Sunday, May 26, 2013

Unqualified Supervision and Gross Negligence

Considering the recent abuse scandals and subsequent reforms put in place at seminaries,  one would have to consider the IVE's lack of admissions & screening to be grossly negligent.  This might seem gravely irresponsible to anyone from the outside, so how does the IVE get such God-fearing people to go along with such negligent practices?  Well, the IVE does it, in part, by assigning very young, unqualified people to 'oversee' the process.  

For example, the SSVM Sisters have had national vocation directors who were still under temporary vows and who later left the group themselves.  The two priests who have been novice masters in the US (Novice Masters also act as vocation directors for the men) have arrived from outside the US, freshly ordained, and in their 20's - even when more experienced priests are available.   Regardless of whether these individuals are responsible for the flawed process, their lack of age and experience virtually assures it doesn't get fixed.

If you or a family member is considering joining the IVE, keep this in mind.  Those advising you on the process were only put there because they are young, true believers, unlikely to find fault with what their superiors handed them.  They are not and likely will never be people who are actually going to help you discern or help you arrive at the decision that is best for you.  The answer from them will always be "enter."

Sister under temporary vows in charge of your vocation - then leaves the order

The sisters have actually assigned someone to the role of national vocations director who was only under temporary vows and who later left the order.  This wasn't a temporary assignment.  She was in that position for at least a few years.  

Think about how gravely irresponsible that is.  Imagine if you were thinking about joining a novitiate and the order had a 22 year old seminarian advising you on discernment, determining your fitness to join, and counseling you on the process.  Would you think that was prudent, charitable, or responsible? 

We aren't trying to find fault with this individual.  We certainly can't blame her for leaving and she was only doing the job she was given.  However, we can find great fault with the superiors that care so little about the girls and women 'discerning' with their order that they couldn't be bothered to appoint a permanent sister to the role - and there should have been plenty available.  

The Institute claims 1000 professed sisters, so why weren't there enough that one under perpetual vows could be assigned to the very important post of National Vocations Director for North America?   Is this a case where the sisters have an attrition problem like the men and don't have nearly the number that they claim?

Maybe they want a young, inexperienced girl in charge so she doesn't question the crazy, negligent process they have in place?  Or maybe the leadership itself is too incompetent to appoint the proper personnel?  These explanations aren't mutually exclusive - all could be true.

This isn't limited to the position of vocations director either.  The female branch regularly has women under temporary vows acting as house superiors at their 'missions' even though they themselves are still in formation.

Giving your absolute obedience to someone in their 20's might not be a good idea

The men are hardly any better.  They take newly ordained priests in their 20's, fresh from Argentina and appoint them as novice master in charge of both vocations and "formation" of the novices - despite the fact that older, more experienced priests are available.   

The novice master is then given numerous other responsibilities, including spiritual direction of the majority of the female novices - despite the fact that they will have had no real experience at spiritual direction.  The novice master will be so busy they will almost never be at the novitiate.

Maybe the reason the IVE feels they can appoint such junior people to oversee their vocations process is because they really don't have one?  Or maybe the IVE approach to formation is so offensive to reason that a young "true-believer" is needed in order to carry it out without questioning it?  

Quantity, Not Quality

These practices are grossly negligent.  It is hard to believe given the abuse scandals of the previous decades, but unfortunately it's the case.  Ultimately the IVE are very concerned about growing in numbers and this is the result: growth is prioritized over the well-being of those in their care.  

IVE Admissions Process: Non-Existent

The IVE (and the SSVM) are very concerned about recruiting and growing in numbers which results in them prioritizing their own growth over the well-being of candidates and others in their care.  

This begins with their troubled approach to discernment (see here) where the Institute replaces the Church's tradition of prudent and prayerful discernment with an approach centered around impulsiveness and thoughtlessness.  

Admissions processes exist for a reason

It continues with their admissions process.  Traditionally orders have counseled patience to candidates and have been very discerning in who they allow to enter. Think of all the saints who have had to search for places that will accept them or who have been told to wait.  Little St Therese even went all the way to the Pope in her pursuit to enter the cloister and was still counseled to be patient!  

This was a long tradition prior to Vatican II and many orders are again being careful to require a bit of a 'courtship' before entering.  Even dioceses now have a reasonably thorough process as can be seen here.  This makes sense.  After all, many people pursuing the priesthood or holy orders may just be suffering from mental illness, past abuse, or immaturity and are using formation as some form of escape.  

An obligation to know the candidates suitability

Preventing these people from entering protects the church, the laity, and those currently in formation.  It also protects the individuals themselves.  Instead of escapism and further denial, these individuals need counseling and honesty about their situation.  For these individuals formation has the potential to be harmful both psychologically and spiritually - which is why these lengthy admissions processes are in place. 

The Institute even claims to agree with this.  From it's own book on vocations it says it has: "not only the right, but also the obligation to use all necessary means to know the candidates suitability."  

Unfortunately as we'll lay out below, this isn't at all what the IVE practice.  As you'll see, they don't have any real admissions process at all.  The results are troubling: candidates enter without sacraments of initiation, men knock on the door one week and receive a cassock the next, victims of abuse and mental illness are routinely admitted, and these cases don't even touch on the otherwise "suitable" candidates that haven't done any discernment or spiritual direction. 

