ROME – After the founder of an Italian community denied that he has disobeyed a papal order to vacate his monastery over issues of governance, a papal delegate claims he is still living on the premises.
In a May 13 decree, the Vatican ordered that Italian layman Enzo Bianchi, founder of the Bose Monastery in northern Italy, to vacate the facility due to the “toxic internal climate” he fostered.
Bianchi said he was moving to a “hermitage,” in accordance with the order.
However, Father Amedeo Cencini, the pontifical delegate to the community, says that the “hermitage” is “the same building consisting of several rooms and a few dozen meters from the central nucleus of the community, in which he has lived for more than 15 years.”
The Bose Monastery is a monastic community of men and women who belong to different Christian churches, but who live a common life of prayer, poverty, celibacy, and obedience to the Gospel.
Bianchi, 77, founded the community in the 1960s and stepped down as its leader in 2017. The community was canonically approved in 2000, and enjoyed the favor of Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.
In 2003, Bianchi was tapped by John Paul II be part of the delegation that returned the celebrated icon of Our Lady of Kazan to the patriarch of Moscow, since he was a member of the executive board of the Catholic Committee for the Cultural Cooperation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Bianchi also attended high-profile Vatican meetings in 2008 and 2012, and then in 2018 Pope Francis named him a consultor for the Christian Unity department.
However, the Vatican in December 2019 launched an investigation into the community after what a statement defined as, “a series of concerns from the Holy See that indicated a tense situation and problems concerning the exercise of authority by the founder, governance issues and the fraternal climate in the community.”
As a result of that investigation, Bianchi, two religious brothers and one religious sister at the Bose Monastery were asked to move out of the community and cease their functions within it.
However, earlier this month reports emerged that despite the decree – which was signed by Vatican Secretary of State Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin – Bianchi had not yet left the Bose monastery, while the other three had.
Bianchi sent a tweet Aug. 15 saying the reports were false, telling his followers: “Do not listen to fanciful news about me. I have been away from the community for three months, without having had any more contact with it. I live in radical solitude in a hermitage outside of the community and given my health conditions (I am no longer independent) I have a brother who visits me. Amen.”
However, in his note, Cencini said that not only does Bianchi still live in the monastery with a religious brother who attends to his needs, but “he regularly receives other members of the community and travels from there, alone or with others, by car for various reasons, as he has always done.”
“Therefore, he has still not fulfilled his promise to accept and carry out the provisions notified by the May 13, 2020 decree, which, at the end of the apostolic visit, was delivered to him as well as the three other recipients,” Cencini said, adding that he is “confident that the situation can be resolved as soon as possible.”
Speaking to Italian state broadcaster RAI, Riccardo Larini, a former member of the Bose monastery who still holds strong ties to the group, said the hermitage where Bianchi is currently living was built for him in 2000 and has independent road access from the rest of the community.
Larini, who appeared sympathetic to Bianchi, said that while he is still living in the same property he has inhabited for years, since June the founder has not participated “in any way” in the life of the community and is “deeply tried” by the experience, which is compounded by ongoing health issues.
Larini, who said he has read the Vatican’s decree, said the only accusation against Bianchi is “interference with the government of the community.”
“There is not trace in the Vatican texts of abuse or psychological pressure of any kind,” he said, noting that the exile of the other three members is temporary, while Bianchi’s is indefinite.
Larini claims Bianchi’s biggest mistake was to continue participating regularly in community life after stepping down from his role leading the community and moving to his isolated hermitage, which Larini said led to conflict with the community’s new leader.
“An extraordinary and strong personality like his is destined to have a strong impact even through physical presence alone,” Larini explained, adding that even a word or two of disapproval of how the new leader handled things could have been enough to cause problems, “but this certainly doesn’t make him a monster.”
According to Larini, the most “vehement” opposition to Bianchi comes from those who used to be closest to the founder, following his orders without question.
Larini called the situation a “Freudian patricide,” and voiced his belief that while distant from the community, Bianchi will be allowed continue his ministry until his death. Asked about the monastery’s future given its internal divisions, Larini said he believes “the only hope would be and is hope against hope. But that is what makes us Christians.”
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