Founder, ecumenical monk strikes back in tug-of-war with Vatican

Founder, ecumenical monk strikes back in tug-of-war with Vatican

Enzo Bianchi, founder and former prior of the ecumenical Monastery of Bose, speaks during a prayer vigil at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome in this March 17, 2016, file photo. Following an apostolic visitation of the northern Italian monastery, the Vatican has ordered Bianchi and three other members to leave the community. (Credit: CNS photo/Sabrina Fusco, Catholic Press Photo.)

Italian lay monk Enzo Bianchi has broken his silence amid an ongoing showdown with the Vatican, defending himself against what he said were lies that misconstrued the facts of his side of events.

ROME – In a lengthy post on his personal blog, Italian lay monk Enzo Bianchi broke his silence amid an ongoing showdown with the Vatican, defending himself against what he said are “lies” about him that misconstrue the facts of his case.

For over a year, Bianchi, founder of the celebrated ecumenical Bose Monastery, has been a thorn in the Vatican’s side after members of his own community in 2019 complained about abuses of power and authority, leading to a Vatican investigation that culminated with Bianchi and three other members of the community being asked to leave.

Bianchi himself had stepped down in 2017, and a new prior, Father Luciano Manicardi, was named.

The order for Bianchi and the others to depart was given in May 2020, yet Bianchi never left. According to a papal delegate to monastic community, Father Amedeo Cencini, the main reason was that Bianchi could not find suitable housing, so, in February, Bose announced that it would close a property in Cellole and set it aside it for Banchi and any community members who wished to join him.

In the new arrangement, Bianchi was ordered out by the start of Lent. To date, he still has not left.

Pope Francis recently stepped in directly, meeting with Cencini and Manicardi March 4, the day before his historic visit to Iraq. Afterwards, the Vatican issued a statement asking that the May 2020 decree ousting Bianchi be implemented.

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In his blog post, titled, “Silence yes, consent to lies no!” Bianchi charged that the decree never “indicated or explained to us” what he and the others had done to impede the community’s new leadership.

“While not endorsing the slander expressed in the decree, and aware that we were not allowed to exercise the fundamental right to defense (as enshrined in the Charter of Human Rights and the European Convention), we obeyed,” Bianchi said.

He insisted that after the decree was issued in May 2020, he immediately began searching for other housing options suitable for himself and his caretaker and which could accommodate his belongings, including a large personal archive.

Bianchi said he was unable to find something he could afford, and that the coronavirus pandemic slowed his efforts to look for other options. He also pointed to his various health ailments, including difficulties walking due to a painful sciatica, kidney failure, and heart disease, as reasons for the delay.

“It is as a result of this situation and not for other reasons that I have not been able to leave the hermitage in which I have lived for more than 15 years,” he said, adding that once the decree was issued, he broke off all relations with the monastery apart from one liaison, despite not moving off community property.

According to Bianchi’s account, the Vatican Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, contacted him directly in October 2020 with the proposal to move to Cellole along with a handful of other community members. The condition was that all those who moved to Cellole with Bianchi would lose their monastic rights, a step Bianchi insisted is “in open contradiction” to canon law.

In response, Bianchi said he received another letter from Parolin agreeing to allow the community members to maintain their monastic rights, so he agreed to the transfer.

However, once he received the decree in January, Bianchi said there were a number of conditions he had not been aware of, including provisions that he would move without knowing the identity of community members going with him and that he could be expelled anytime without reason.

Bianchi said it was also stated he would have access to the buildings of the Cellole property but not the attached land, which he argued is needed for food and water, and that those who moved with him would not be allowed to associate themselves with Bose while still leading a monastic life.

Under this last condition, the other members would “simply define themselves as those who give assistance to Br. Enzo Bianchi, therefore reduced to mere ‘caregivers,’” he said.

Bianchi said his request for a community leader in Cellole was also denied and that it was forbidden to practice the monastic lifestyle, despite the fact Parolin had allowed members who transferred there to maintain monastic rights.

“Clearly, this imposition is detrimental to the personal dignity and fundamental monastic rights of these brothers and sisters who have lived in Bose for even 40 years,” Bianchi said, adding, “If Cellole is forbidden from leading a monastic life, what do they live?”

Had he known these conditions, Bianchi said, he never would have given consent to the transfer, “because they seem inhuman and offensive to the dignity of my brothers and sisters.”

“The decree of the pontifical delegate clearly places me and those who live with me in Cellole in a condition of radical precariousness, forcing us to live perpetually in the anguish of being expelled at any time and for any reason,” he said.

He said that he communicated his decision not to accept through a letter sent to both Cencini and Manicardi Feb. 2.

Six days later, on Feb. 8, Cencini issued a statement announcing the decree ordering Bianchi to move to Cellole, saying Bianchi had agreed, but no mention was made of Bianchi’s later decision not to go or the reasons for his refusal.

By handling the situation as they did, Bianchi said, Cencini and Manicardi were “altering the facts.”

Bianchi said he started looking for a new home at the beginning of February where he would be able to live a monastic life, stressing, “I do not intend to give up my vocation.”

“I have nothing more to communicate, at least for now. You judge!” he said, adding that he is willing and prepared to provide documentation for his account.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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