of the sacred palaces’ and Father Rosario M. Sammarco , former head of our website, ‘guilty’ of having blocked the petition launched by a weekly information service affiliated with the traditionalist world. As far as I’m concerned, I answer this gratuitous slander by way of mentioning my long phone calls (even from abroad) after the appointment of the Commissioner, along with visits to the Father Founder to ‘bring peace’, but especially in reference to my vocational journey of 25 years of service to the Institute and Father Stefano M. Manelli. I have always obeyed and will continue to do so, with the help of God. At the age of 21 I was already a missionary in Brazil, where I stayed four years, and when 26 years old I was in Benin, at the head of the mission there, where I spent twelve years. I found myself in the midst of gunfire, I suffered hunger, and I had malaria almost thirty times. I have risked my life; I have saved lives … and souls, in the exercise of my ministry. I have only done my duty. I returned to Italy in 2007, and after six months Fr. Stefano proposed my nomination in the election to the Council with the vote of the General Chapter of 2008. As delegate of the missions I spent a total of three to four months a year abroad feeling the pulse of the Institute’s situation around the world. I was very busy with academic studies and in the publications and promotional activities of the Communications Office. I was not among the signatories of the appeal to the Holy See, but I soon noticed an ungrateful and destructive approach towards them that made me study in depth the internal dynamics of the events and move in the direction of charity and justice.”
On 29 July, when interviewed by Vatican Insider, you spoke of the occurrence of the appointment of the Commissioner, as “being taken advantage of” by traditionalist groups. What were you referring to?
“I think I touched a sore point that brought to mind another factor that converges very much with our crisis, namely, the exploitation by traditionalist groups, of some of our influential brothers, whom they have in their grasp. It’s sufficient to do a simple search of the blogosphere to discover how, that after the appointment of the Commissioner, the external lobbying took the form of silence, of prayer, of reason and respect for the human person. I think I was the victim of a settling of accounts. I am suspicious of the base accusation of ‘Corrispondenza Romana’ by Roberto De Mattei and the testimony of Francesco Agnoli, who I have never met personally, where one talks about my alleged dissociation with the so-called ‘March for Life’ organized for two years by the these same persons. The criticism or acceptance of such an event is not at all relevant to our Institute having been appointed a Commissioner neither is it an assessment of my morality or even of my fidelity to the founder. Regarding this march, however, I had actually noticed the problem of it beginning with a willingness to challenge those already working in pro-life. Everyone has the right to express themselves freely. By virtue of this principle, they were wrong and these people are wrong if they fear that this discourages the organization of buses of friars, sisters and lay people associated with us, to march in Rome. The success or failure of such events for the defense of life and the fight against abortion, is in a significant but not exhaustive way, dependent on the good judgment of everyone concerned.
“Another reason for the slander has been the attempt to delegitimize my role as official spokesman for the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate in the middle of all this. I state that after the appointment of the Commissioner, up until my nomination, no one had the right to attribute to themselves this role and declare as much also by means of our official channels . The authority of the one who speaks is given such authority and this authority, in our case, is the Church. To be slandered and insulted because of my loyalty to the Pope, the only one who legitimizes any other authority in the Church, is an encouragement for me and an honor. In the words of our Holy Father Francis: ‘So great is the good that I expect, that every pain to me is a delight’. I believe, I hope and I pray that our situation will be resolved quickly and in a good manner. It is a crisis of growth that that many, who considered praiseworthy by the Church, have gone through and go through. The Marian Franciscan charism is relevant and valid for the glory of God and the world today. It is enough for one to simply put into practice the obedience they have professed and are devoted to, in order to dispel any proposed division as having already been defeated before even beginning. I know my brothers, I know of their love for the Church and for souls and that is why I am confident that, through the intercession of Mary, we shall be restored to ‘former glory.'”