Vatican Appoints Canonist to Look Into Communion and Liberation’s Lay Association

Jesuit Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda will oversee the investigation of Memores Domini, which was established in 1964.

Jesuit Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda in 2014.
Jesuit Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda in 2014. (photo: Credit: Legionaries of Christ)

The Vatican has appointed a commission headed by an apostolic delegate to revise the statutes and directorate of the lay association Memores Domini — consecrated lay faithful who are part of the Communion and Liberation movement.

At a June 26 meeting with Memores Domini leaders, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the prefect of the Dicastery for  Laity, Family and Life, appointed Jesuit Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a specialist in canon law, as the apostolic delegate to oversee the process, according to Italian journalist Aldo Maria Valli who confirmed the news. The story was first reported on June 26 by the Italian blog Messainlatino.

Cardinal Farrell, after expressing his gratitude for Memores Domini’s charism, said the decision to appoint an apostolic delegate was taken because the Vatican had “repeatedly” asked its president to reform the statutes and directorate but no action had been taken.

“Since the Vatican received no proposal for revision, the dicastery, in agreement with the Pope, has decided to appoint Father Ghirlanda” to guide the revision process, Cardinal Farrell said. He added that the papal delegate would also deal with “some associated problems already reported to the dicastery.” 

In the June 26 decree detailing the commission, the Vatican stressed the pontifical delegate would assist the association’s leadership in “promoting an appropriate pedagogy among all members of the association in order to understand the realm of conscience, the internal sacramental and non-sacramental forum, and the external forum.”

Valli reported that in his words to the association, Cardinal Farrell mentioned the “worrying suspension of associative life” and invited all Memores Domini members to recall Pope Francis’ Jan. 2 letter to the association, in which he urged them to “welcome with docility and with an ecclesial spirit the voice of the Church, which is responsible for watching over the good exercise of charisms.”

Cardinal Farrell referred to the Pope’s earlier words to the Communion and Liberation movement on March 7, 2015, in which Francis warned against falling “into the thousands of traps offered to us by the pleasure of self-referentiality; by that looking at ourselves in the mirror which leads us to confusion and transforms us into mere impresarios in an NGO.”

In that speech, the Pope stressed that “all spirituality, all charisms in the Church must be ‘decentralized’: at the center there is only the Lord!” He also underscored that faithfulness to tradition is needed but that does not mean “worship” of the “ashes but to pass on the flame.”

Father Giussani, he added, “would never forgive you if you lost the liberty and transformed yourselves into museum guides or worshippers of ashes. Pass on the flame of the memory of that first encounter and be free!”

Valli said that “evidently from the Holy See’s point of view,” whatever the problems the association has had in the past “have not been resolved, and therefore there is the official decision to send a pontifical delegate.”

In his words to the association, Father Ghirlanda stressed the importance of the Memores Domini’s charism, adding that the current moment is one of “empowerment for all members” which will can only benefit the whole association. He added that “clarity of identity must be nourished” but this “must not become self-referential” because then the association “would die of asphyxiation.”

“The experience we will have requires docility to listen to others,” Father Ghirlanda concluded. “This requires a lot of humility. It is a matter of learning to discern what comes from the good Spirit and what comes from the bad Spirit, who often masks himself under appearances, as an angel of light. And the more you go forward on the spiritual path, the more the Evil one, enemy of human nature, masks himself in order to get his own way.”

Valli pointed out that the issues the pontifical delegate will have to deal with are “numerous and complex” and involve the figure of Father Julián Carrón, Communion and Liberation’s current president, who is also an ecclesiastical adviser to the Memores Domini — a role that Valli said “poses problems” from the standpoint of democracy and freedom of its members.


Memores Domini’s History

The Memores Domini were established in Milan in 1964 under the guidance of Communion and Liberation’s late founder, Father Luigi Giussani (1922-2005). Members of the association, which numbers 1,600 members resident in 32 countries, follow a vocation, according to the dicastery’s website, “of total devotion to God by living the Gospel in the world.”

The members’ charism is both contemplative and apostolic, the association says, showing a “passionate desire to bring the Christian message into the lives of men and women, meeting them above all in their work places, which is the normal field in which they bear witness.” They live their lives in community, according to a “rule of silence, personal and communal prayer, poverty, obedience and fraternal love.”

Several female members of the association have for many years assisted Pope Benedict XVI, both during his papacy and after he stepped down.

Each house of members is the “fundamental unit of the structure” of the association, the association says, but in “exceptional cases,” individual members may continue to live in their own homes while taking part in the life of their house. Memores Domini is overseen by a board of directors (the directorate).


Latest Vatican Intervention

The news of the commission follows a number of Vatican interventions in new religious movements or communities in recent years.

In May, the Vatican intervened in the Bose Monastery founded by Enzo Bianchi, a Catholic layman, after it learned of “a tense situation and problems concerning the exercise of authority by the founder, governance issues and the fraternal climate in the community.” The Holy See ordered Bianchi and three others to leave the community and cease all function in it after it became clear that the monastery’s new prior was unable to carry out his duties with Bianchi still present.

Since 2008, the Vatican has also for very different reasons famously intervened in the affairs of other new movements and orders, including the Legionaries of Christ and both its lay apostolate Regnum Christi and its consecrated women’s division, and the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate.