In a one-hour year-end collegamento of news of the Focolare Movement (which can be seen on Vimeo) - overwhelmingly good, of course - President Maria Voce, shortly to end her term, and co-president Jesus Moran touch on the not-so-good news of sexual abuse in the movement. Moran also refers - as though it were something unusual and rare in the movement - to ‘abuse of authority’. Anyone who knows anything about Focolare, is aware that the very system of the movement is based on a confusion between pastoral and administrative practice which results in an abuse of authority. This was confirmed when the Vatican recently banned the practice of daily written examinations of conscience - known as the schemetti - by full-time members, single and married, which had to be handed to local authorities and ended up as permanently held records at the centre of the movement.
A recent article in cruxnow.com, entitled Reform or Suppression: Troubled lay movements need outside oversight by Junno Arocho Esteves, highlights this problem:
‘Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a professor of psychology and president of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, told Catholic News Service Nov. 4 that before deciding to dissolve a movement or community, certain criteria should be met to indicate reform is possible.
“One condition would be how much that community or that movement is really willing to revise its statutes and its way of proceeding under the guidance of someone external,” such as a commissioner, Zollner told CNS.
A key issue, he said, is a willingness to have a clear separation of “spiritual guidance and external power” when it comes to decision-making.
“A spiritual director should never have the power to direct the movement or a decision for a person,” he said. “There needs to be a separation between who decides the mission aspect (‘forum externum’) and who knows about the spiritual side (‘forum internum’). This is a very important point which some of those movements and some of those religious congregations have not been taking seriously, against the tradition and the law of the church.” ’
Given these statements, the following extract from a yet-unpublished book of mine, The World and the Flesh* is a shocking example of how the Focolare Movement metes out its supreme authority in a manner which shatters all concepts of human rights and breaks the Canon Law of the Catholic Church on ‘enforced manifestation of conscience’, as described by Father Zollner above:
If the Catholic hierarchy is increasingly vulnerable to prosecution for its sexual politics, this is even more the case for its allies in the Church, the various groups and movements. Besides being less protected by concordats, these organisations are going one step further than the hierarchy in that they are rigidly applying the Vatican's sexual ideology on a practical level within their own structures.
In May 2000, US Immigration granted asylum to Carlos Ramirez [name changed]. Ramirez is gay and one of the principle grounds for the decision was that he had suffered persecution for his sexual orientation while training to be a full-time member of the Focolare Movement at its centre of Loppiano, near Florence, Italy. Having joined Focolare in his own Latin American country at the age of fifteen, Ramirez had dedicated himself unstintingly to the service of the movement. When it came to choosing a university course, for instance, the decision was made at Focolare's Rome headquarters, according to what would best serve the movement's needs. Having completed his degree course, he was sent to its training centre at Loppiano, Italy.
When Ramirez confessed to his superior that he was homosexual, a fact that he had known from his childhood, 'That day, my life changed forever and nothing will be the same again,' Ramirez recalls. 'I was convinced that the Church will understand and the fact of being gay was not the main aspect of my life. But I was wrong… Even after all those years working with them, I was treated as a criminal, as "a natural sinner, an aberration of God's love".'
He was immediately dispatched to Rome where he was interrogated by a panel of five senior Focolare members who bombarded him with such questions as 'Did you touch the other members? Did you touch yourself? When you played with the kids did you…? Do you have fantasies? What kind? Do any of them involve Jesus?' [From the affidavit of 'Carlos Ramirez' submitted as part of the asylum application – dossier in the possession of the author.]
Following this consultation Ramirez was sent back to Loppiano where he was kept under strict surveillance by his superiors, who monitored who he talked with, his friends, his study group. He was told to go to bed after everyone else in his single-sex community 'to avoid temptation' and to rise earlier than the others so that he could shower alone. While in bed, he was to sleep with his arms outside the covers – even in winter - so that he would not be tempted to 'touch himself'. Ramirez was encouraged to take more exercise in order to help ward off temptation – but in long pants, not in shorts. He was forced to do an hour of penance each day, praying for his 'conversion'. Although Ramirez had previously worked with children visiting Loppiano he was now dismissed from this task and sent to the kitchens. Though he was originally scheduled to spend his summer holidays with a group of other young men by the sea, at the last minute his superior told him he was to go 'to the mountains' alone instead because 'at the beach, people would be wearing swimming costumes and I would be exposed to the devil'.
Ramirez was summoned to a final consultation in Rome where the panel which had interrogated him delivered its findings: he was indeed homosexual and therefore not fit to become a fulltime member of the movement. He was to be sent home within two or three days. Through a phonecall to friends in his own country, Ramirez learned that his family and Focolare colleagues had already been informed of the reasons for his return. He discovered that he was to be excluded from the activities of the movement and knew that he would face rejection from his family on account of his homosexuality. Anxious that Ramirez' hasty departure should not be too much of a 'trauma' for his classmates – his feelings were not considered – his superiors at Loppiano concocted an elaborate lie that he was returning home because his mother was seriously ill. This subterfuge was compounded by a little sermon on the duty of a Christian towards his parents. Ramirez was compelled to go along with the deception even when, seeing the young man's distress, his unsuspecting classmates promised their prayers for his mother's recovery and reassured him that she would soon be well and he would be able to return to complete his course.
At the airport, he was presented with a one-way ticket and a $100 in cash. When he realised that the plane touched down in the US, Ramirez determined to alight there and seek refuge with friends. Three years later, having rebuilt his life from scratch in the US, Ramirez was granted asylum on the basis of his treatment by Focolare. His case is not an isolated one. In Western society, in which human rights are ever more protected by legislation, the Vatican's sexual ideology as promulgated and practised by its allies is sure to throw up thousands of similar cases.
According to Jesus Moran, abuse of authority is totally against Chiara Lubich’s original wishes. I’d like to see the proof!
*This book was to all intents and purposes banned by my German publishers (who nevertheless paid my substantial advance in full), because they were taken over by a company in which the Catholic Church was a majority shareholder and were therefore too nervous to go ahead with it. As it deals with the sexual politics of the Vatican under ‘Saint’ John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I felt that in the era of Pope Frances it is now irrelevant. Given the new criticisms arising around that period with the MacCarrick report and Frederic Martel’s In the Closet of the Vatican I am not so sure. I think that the abuses caused and tolerated by the Vatican in that period need to be thoroughly investigated and uncovered.