ROME – Following a 5-month investigation into the charismatic Community of Jesus the Savior, the Archdiocese of Malta has issued a decree forbidding participation in the group after finding what it described as abusive tendencies causing harm to members.

In a Jan. 8 communique, the bishops’ conference of Malta, consisting of the Malta and Gozo dioceses, said they “reaffirm the decision to disassociate themselves from Komunità Ġesù Salvatur,” referring to the group by its Maltese name.

They said this decision was the product of a 5-month investigation conducted by a Church commission which conducted interviews with the leaders of the community, and others who were willing to speak.

Throughout the investigation, which was led by Monsignor Hector Scerri, theologian and president of Malta’s doctrinal commission, “it was observed that the community gives a wrong and confused interpretation of Church teachings, an erroneous interpretation of scriptural texts, and an attitude that hurts those who are passing through challenging situations in life,” the archdiocese said.

The commission, it said, also found that “irrespective of the spiritual good that could have been done by the community over the years, one could never justify the alleged psychological and spiritual abuse perpetrated within this community.”

“With the help of several experts, it has been confirmed that the Komunità Ġesù Salvatur demonstrates the sociological characteristics of a closed and rigid community which causes harm to many persons, even if a number of people joined the community in good faith,” it said.

In July, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta took initial steps to distance the archdiocese from the group, saying in a communique that it “disassociates itself from the Jesus Savior community,” and cautioning priests and religious against participating in or hosting their activities.

Scicluna is widely considered one of the Catholic Church’s leading experts on the fight against sexual abuse, and serves as an adjunct secretary to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on abuse cases.

Described on their Facebook page as a Catholic prayer community operating in Malta, the movement is led by what is called a Core Group, and its three main branches are an Intercessory Team, various “Cenacles” of priests, religious sisters, children and adolescents, and open community meetings.

The community’s spiritual director is identified on its Facebook page as Father Elias Vella, a known leader in Malta’s charismatic movement and one of the archdiocese’s exorcists.

Members of the Intercession Team meet weekly to conduct intercessory prayer, and each member is required to follow a strict daily prayer routine, and they are required to adhere to community rules, which they insist are based on “the Word of God.”

Community branches are present in different parishes throughout Malta. Their monthly activities include Eucharistic adoration, catechesis, praise and worship, and praying the rosary. They also hold a “Rhema celebration” once a month, consisting of Mass followed by praise and worship.

Things erupted for the community when a former member of the group referred to the group as a “cult” in a Facebook post, and shared her experience on the TVM Maltese television network.

Having been raised in the group, the woman said her parents were among its leaders and told her that she would get sick and would be condemned to hell if she left.

In its communique, the Archdiocese of Malta said, “priests and religious are not allowed to participate in meetings organized by the Komunità Ġesù Salvatur” and stipulated that these meetings “cannot be held in churches or chapels or in any other property belonging to the Archdiocese of Malta, the Diocese of Gozo, religious orders and ecclesial lay associations.

The archdiocese also ruled that laypeople should also refrain from attending activities organized by the community.

They offered a help line through phone and email for people who might be negatively impacted by the decision, where professional support services are being provided.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen