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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - The ill-timed publication of a Vatican decree abolishing a religious fraternity of traditionalist priests has shocked Catholics who are already distressed by the closure of churches in parts of Italy plagued by the coronavirus.
The archdiocese of Ferrara-Comacchio announced in a press release Friday that the Society of Apostolic Life Familia Christi (Family of Christ) has been suppressed by the Holy See following the conclusion of a canonical procedure that lasted for two years.
The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said it found the organization "unfit to live and form a Priestly Fraternity of consecrated life for serious religious, educational and administrative reasons."
Distraught Catholics from the region told Church Militant they found the language "highly ambiguous and even disingenuous" since the statement did not clarify or elaborate what precisely made the society "unfit" for religious life.
The Vatican decree applies Canon 701 of the Code of Canon Law, which releases religious from their vows and prohibits a priest from exercising Holy Orders — that is, celebrating Mass or solemnizing weddings, hearing confessions and so on, "unless they have found a bishop who, after a probationary period in his diocese following Canon 693, welcomes him or at least allows him to exercise Holy Orders."
"A possible future welcome or incardination of the above-mentioned priests can only take place through the consent of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which is to be formally asked for and obtained in written form by a Diocese or by an Institute of consecrated life," the CDF decree stipulates.
A traditionalist Catholic academic expressed surprise that the decree addressed the five priests as the "Reverendi Signori" (Italian plural for "Mister" or "Sir") as if "they were no longer priests." The five named clerics are Riccardo Petroni, Matteo Riboli, Lorenzo Mazzetti di Pietralata, Emanuele Lonardi and Enrico D'Urso.
Signed by CDF prefect Cdl. Luis F. Ladaria, the decree was issued on Dec. 13, 2019 but only published by the archdiocese of Ferrara-Comacchio on Feb. 28, 2020, alongside other notices on "the containment and management measures of the health emergency linked to the spread of the Coronavirus."
Citing fears of contagion, Abp. Gian Carlo Perego has ordered the removal of holy water from the stoups, distribution of Holy Communion only on the hand and the suspension of the sign of peace.
Sources told Church Militant that Abp. Perego and progressive clergy in the archdiocese may have been a factor in shutting down Familia Christi, especially since the fraternity celebrated Mass using the Extraordinary Rite.
"Their fault?? Being in tune with Benedict XVI and, as we know well all this is not good for the new 'rulers'....!!!" wrote traditionalist Catholic Giuseppe Quattrociocchi, responding to the decree on Facebook.
"They have been and are unique priests ... close to people and exceptional evangelizers. The parish of Santa Maria in Vado without them is poor, miserable, bare and empty," a commenter wrote on the Italian Latin Mass blog, noting that an appeal signed by 800 adults to Abp. Perego had been ignored.
The priestly fraternity was assigned pastoral care of the parish of Santa Maria in Vado and the rectorate of the Basilica of the Prodigious Blood from February 2016–June 2018.
The basilica is the site of an extraordinary Eucharistic miracle which took place on March 28, 1171. When Fr. Pietro da Verona broke the host while celebrating Mass, a stream of blood gushed from it, so vigorous that it hit the vault above the altar. The traces of blood are visible to this day on the right side of the transept of the basilica.
Sources said that the suppression of Familia Christi was intended to stamp out the legacy of the previous archbishop, Luigi Negri, one of the last appointments of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
"Archbishop Negri was never loved by the city's Left and has always been targeted in ferocious attacks (many times personal ones) for being a righteous, coherent, courageous and brave defender of the Tradition of the Church," wrote Cristiano Bendin, journalist for the local Ferrara section of newspaper Il Resto del Carlino.
Negri publicly denounced Freemasonry, confronted the LGBT lobby, challenged Satanic sects in his archdiocese, painted the Arabic letter "nun" (the brand of shame sprayed by ISIS on Christian properties in Mosul) on the chancery's door, and condemned excessive solicitude for migrants when Italians in poverty were being neglected.
By nominating Perego as Negri's successor, Pope Francis "wanted to send a clear message to the diocese," Bendin remarked. Church Militant earlier reported on Perego's progressive credentials particularly underlining his pro-migration agenda.
It was Negri, who had authorized and installed the Priestly Fraternity of the Familia Christi (FSFC) in the archdiocese of Ferrara-Comacchio on Sept. 8, 2016, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. "After a long time of careful verification and thorough preparation, not without the accompaniment of the competent ecclesiastical experts who were able to direct the steps of the nascent reality and its first members, the first canonical recognition arrived on June 4, 2014," Familia Christi's website states.
Local Catholics told Church Militant the suppression of traditionalist religious communities had peaked under Pope Francis.
In a recent case, the Vatican ordered the closure of the Little Sisters of Mary Mother of the Redeemer, a French religious order, comprising one hundred and twenty sisters. Journalist Marco Tosatti noted that the sisters were "accused of a spirituality considered too 'traditional.'"
"The Vatican's work of destruction of religious life continues relentlessly," because "they pray too much," observed Tosatti. The closure was even more tragic as it was taking place in a country where the situation of vocations is disastrous, he pointed out.
In a statement Abp. Perego commented: "Let us pray the Lord that he may never let us go without charismatic gifts for the life and mission of the Church, but also that may he give us the necessary attention to the criteria to discern them."