“Sint ut sunt aut non sint” (let them be as they are, or not at all) is a sentence that according to some historians was pronounced by the General of the Jesuits, Lorenzo Ricci, when faced with the plan of “reforming” the Company of Jesus, to adapt itself to the demands of the world. It was in the second half of the XVIII century and the Jesuits represented the bulwark against the attacks from enemies both inside and outside who were crushed.
The enemies outside were lead by the illuminist “parti philosophique”, and those inside which were indented by heretical currents, (Gallicanism, Jurisdictionalism, Royalism and Febronianism) thought they were capable of bending the Church to the will of the absolute States.
The Jesuits, founded by St Ignatius of Loyola, vigorously defended the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, to whom they were bound by a fourth vow of obedience. The absolute sovereigns, influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, had begun to expel the Jesuits from their kingdoms, accusing them of perverting the social order. This nonetheless was not enough. It was necessary to transform the Company from the inside, but since the General of the Jesuits opposed this, all that could be done was to suppress it, and only a Pope was able to do that.
The opportunity presented itself at the death of Clement XIII, on the 2nd of February 1769. The historian Ludwig von Pastor, in volume XVI of his History of Popes (tr.it. Desclée, Rome 1943), describes lavishly in his documentation, the maneuvers that took place before, during and after the Conclave, which, after 3 months and 179 votings, saw the election on the 14th May of the Franciscan, Lorenzo Ganangelli, who took the name of Clement XIV. The new Pope was elected on the condition that he would abolish the Company of Jesus. Although he did not put down a formal promise in writing, which would have implied simony, Cardinal Ganganelli made this commitment with the ambassadors of the Bourbon Court.
The Holy Ghost did not fail in assisting the Conclave, but the cardinals’ correspondence with grace was surely not adequate, if their choice had been pinned on a prelate that Pastor defines as “a weak and ambitious character, who aspired to the Tiara” (op. cit. p.66).
On the 21st July 1773, with the Papal Letter Dominus ac Redemptor, Pope Clement XIV, suppressed the Company of Jesus, which at the time counted about 23,000 members in 42 provinces. “This Papal Letter of the 21st of July 1773, – writes Pastor – represents the most manifest victory of the Enlightenment and of royal absolutism over the Church and Her Head.” (p.223).
Father Lorenzo Ricci was imprisoned in Castel Sant’Angelo, where he died on the 24th of November 1775. Clement XIV preceded him into the tomb on 22nd September 1774, a year after the dissolution of the order. The Company was dispersed, but survived in Russia, where the Czarina Catherine II, refused to give the exequatur to the letter of suppression. The Jesuits from White Russia were accused of disobedience and rebellion against the Pope, but they guaranteed the historical continuity of the order, while in other nations ex-Jesuits promoted new religious congregations, in the spirit of Ignatius.
In 1789 the French Revolution broke out and a dramatic era opened up for the Church, which saw the Jacobin invasion of Rome and the deportation of the two successors of Clement XVI: Pius VI and Pius VII. Resistance to the Revolution was assured in this period, above all, by a secret society, the “Amicizie cristiane” (Christian Friendships), founded in Turin by the Swiss, ex-Jesuit, Nikolaus von Diessbach.
Finally, after forty years, with the constitution Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarumdel, of the 7th of August 1814, Pius VII revoked the Papal Letter of the 21st July 1773 and disposed the complete reconstitution of the Company of Jesus all over the world “appearing to him a grave fault before God, if at such a calamitous time, those valid oarsmen had been taken away from the barque of the Church.” (Pastor, op.cit., p.421).
A Franciscan Pope, Clement XIV, suppressed the Jesuits in 1773. Will it be a Jesuit Pope, Francis to suppress or still worse, “reform” a Franciscan Institute in 2013?
The Franciscans of the Immaculate do not have the glorious past of the Jesuits, but in their case some analogy is present with that of the Company of St. Ignatius, and above all [the situation] represents a symptomatic expression of the deep crisis in the Catholic Church which is under discussion today:
Founded by Father Stefano Maria Manelli in 1970, the Franciscans of the Immaculate conduct an evangelical and penitential life, and have distinguished themselves, from the beginning, by their attachment to traditional morality and faith. The Motu Proprio with which Benedict XVI restituted full citizenship to the Old Roman Rite, represented for them the possibility of living, on a liturgical level, this love for Tradition. Father Manelli never imposed the Vetus Ordo, but suggested it to his Friars and the ordinations to the priesthood in recent years have been done [in this Rite] by eminent Princes of the Church along the lines of Benedict XVI’s “the reform in continuity.”
The Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and for the Society of Apostolic Life, at present presided over by Cardinal Joao Braz Aviz, are responsible for congregations of both men and women, who have abandoned all – or in part, their religious habit, who live in moral laxity and doctrinal relativism without any recall whatsoever on the part of the competent authorities.
The Franciscans of the Immaculate represent a bone of contention which explains the Congregation’s desire to “normalize them” that is, to realign their religious life to the current standard. The presence of a small nucleus of “dissident” Friars offered the Congregation the opportunity to intervene with the dispatching of a Visitor, Monsignor Vito Angelo Todisco. [So] without visiting them personally, the Congregation, disposed on the 21st July 2013, by an external commissioner from the Institute, a Decree which contained the prohibition, absolutely illegitimate, of celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass.
In the subsequent days and weeks we will know more about the Commissioner, Fidenzio Volp’s plan, of which, however, the broad lines can already be guessed: isolate the Founder, Father Manelli; decapitate the Council faithful to him; transfer the “traditional” Friars to the periphery and assign the central government of the Institute to the dissidents; entrust the house of formation to the Fathers not suspected of “traditionalist” sympathies; sterilize the publications by the Franciscans that deal with “controversies; in particular, avoid Mariological “maximalism”, excessive “rigidity” in the moral sphere, and above all, avoid every criticism, even if respectful, of the Second Vatican Council; open the Institute to “ecumenical dialogue” with the other religions; limit the celebration of the Vetus Ordo to exceptional situations; in short, distort the identity of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, which is worse than suppressing them.
If this has to be the reform, let us hope for a separation between the two “spirits” that at present live together inside the Franciscans of the Immaculate: on the one side the Friars who interpret the Second Vatican Council, in the light of the Church’s Tradition, and in which spirit they discovered the Old Roman Rite, with all its truth and beauty: on the other, those who reinterpret the charism of their Institute in the light of post-concliar progressivism.
The worst thing is the confusion and the crisis of identity. Today, the guarantor of the Franciscans of the Immaculate’s identity, is none other than their founder – Father Stefano Maria Manelli, on whose shoulders the responsibility of the recent decisions lies. He is the only one who can repeat, as it has already happened in history : Sint ut sunt aut non sint.