Thursday, July 29, 2010

Miles Jesu Situation

I wasn't aware of this situation, but I received an email from a reader alerting me. The full statement is available here, but relevant sections [UPDATE: a reader, and former Miles Jesu member, has posted some very disturbing information in the comments section, be sure to check it out]:
In the spring of 2007 the Founder of Miles Jesu, Fr. Alfonso Durán, was removed from the office as Superior General, a position which he filled since the founding of the Ecclesial Family in 1964. Due to serious mental and physical health problems he was judged unable to continue in his position by the ecclesial authorities. Almost at the same time, thirteen members of Miles Jesu presented a request for an investigation into the Institute, indicating in their request alleged irregularities in the practices of Miles Jesu. The Cardinal Vicar of Rome, his Emminence Camillo Ruini, in conjunction with the Congregation of Religious, initiated an Apostolic Visitation under the guidance of Fr. Anthony McSweeney, SSS.

During the Apostolic Visitation a number of irregularities and questionable practices came to light in the sworn testimonies of many members. Also the behavior of Fr. Durán in regards to certain questionable conduct and his exercise of authority came to light. The conclusion of the Apostolic Visitation was that an outside person should be called in to work with the Ecclesial Family in order to correct these situations and to work with the members in the renewal of the Institute.

In a Decree issued on March 25, 2009, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Pope’s Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, named me, Fr. Barry Fischer, C.PP.S., as Commissary for Miles Jesu invested with full authority. The mandate is to write a new Constitution which defines the charism, spirituality, and apostolic nature of the Institute; to develop adequate vocational discernment and formation policies (ratio formationis); to review the financial policies, and in general to completely revise all its practices and customs.

During the past seventeen months, I have worked closely with the membership in pursuit of this mandate, as well as with former members who have left during or after the Apostolic Visitation. In time it has become clear and undeniable, that the Founder, Fr. Alfonso Durán, presented erratic behaviors that were totally beyond the scope of the powers given to him. Some members have identified wounds caused by the inappropriate exercise of authority under his leadership. The mistaken sense of allegiance and obedience instilled in the membership facilitated his behavior, which was totally unacceptable and not in accord with the discipline of the Church nor supportable in any way by a healthy sense of consecrated life.

Members who challenged his actions or behavior were often ostracized. The internal discipline and customs of the Institute provided protection for the Founder.
It must be said in justice, that most of the members had no idea of the improper conduct of the Founder. Some of the allegations against Fr. Duran are hearsay and have not been verified. However, many are factual. It is important for all that the truth be disclosed, which is the reason for this public statement.
As Commissary and in the name of the Church, I wish to express my deep concern for all those members, former members and family members who may have been hurt in the past due to the manner in which authority was exercised. I also am personally grateful for those members who had the courage to solicit the intervention of the Congregation of the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, thus bringing to light the situations under question.
So this isn't just a problem with the Legionaries. That was simply the most extreme case of a problem with power and authority that seems to be endemic to much of the institutional church, structurally; a difference in degree only, not nature.

This time, however, it seems the system "worked" in terms of catching and stopping this sort of thing. One wonders, however, how effective we can really expect the policing to be when we know the Vatican itself has abused its own power and still has a romanticized view of absolute obedience and authoritarianism.

Can we really expect an organization which makes diocesan clergy be celibate and requires seminarians live in a compound with a bunch of other celibate men to handle this? Can we really expect an institution which tolerates and even idealizes things like the FSSP's 10:30 "lights out," ban on cellphones or in-room internet, and regulations micromanaging facial hair (for adult men, mind you!) know what a healthy exercise of authority and obedience even begins to look like?


thomas tucker said...

My answer to your two questions is: yes. These things happen in other churches and religious groups that do not practice celibacy.

Suburbanbanshee said...

These things happen in totally secular hobby clubs, in cliques, in neighborhoods, in families and dating couples, and in both small family businesses and large corporations.

I mean, I'm glad you've never had it happen to you... but it happens a lot -- very often in college among supposedly smart people. Very seldom is any sort of celibacy or vows involved; it may actually be easier to control people who are sure they're totally free. Nothing like a few Hitlers and Iagos to mess people up.

Oh, and women have their own version. A lot is said about trust and community and love, and meanwhile the Iago who's gotten herself in charge is driving off the watchdogs -- and then stealing everyone else blind and/or grabbing all the other women's boyfriends and husbands.

Anonymous said...

At least the FSSP let's people know what the rules are BEFORE they enter. The way Miles Jesu worked (at least when I was in) is that they would tell you that you need to follow your vocation immediately to their group or you would be putting your salvation in danger. Then they would get you in the community and only THEN, little by little would they tell you what the rules were. Parents and relatives were kept in the dark as to the rules.

