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John Allen on Focolare’s “Track Record of Bringing People Together”

Remember how, when Pope John Paul II died, we were told that the signs waved by the faithful at his funeral–saying, “Santo subito!”–were a spontaneous cry from the heart of the church for the immediate canonization of the saintly pope?  What wasn’t frequently reported in American newspapers as these “spontaneous” demonstrations captured the attention of the mainstream media was that the “spontaneous” outburst of piety was carefully orchestrated–and paid for–by a powerful Catholic lay group, Focolare.  Focolare had, in fact, manufactured the “Santo subito!” signs and was already distributing them in advance of the funeral.

As Vatican watcher Luigi Accattoli noted in the period following John Paul’s funeral, the Focolare movement  spearheaded the call for John Paul’s immediate canonization from the point of the pope’s death forward.  Accatoli has reported that, right after the funeral, petitions began circulating among various cardinals calling for John Paul’s speedy canonization–petitions widely thought by many Vatican observers to originate with the Focolare movement.  Gordon Urquhart, a former Focolare member who has written a book, The Pope’s Armada, about Focolare and other right-trending lay movements John Paul II encouraged, notes that the Focolare movement and other “new ecclesial” lay movements allied to it now have as much influence in the Vatican Curia as Opus Dei does.

And because of Focolare’s intimate connection to the process that has pushed the canonization of John Paul II forward so precipitously, I’m intrigued–but hardly surprised–to see John Allen now pointing to Focolare as a model for healing the divisions of the church.  Allen’s thesis: “In a time of bitter divisions, Focolare is one of the few outfits with a track record of bringing people together.”

Except.  Except for this: for many Catholics, the rush to canonize a pope who knew about the horrific history of abuse of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel, who protected Maciel, and who did nothing at all to address the abuse crisis in the church which came to light on his watch, is anything but healing.  For many of us, the rush to canonize John Paul II is a deeply divisive act that tears at the fabric of the church.  And of our souls.  And of the souls of all those who have been abused by priests, and have not found healing or justice in the church’s response to their abuse.

And so why is John Allen praising Focolare and pointing to it as a model for healing the church’s divisions and bringing the church together?  Why is he doing this now?  As John Paul’s beatification nears?

Once again, it appears that Allen’s prescription for the church of the 21st century–a prescription he pretends to disguise in the dispassionate language of a centrist “guy known for being fairly middle of the road” (to borrow a phrase from his Focolare article)–is anything but dispassionate and uncommitted.  In the guise of pleading for healing of divisions, for transcending ideological tensions between right- and left-leaning factions in the church from which he himself stands aloof, Allen is, once again, pushing an agenda that is anything but healing.  Or above the fray.

He’s pushing an agenda that implicitly calls for everyone in the church who finds John Paul II’s non-response to the abuse crisis deeply troubling to shut up and start cheering as the pope’s beatification approaches.  Allen is pushing an agenda that calls for the capitulation of Catholic progressives to their brothers and sisters of the right, who own the title Catholic, Allen consistently implies, in a unique and unilateral way that calls the catholicity of progressive Catholics into question.

Oh, and for any of you who happen to be Catholic and to imagine that the church of the 21st century might contribute to healing and overcoming of divisions if it stops targeting its gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, don’t look to Focolare for inspiration.  As Gordon Urquhart notes, Focolare is heavily involved in political movements  throughout Europe to undermine gay rights.  Urquhart notes that Focolare promotes the bogus idea that homosexuality can be “cured,” and has published a book  entitled Homosexual, Who Are You?, which maintains that gays are “guilty of involuntary murder by giving AIDS to young people.”

“In a time of bitter divisions, Focolare is one of the few outfits with a track record of bringing people together,” Mr. Allen says.

Perhaps.  If we can accept that one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

Cross-posted from Bilgrimage, 12 March 2011.


6 Responses

  1. Mr. Allen is, sadly, a mediocre and most disappointing reporter when it comes to things “catholic” or “Catholic!” We have come to expect very little from Mr. Allen’s words.

    Your writing here, Dr. Lindsey, simply reiterates what many now take for granted–little insight, little wisdom and little perspective on the present or future of Christianity in the writings of Mr. Allen. Tis a pity!


  2. Thanks so much for an informative article about
    Focolare. Like so much else in the Catholic Church, it is hardly the benign “spiritual” entity it purports to be.

    • Betty, I’m glad you thought this was worthwhile. Yes, if Focolare was every a lay movement with primarily spiritual goals, it has moved far away from those goals, as it has gained more and more political influence–particularly in Italy.

      And, by all accounts, within the political structures of the church as well, within the Curia itself . . . .

      These are the kinds of folks Allen consistently likes to promote, as he tells us we can learn most about the American church by heading to Rome.

  3. This is far too long, apologies. Was going to delete it, then try and transform it into a formal posting, then decided to leave it as it is for now. JC

    In the days of the ‘devil’s advocate’ (abolished by JPII), some attempt was made to link the cause for sainthood to the quality or virtue of ‘heroic suffering,’ which itself was linked to the classic stages of the spiritual life outlined by John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. One didn’t simply look at the contributions made by the individual to the church or the quality of judgments in service to the church, because many exemplary individuals make such contributions (or not) without being ‘saints.’ The latter term was reserved for those individuals who had given evidence of the most profound spiritual purification and who had transcended the ordinary limits of the ego with its petty flaws, addictions and aversions. Character flaws might remain, but the chief characteristic of the great saint was the capacity to endure suffering and opposition and contradiction with an almost boundless serenity and peace. St. Ignatius once said that if the pope asked him to disband the Society of Jesus, after fifteen minutes of prayer, he would be at peace with the decision. Now that is heroic sanctity. Does that sound like JPII? Far from it. He had a formidable personality, made some significant contributions in some areas of church life and some destructive ones in others, gave a heroic showing in his final battle with Parkinson’s disease, and made an indelible impression on millions. But in his intransigence, his stubbornness, his unwillingness to listen to others-above all regarding the sex abuse crisis, his displays of temper, he gave evidence of an ego far from purified. Devout, yes, pious, of course, devoted to his own vision of the church, but still very much in the thrall of his inner demons and an ego far from the serenity that characterizes the great saints. This may sound terribly judgmental and unchristian, but that is precisely what the canonization process is supposed to be – a process of careful discernment and judgment as to the character of the individual, for the sake of the good of the whole church, so the word ‘saint’ is not cheapened and devalued, but reserved only for the most genuinely saintly. It used to mean something very special, with a careful set of psychological and spiritual criteria which were independent of given services & judgments, political or otherwise, to the church, though these did have their bearing- and in some rare cases became overbearing. Now? Well, now we canonize the likes of Jose Maria Escriva. So we might as well close the saint shop and go home.

    Sorry to go on like this with this rant, but to end on a more uplifting note. This evening at our great basilica of St. Simon and Jude, here in Prague, I just attended a glorious concert of a ‘high mass’ composed in honor of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a worthy candidate for sainthood if ever there was one . I was shocked at how uplifting and joyous the entire composition was, filled with the joy of the Resurrection. And I thought…well, why not? His life was a victory for faith, whether officially recognized or not. Romero started his episcopal career as a very rigid, conservative churchman with close ties to Opus Dei, and many of the local priests were very disappointed at his episcopal appointment. But he harbored within himself a truly astonishing capacity to listen and to change, which led to his dramatic turn-around and, by the end of his life, he had attained a level of saintly serenity under trial to rival some of the greatest saints.

  4. Jayden, thanks. This is marvelous–and not too long at all. I do hope you’ll work these ideas into a posting, though. And I see you’ve uploaded a video about the Misa del Pueblo to your Gay Mystic site. I’m eager to watch it.

    I agree with you: it’s important that candidates for canonization be scrutinized critically, and therefore the role of the advocatus diaboli in the canonization process was essential. One of the very troubling things (among many) about JPII’s reign was that he eviscerated one structure after another which provided power throughout the church, and he aggregated all that power to himself, to the papacy. He did this with canonization, essentially, by removing many of the checks and balances in the process, so that the pope now has more or less unchecked power simply to declare a new saint by fiat.

    And that’s what’s happening with the canonization of JPII himself. The way the process is working in this case underscores the lack of power of the people of God, the lack of any role for us to contribute to the discussion of who is or is not a saint.

    We have come a long, long way from the early church’s tradition of recognizing saints because the people of God acclaimed a particular person a saint. And the church is suffering dreadfully due to the choice of the previous pope to clutch all that power to himself, to Rome, leaving the rest of the church like a dessicated limb.

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