9 November 2021
Focolare: a story of secrets
Today sees the publication in Italy of The Divine Cult (La Setta Divina, Piemme) - the first book-length expose of the internal workings of the Focolare Movement - by top investigative writer and journalist, Ferruccio Pinotti.
Anyone who has been an internal member of Focolare knows that it is a movement of secrets, at times of lies. The Divine Cult makes public many of these Focolare secrets for the first time:
Secret personality cult: the personality cult the Focolare Movement has built around its founder Chiara Lubich, whose process of canonisation is currently underway, is evident to all those who encounter the organisation. The Divine Cult, however, will reveal how Lubich demanded this cult, instructing members: ‘Every soul of the Focolare [Movement] must be an expression of me and nothing else...I sum them all up..I, like Jesus, must tell them : "Whoever eats my flesh…" Only one soul must live: mine.’ This is the basis of the hierarchical power structure on which the Movement is built.
Secret history: the ‘story of the Ideal’ is the official ‘legend’ of how the movement began; The Divine Cult will chart the ‘other’ history - details of internal disputes, suicides, sexual abuse and widespread mental illness among internal members of the Movement from the top down.
Secret beliefs: The Divine Cult will reveal the full unpublished details of Chiara Lubich’s visions known as ‘Paradise of ‘49’ which today’s Focolare leaders insist are not private revelations but should be accepted by all those who wish to build unity and which are taught at the Movement’s University in Tuscany.
Secret abuse of power: for the first time, in The Divine Cult, a large group of former internal members of Focolare has collaborated to assemble a body of testimonies from all parts of the world, revealing such abuses of power within the Movement as arranged marriages, exerting pressure to break up ‘unsuitable’ relationships between couples, schemes of enforced labour, extreme methods of proselytising, ruthless treatment of those who leave the movement, and financial abuses of individuals.
Secret pastoral methods in direct opposition to Catholic Canon Law: For over a hundred years, Canon Law has explicitly condemned confusion between the inner forum and outer forum i.e. pastoral care and leadership. Throughout its history, the pastoral methods of the Focolare Movement has been based on that confusion. Chiara Lubich herself would subject members to the so-called ‘colloquio privato’ (private conversation) which was a common Focolare practice and could resemble a confession. The Divine Cult will reveal shocking examples of the abuses this confusion can bring about.
The Divine Cult includes interviews with theologians and leading Catholic academics who condemn many of the Focolare Movement’s practices as not merely as isolated examples but systemic.
Pope Francis reprimanded Focolare leaders in February 2021 about the Movement’s problematic aspects, warning them against ‘abuse of power’ and the ‘mixture of the inner forum and outer forum’ but the secrets revealed in The Divine Cult go far beyond anything that the Church and Vatican have addressed.
The abuses carried out by the Focolare Movement over many years cannot be solved by generic apologies. The Divine Cult questions whether the Focolare Movement is capable of reforming itself or whether direct intervention of the Vatican is required as has happened with other similar movements in the Church such as Memores Domini (Communion and Liberation) and the Legionaries of Christ.
In the film V for Vendetta, set in a totalitarian dystopia, there is a key scene when the anti-hero ‘V’ confronts Dr Delia Surridge, who ‘V’ knows has carried out medical ‘experiments’ on prisoners. Dr Surridge protests that idealistic hopes for the future had inspired her actions. ‘V’ responds: ‘I have not come for what you hoped to do. I have come for what you did.’ The focus of The Divine Cult is not on what Chiara Lubich and her Movement hoped to do, which we know only too well - unity, brotherhood, peace, love - but what they did.