Correction from the comments section:
Actually I think there are possibly 3 (out of a former 33?) TLMs allowed in Italy. There is one in Cornwall and one allowed at a parish in New York state...as far as I know. Others have been denied through.
March 10 2014
The Stakes are High for the Franciscans of the Immaculate
by Maurizio Grosso
Since the beginning of the external “commissioning” of the Institute of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, the new authorities have continuously repeated the same refrain: "Are you on the side of Father Stefano Manelli or on the side of the Pope?" ... "If on one side there is Fr. Stefano and on the other the Pope, whom do you choose?" It was an external commissioning which started out on the wrong foot, and it soon caused the capitulation of any undertaking for unity.
In the name of the authority enjoyed by the Commissioner, the Capuchin Father Fidenzio Volpi wished to pressure the brothers, not so that they might recognize their mistakes and thereby correct them, but so that they might embrace the new line of thought proposed by him and abandon fidelity to the Founding Fathers. The Friars have not yet been officially notified of the infamous "reasons" for the necessity of an external commissioner. Were there serious crimes? No. This was merely a "benevolent attention that expresses the maternal care of the Church.” Such were the words of those “in the know,” who have constantly repeated the same lullaby, which at times has been extremely contradictory.
One of the reasons given for the outside intervention is truly striking: the celebration of the Holy Mass according to the Vetus Ordo (VO). But it has recently and officially been admitted by the Secretary of the Congregation for Religious, H.E. Carballo that the Tridentine Mass was not the reason that the external commissioner was needed. ( see here ) Why then, after more than six months, is it still banned?
From very reliable information coming from the Sacred Palaces of the Vatican, it is a well-known fact that a mistake was made by the Congregation for Religious in rescinding from the Friars alone that universal permission given by the Summorum Pontificum. The formal approval by the Holy Father of the decree granting an external commissioner, particularly for the prohibition to celebrate Holy Mass in the VO, except upon re-authorization of the competent authority, was intended to verify if indeed there had been any abuse of authority by the Founder and Superior General in this matter. This was one of the accusations made by the five protesting friars, and repeated by the Commissioner himself, who knows "for a fact that Father Stefano Maria Manelli has specifically imposed Mass in Latin as the only permissible form of celebration in the seminaries and novitiates." ( Open response to a lay Franciscan of the Immaculate Conception )
Don’t give answers, just keep chanting the mantra
The Commissioner received numerous letters from the friars spontaneously and freely asking permission to celebrate, once again, the VO Mass. These were followed by no response whatsoever: a deafening silence. And with that came an altogether misleading and unfair answer: in the opinion of Fr. Volpi (or of the Congregation at the Vatican), the approval of the external commissioner in the specific form of a decree means the suspension sine die (with no appointed date for resumption) of the celebration of the Holy Mass VO, because whether one admits it or not, it is one of the main proofs of the Institute’s “traditionalist tendency” and “crypto-Lefebvrianism.”
Meanwhile, that aut aut (either this or that), “Fr. Manelli or the Pope,” hums on like a mantra. But this time it’s put down in writing. In his letter of December 8, 2013, the Commissioner once again said just that:
"... [M]any other friars identify the Institute with the person of the Founder, who is surrounded by a kind of aura of infallibility, and they see the intervention of the Church as a kind of abuse of what, in their opinion, would be untouchable and almost private property of the Founder himself. All this reveals serious errors in the ecclesiological sphere about the basics of religious life, and reveals a great spiritual poverty and a psychological dependence incompatible with the ‘freedom of the children of God’ ..."
Hence there was given the apparently convincing alternative: choose either the Church or the Founder. And with that, many friars as well as some lay people have fallen into this artfully contrived trap: a dilemma of false conscience, which has led many obviously to side with the Pope and the Church, that is, to be pro-Volpi.
It must be considered a false conscience, because never had the Founder claimed to make himself equal to the Pope or to replace the Church. As proof of this, there exists an almost endless chain of writings, conferences, spiritual retreats, for religious and laity, in which Fr. Manelli has always taught others to cling to the three “whites” of the Church: the Eucharist, Our Lady, and the Pope. The Institute of the Franciscans of the Immaculate was created and erected under Pope John Paul II. And in deference to another Pope, Benedict XVI, the General Council of the FFI decided to consider the celebration of the VO as preferential, but not exclusive. Finally, it is to Pope Francis himself that the Founder showed his obedience when it was decided that an external commissioner should examine the situation, and this, with the hopes that this obedience might bring forth even more abundant graces.