You can view the former Constitutions of Miles Jesu on Wikileaks. Someone leaked them. Also the LOYALTY PLEDGE is on wikileaks. That is the document where you basically agree to be blindly obedient.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Be patient trying to load the wikileaks stuff I think their site is overloaded due to the fact that they are in the news all the time now.

A Sinner said...

I wouldnt be so sure about the FSSP letting people know beforehand. Obviously, the major rules regarding seminary life seem to be available on their website. At the same time, I've talked to people there and been told that the full FSSP constitutions are not public and that seminarians only get to see them starting their second year. "Tradition" was invoked as the reason. I don't know how true this is or if it is still the policy, but that sort of needless secrecy is very suspicious.

Anonymous said...

I think the Vatican should make it a rule that all Constitutions are posted on the website of the Order. Why not? We are a Catholic Church, not a gnostic one.

Tony said...

Your friend is correct. Second year.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Renegade please check out the Loyalty Pledge. That will give you plenty to blog about....

Anonymous said...

“Yes, Mr. Dunlap, there can be cults in the Church”
A refutation of “Are there cults in the Catholic Church?” by Jay Dunlap
by Juan Manuel Escovedo

In his article “Are there cults in the Catholic Church?”, published in the January 2003 issue of This Rock Magazine, Jay Dunlap argues that "Church Approved" groups are not and cannot be called "cults". His argument seems to be essentially a self-defense of the group he is part of. I will not deal with th particular groups mentioned in this article but prove that in principle it is possible for a church-approved group to be a cult.

Peter Vere, J.C.L. M.C.L., canon lawyer, writer for Envoy Magazine, as well as Catholic Answers' very own “This Rock” magazine wrote an article entitled “Sifting the Wheat from the Tares: 20 Signs of Trouble in a New Religious Group” for the International Cultic Studies Association's E-Newsletter in June of 2005, which outlines warning signs to look for in Church-approved group that is possibly turning into a cult.

Peter Vere's article is written based on the experience of Fr. Francis G. Morrisey, OMI, a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, professor of canon law at Saint Paul University and a former consultor to the Congregation for Religious. Surely if anyone were an expert on new groups in the Church it would be someone who worked directly for the Congregation for Religious, the Vatican office that oversees all of the Catholic religious orders in the world. Surely Fr. Morrissey has had experience with a wide range of new groups in diverse countries of the world, not just ones that are popular in the english-speaking world. Those who are convinced that groups that have Church approval can be cults, would do themselves some good to read Peter Vere's very objective article.

Anonymous said...

Dunlap's arguments do not touch upon how complex and subtle a "Church-approved” cult may really be. Hence, aside from the eloquent article written by Peter Vere which already addresses much of the issue, my refutation article is needed to make some necessary distinctions.

Mr. Dunlap's definition of cult is shifty and self-serving to his argument. Later on in the article he will go to cult experts to back up his arguments, but not to these same experts to simply define a cult. Why? Because he wants to shift the way of viewing cults away from methods of operating to what is believed. The cult experts today, understanding the beast more clearly than ever before, place the essential nature of a cult on methods of operating, not what is believed.
In a word, what defines a cult is behavior not belief. Why didn't the author call attention to this very important point, which he certainly found if he went to the experts. It is one of they key aspects of understanding cults these days. Accordingly, his whole article follows from a faulty definition to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Hence, to set the stage for a counter argument I want to establish the accurate definition of the cult: 
To avoid ambiguity I would like to define what I mean by the term cult.  Adopted at a 1985 conference of scholars and policymakers, the International Cultic Studies Association uses the following definition of a cult:  A cult is a group or movement exhibiting great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, and employing unethical manipulative or coercive techniques of persuasion and control (e.g., isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency of the group and fear of leaving it), designed to advance the goals of the group's leaders, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community. (Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships, Jana Lalich and Madeleine Tobias, pages 10-11, Bay Tree Publishing, 2006, Berkeley, CA., U.S.A.)

Anonymous said...

As the article goes, the key following statement comes up: "Any group seeking the approval of the Church is most likely not a cult; any group that has received such approval is certainly not one." There are problems with this statement. According to how Dunlap defines a cult as orthodox in belief I would tend to agree with the first half of his statement. But according to how experts define the modern cults of today I would question his statement. According, to the
there is no argument against the fact. Theology must explain how this is possible, but we must start with the fact. Besides, still operating on the definition of cult I have provided, the second half of his statement is false.

Anonymous said...

Something must be added about the variety and nature of Church approvals here. Anyone who is loosely familiar with Canon Law knows that there are a wide range of approvals of a new groups including but not limited to personal prelatures, movements, pious unions, associations of the faithful, ecclesial familes of consecrated life, societies of apolostolic life, religious orders, etc. In addition to the different types of approval there are different levels of approval. Some groups are approved in their local diocese others are approved by the Pope himself (Pontifical approval). Most groups start off approved on a “ad experimentum” basis. In other words, once a group receives an approval, this does not mean they are definitively approved forever.

