Neocatechumenals Heading Into the Sunset, With a Push From the Pope
On Friday September 20 Pope Francs received in audience, at Casa Santa Marta, the founder of the Neocatechumenal Way, Francisco “Kiko” Argüello, accompanied by his two lieutenants María Ascensión Romero and Fr. Mario Pezzi. On the occasion, Kiko offered the pope a sketch he had made with the likeness of Saint Francis Xavier, a Jesuit and a great missionary of Asia.
The gift was not a random one. An illustrious relic of Saint Francis Xavier is kept in Macao, on the coast of China, where the Vatican congregation “de Propaganda Fide” opened on July 29 the latest of the seminaries “Redemptoris Mater” for the formation of priests belonging to the Way, now more than a hundred and spread throughout the whole world. On Wednesday September 18, at the end of the general audience in Saint Peter’s Square, the pope also greeted the faculty and students of this new seminary, before their departure for Macao. And he then said to Kiko, according to a statement from the Way: “I am content because you are doing the Church’s most important thing, which is evangelizing, and you are doing it without proselytism but through witness.”
Not everything, however, is so triumphant for Kiko and for the movement he created. The fortunes of both reached their zenith during the pontificate of John Paul II, dazzled by their adamancy in the field of conjugal morality, with an absolute no to contraceptives and with ultra-prolific families. But first with Benedict XVI and then also with Francis the reprimands of the Way have multiplied. And today, right at the end of September, a book is coming out that even accuses them of supporting actual heresies:
The book’s author is a priest and the operator of a blog that is highly attentive to doctrinal orthodoxy. And he identifies the two capital errors of the Way in a “heretical conception of the sacred Eucharistic minister” – with the Mass made to resemble “in part a Jewish passover and in part a Calvinist banquet” and in a “confusion over the different forms of priesthood,” that which is common to all the baptized and that which is proper to those who have received sacred orders, with the lay catechists, starting with Kiko, usurping the tasks of the priests and taking charge over everything.
In effect, albeit without ever arriving at imputations of heresy, the doctrine and practice of the Way has in recent decades drawn severe criticisms from Vatican authorities, both from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, which back when Joseph Ratzinger was prefect had scrutinized and required corrections in the fifteen volumes of transcriptions of the oral catechesis imparted to recruits by Kiko and by cofounder Maria del Carmen Hernández Barrera (1930-2016), and from the congregation for divine worship, which has repeatedly called the Neocatechumenal communities back to the faithful observance of the Roman rite in the celebration of the Mass.
To these reprimands the leaders of the Way have always declared themselves obedient in words, while however disobeying in deeds, that is to say continuing behind closed doors to celebrate their bizarre Masses and to hold their abstruse catecheses, while in public they have made a show of themselves by filling the streets for the “Family Days,” converging en masse on the cities hosting the world youth days, sending families on mission to faraway lands, as well as multiplying their “Redemptoris Mater” seminaries.
All of this has guaranteed them some success, but it has also prompted harsh reactions, especially on the part of bishops, both conservative and progressive – like Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (1927-2012), who never wanted them in his diocese of Milan – who do not put up with the Neocatechumenals creeping into their dioceses and parishes sowing divisions and making proselytes not for the Church but for their specific sect.
In 2010, an entire episcopal conference, that of Japan, even banned them from the country and closed their seminary. And it continued to block their way even after in August of 2018 they returned to the fray with the help of Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of “Propaganda Fide” and their fervent supporter, who announced that he wanted to reopen in the diocese of Tokyo a “Redemptoris Mater” seminary, this time under the direct jurisdiction of his Vatican congregation. After the failure of this second assault on the Far East, Kiko and Filoni are trying again today with the completed erection of the seminary in Macao.
But they have suffered another setback in the meantime, in the Pacific Ocean. There the archbishop of Guam, Anthony Apuron, a backer of the Neocatechumenal Way, last February 7 was hit with a definitive canonical condemnation for sexual abuse, following a thorough investigation conducted in the first instance by Cardinal Raymond L. Burke and in the second instance by Pope Francis himself. It comes as no surprise that Kiko should have upheld Apuron’s innocence to the end, but with the removal of the bishop the “Redemptoris Mater” seminary has also been closed and the presence of the Neocatechumenals has almost disappeared.
With the advent of Bergoglio in the pontificate, Kiko had figured that he had a more open field than with his predecessor Benedict XVI, seeing the current pope’s indifference toward the doctrinal and liturgical deviations of the Way.
But Francis is also allergic to the presumed merits won by the Neocatechumenals with their unyielding condemnation of contraceptives. So allergic as to reserve precisely for them – in the judgment of many – the stinging jibe on the flight back from the Philippines: “Some believe that in order to be good Catholics we must be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood.”
To the synod on the family Bergoglio did not invite any member of the Way, not even as an observer, in spite of their conspicuous expertise on the subject. And also the environmentalist encyclical “Laudato Si’,” with the Malthusians Ban Ki-Moon and Jeffrey Sachs ever more at home at the Vatican and now also invited by the pope to the upcoming synod on the Amazon, has put the ultra-prolific Neocatechumenals in the corner.
The other thing that doesn’t work for Francis is the confusion between “internal forum” and “external forum.” “It is the sin into which many religious groups fall today,” he said last September 5 in Mozambique, meeting with the local Jesuits. But this is precisely what the Neocatechumenals do with their so-called “scrutinies,” which are in fact “public confessions that flay the conscience with questions that no confessor would ever dare to pose,” in the words of an archbishop who is very critical of the Way, Catania’s Luigi Bommarito.
Moreover, the pauperist Bergoglio just does not like the enormous expenditures that the Way makes to ingratiate itself with bishops all over the world, for example by giving hundreds of them promotional trips to Israel, culminating in a visit to the spectacular Neocatechumenal citadel named “Domus Galilaeae,” with a magnificent view of the Sea of Galilee. The pope may have been alluding to this when on May 5 2018, on the esplanade of Tor Vergata, he told the Neocatechumenals who were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Way, “Jesus does not authorize bargain getaways or reimbursed trips. He says to all his disciples just one word: Go!”
But above all there is Francis’s aversion for Catholic movements of any kind, for the movements that were in vogue during the second half of the 1900’s and stirred such enthusiasm in John Paul II, but that today, independently of the favor or disfavor of the popes, are everywhere in decline, in some cases ruinously so.
The Neocatechumenal Way is one of these. If only it were able to hand down its “credo” to the offspring of its prolific couples, and then to the children’s children, its numerical growth would be exponential. But no such luck. That doesn’t even work in the family anymore.
Links to all the articles published on this topic on http://www.chiesa, beginning in 2002:
- 30 settembre 2019