In reality, Fr. Volpi has used the “choose between Fr. Manelli or the Pope” mantra as a means to justify always and everywhere his actions. Was it the Pope and the Church that wanted an oath to be sworn by the Friars to fidelity to Vatican II and the New Mass, completely separated from the doctrine of faith and morals? The very decision by Fr. Volpi to insist that this oath be taken, an action which was strongly criticized by his superiors themselves, proved to be in the end only a threat intended to gain allies for the Volpi-Bruno cause, even to the point of sending servants of the new line of thought here and there (in Italy and abroad) to collect pro-Commissioner signatures.
The time allotted for the campaign to collect signatures/oaths is up, and none of the canonical sanctions that had been threatened were actually adopted against those who did not sign. Never before has the Church seen in any profession of faith, or in any retraction of errors imposed by the Congregation of the Faith upon theologians in the odor of heresy, that which the Commissioner demanded from the Friars, who had learned from their Founder to obey the Magisterium of the Church, the entire Magisterium, according to the uninterrupted Tradition of the Church.
The Real Alternative
So what is at stake for the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate? Not choosing between Fr. Stefano M. Manelli and the Pope (as Fr. Volpi and his followers would like), but choosing between Fr. Volpi and Fr. Manelli, which is like choosing between night and day. Yes, this is the real alternative: the only clearly true alternative.
When one speaks of Fr. Fidenzio Volpi’s ideas, one speaks of a religious life that is born today, which is updated in time by virtue of the times, with such a short memory as to forget that the Pope is not only the currently reigning one, but is every Pope, from the first to the last; that John Paul II was a Pope in the Church who wanted and approved the Franciscans of the Immaculate, without the need to become a "Religious Order," but simply a new "Religious Institute."
Fr. Volpi’s concept of a religious life is one that is modernized in a truly unusual way. The frightening crisis of vocations taking place, with the closure of religious houses, is not due to a progressive loss of identity of the religious; it is rather a "crisis of transformation." The crisis is not a loss, but an "exodus,” in which something is dying and something is being born. The old religious life is dying and the new one is being born. It’s not important that the numbers say otherwise, it is only important that the religious life be reborn as a new spirit and a new conception, one which frantically runs after the world, secularizing the few souls still remaining, and with adequate space to be given to the laity so as to overcome clericalism.
With the results and achievements of the past fifty years, this new cycle does not give much hope, if not for the excuse that we’ve entered into the post-religious era, "into the age of the laity." The theology of Fr. Volpi and his CISM (Italian Conference of Major Superiors) is a theology of hope without foundation. It is completely unbalanced, from foundation to phenomenon.
Fr. Stefano M. Manelli’s concept of the religious life is that he is simply trying to remodel the religious life according to the Saints, past and present, who are the incarnation in time of the only true religious life, that which starts not with the Council but with Our Lord Jesus Christ. Here, a return to the sources, so much desired, means a return to the genuine and unbroken tradition of religious life, always the same and for this reason alone, always new. With strict adherence to the rule, which, at one time, was also that of the Capuchins, with theological and liturgical maximalism, religious life does not experience an "exodus,” but its own perennial and continual freshness, with the flowering of vocations, with the opening of new missions and religious houses, with the enthusiasm of lay people, young and old, ready to challenge the future and put their lives on the line in order to stand with other religious, and thus contribute to the unique mission of the Church.
That enthusiasm for Fr. Manelli, which Fr. Volpi has found in many of the friars and lay people, is not idolatry of a person, but a preferential choice of the true Catholic perspective, that of the Saints, that of the unbroken Tradition of the Church.
To speak of Fr. Stefano M. Manelli, in the end, means to choose the Church in its entirety and understand correctly the development of a homogeneous charism, born under the guidance of the great Franciscan tradition, and matured gradually in the choice for that which is most perfect – always –even in the liturgy. The theology of Fr. Manelli is that of St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Pio of Pietrelcina: today founded on the tradition of the Church. A hope with a foundation: from phenomenon to foundation.
This is the real issue at stake: two visions of the same religious life; one that heads for death, and one that endures and blossoms. These are two ways of conceiving the Church; two opposing hermeneutics: one that closes religious houses, the seminary, the magazines, which prevents the apostolate, and even threatens the laity with excommunication; and another which is established in suffering: the dawn of a new morning for all, for religious and for the entire Church.
There are still many friars who pretend to understand. They deem it necessary to approach it all in a
theological manner, counting on the binomial Volpi-authority of the Church. But they, too, will have to
make a choice. Otherwise, someone else will choose for them: history.
Translation by Carmen McMaire