Anonymous said...

The Church authorities monitor (or at least they should) a group to see how the group progresses and if it is worth giving a higher approval. Even after the group receives the highest approval, Pontifical approval, the Church can degenerate, which in turn would prompt the Church authorities to intervene and even suppress the group.

The question is where is the line of infallible teaching of faith and morals in the area of the Church's approval of new groups? Although more needs to be said, at least let it be noted that a single bishop's approval, or a group of bishop's approval, or a tentative Pontifical approval can all be wrong--yes wrong--in their judgment and approval of a group, and that this does not challenge or threaten the infallibility of the Pope whenever he teaches universally on faith an morals. Such authorities may be wrong especially if they are deceived by an order that is anxious to be approved. Therefore, it is possible for a modern day defined cult clothed as a up and coming religious order to fly under the radar of Church authorities and get an approval and still operate as a modern day cult.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Dunlap also says that "a group that arises within a Church but then isolates itself" is more properly called a sect. But this line of clarifying is really non-applicable to the article. It is a false target area of reasoning. Why? We want to be asking ourselves if a modernly defined cult can exist in the Catholic Church, not if a disobedient or aberration-believing new group is called a cult or a sect. This is beside the point. Let's focus on how a cult is defined and if a new group in the Catholic Church fulfills the definition or not. Let's not confuse the focus by saying that the SSPX or the Gruner-group are sects.

The detour on brainwashing was another distraction from the chief point of the article. Why did the author feel the need to cite the experts to fundamentally establish the point that Legionaries are not brainwashed? He even used a Cardinal to cement his argument. In my opinion it would have been more pertinent to the article to quote how the experts describe the subtle cult methods to form the feelings and thinking patterns of their members and decrease these members freedoms to think and act independently of the group. Then once the method is identified and described, measure if the method is really used in the church-approved group. How? Actually listen to what many people say who left the group in this regard. Don't we want to be objective?

Dunlap's argument that the founders of orders should be properly emulated is true. But he failed to mention that excess can exist in this area. Great excess in this area is a sign of a cult, besides other signs of course. A sign of great excess would be members sinning because they were ordered to do so, for instance, slandering people under obedience, lying to candidates or benefactors, etc. If former members claim that devotion to the leader often entailed such things, this would be another sign of a cult. The article should have addressed this. Immorality is definitely a sign that devotion to a leader is excessive.

I object to the authors statement that religious orders in the Church have the traditional practice for centuries of opening and screening the mail of members. He should have been more careful. Nonetheless, this should not be taken to mean that a new group's practices, if based in customs that were done in the past, are good for today. The Church adapts to new times and cultures. It also suppresses customs that seem to be inopportune or not beneficial. Superiors opening the mail of their members may be defended by tradition, but at the same time may be a sign of cultist ultra-authoritarian governing that limits the information and freedom to the individual to determine his own life with dignity. Context is important in regard to this practice.

Many know of the current unspoken problem of the new groups. One of those such people is none other than “Fr. Francis G. Morrisey, OMI, a member of theOblates of Mary Immaculate, professor of canon law at Saint Paul University and a former consultor to the Congregation for Religious — the curial dicastery in Rome that oversees various forms of consecrated life within the Church. This has given him much experience examining and assessing numerous religious orders and new groups within the Church.” (Peter Vere, Separating the Wheat from the Tares” ICSA E-Newsletter, Vol. 4, No. 2, June 2005) There is a serious lack by Church authorities of oversight over new groups and this results in rogue under the radar groups that do what they want to do regardless of Church authorities.

sortacatholic said...

Only two questions distinguish healthy religious behavior from cultic behavior.

1. "Can I say no?"

If you can't say "no" to:

* snail mail/email surveillance

* an Index of Forbidden Books

* implicit or explicit coercion

* ostracization or bullying

* implicit or explicit regulations on dress, behavior, thoughts, or expressions (groupthink)

*emotional, sexual, or physical harassment and/or abuse

You are in a cult.

A more important question ...

2. "Am I able to leave whenever I want to?"

If a person is not free to leave whenever he or she wants to for any reason, or is pressured to stay through implicit or explicit threats of social rejection or damnation,

he or she is in a cult.

That's all you need to know.

sortacatholic said...

One more question:

3. Will I be shunned?

Any group that formally or informally shuns former members is a cult.

Shunning can be formal. An organization might formally break contact between individuals in the "in-group" and those who have left (an out-group, sinners, damned, unenlightened &c). Shunning can also be informal. Many who stay in the cult often feel a "downward pressure" not to associate with those that have chosen to leave even though they might do so without official censure.

Popeye said...

Miles Jesu internal documents exposed by Wikileaks now back on the web!