The IVE has no real admissions process 

Not only do most entering the IVE novitiate never attempt any proper discernment, but they don't complete any admissions process either.  For most, applications are only a formality after they have already quit school, quit their jobs, and moved into the novitiate house.  

A few will fill out applications beforehand, but it's not necessary.  As long as you don't have a large amount of debt and aren't a practicing homosexual you'll be told you can come.   

Nothing will bar you from entering:  No canonical questions will be asked.  No background check or psychological exam will be performed.  Immigration status won't matter either.  In fact, the IVE are the only catholic diocese or order in the US that accepts illegal aliens.  Illegal aliens easily make up over 50% of the men in formation.  

People will even be let in without the sacrament of baptism or confirmation!  Think about how strange that is (on so many levels) for a Catholic house of formation to be accepting candidates to the priesthood who have not even been baptized or confirmed.  

If you have any background on religious orders then you will know how odd all this sounds

Psychological exams are not given until the Spring of the novitiate year (after novices have already been given cassocks) and the majority of the IVE seminarians who are undocumented immigrants will never have a background check performed because of their status.  All this despite the fact that people with severe psychological conditions, childhood abuse, and even criminal records enter regularly every year.

Even if you do not have any of these issues, it means that some of the people you will be around 24/7 likely will have them.  You will all be living together in close quarters in a high stress environment (the IVE novitiate is not a peaceful, tranquil experience) with almost zero supervision from the novice master - because he is never there

People with severe psychological problems, histories of abuse, and even criminal records will be allowed to enter without any paperwork, background checks, or psychological exams, and will then be given cassocks,  making them indistinguishable from priests to the laity  

These novices are given cassocks, clerical collars, and access to the local parish and the community without any psychological exams!  The half that are in the country legally and speak English will have the usual background check run by the diocese for teaching CCD and will teach at the local parish.  The rest will be sent door to door in the community, unsupervised, wearing cassocks and clerical collars like priests - with no psych exams or background checks!

This is hard to believe after the Church scandals in the last decade, but it is unfortunately the case.

Numbers are the priority

Why does the IVE do this?  Because having a large number of members is and has always been important to them and their founder Buela.  They talk about it often and they plaster pictures of large groups all over their website.  They blame their problems with bishops on "jealousy" over their many seminarians.  

However, what if the IVE actually had an admissions process?  If it actually checked a person's residency status?  Conducted background checks and psychology exams? if it forced a person to think and consult others before entering? If it actually had an admissions process like every other religious order/congregation/society does?

If it had these things, the Institute's numbers would diminish considerably and their ability to recruit new members would diminish along with their number, since much of the recruitment work is done by seminarians.   Since numbers are a priority for the IVE, the choice for them so far has been to continue these practices.  

Friday, May 24, 2013

Cults and Common Sense - Part II: 4 Antidotes

This is Part II reviewing Fr. Longenecker's thoughts on cults in the Catholic Church.  In part I we looked at 4 warning signs to watch out for.  Here in Part II we'll take a quick look Fr. Longenecker's antidotes for troubled groups and how they should be applied to the IVE.

4 Antidotes to Cults within the Church

1.  The Local Catholic Parish

"One of the antidotes is actually the Catholic parish system. If we all went to our local parish and put up with the priest we didn’t happen to like and the people who were just there because, like us, they lived there–we would be more realistic and we wouldn’t fall into personality cult problems." - Fr. Longenecker

Men entering the IVE aren't necessarily avoiding their local parish, but many are avoiding diocesan formation.  In some cases, problems in the diocesan system will cause them to overlook what initially appear as less serious problems within the IVE.  

In other cases seminarians just wouldn't be accepted into diocesan formation at all due to things like immigration status, childhood abuse, criminal history, or mental illness (see here for more info.)  Since the IVE lets anyone in with little to no application process they make it easy to avoid the Church's traditional system that has been implemented within the diocese and established orders.  

The best cure to discerning with the IVE is simply to talk to vocation directors at a few diocese and orders.  If you need tips on where to look for good orders, drop us a mail.  

2. Common sense: "If something or someone seems to be too good to be true, they are"  

If you have sufficient common sense you will eventually figure out something is wrong with the IVE.  However, unless you have some background in religious orders and know what to look, then it may take a while.  

We didn't see the IVE's problems until after we entered and that's just too late.  We created this site so you can be aware of these problems upfront, before you quit your job or leave school.   So please take advantage of the information we have provided, research, visit with the IVE and other orders, ask questions, and you will have been spared much pain. 

It is important to do this beforehand, because once you enter you will not be able to turn around and leave without some damage being done.  (We will have a later post on why leaving the IVE is so problematic and why that makes entering so dangerous.)  

3. Open-ness to criticism and dissent

There is no criticism or dissent within the institute.  Absolute obedience is demanded.  Any doubts are from the devil.  As we will cover in a later post, being outside the "spirit of the institute" can get you kicked out with as little as a one-hour notice and can put your vocation in jeopardy since a recommendation from the Institute will usually be required to join another seminary or order.  

4.  Finally, real religion is just that. It’s real. It’s humble.

Read this and decide for yourself if the environment sounds down to earth, real, and humble. 


There is a difference between a successful institution and a successful religious institution. The world judges an institution by the numbers of members, its popularity, and its power. This is how the IVE judge themselves.  

The success of a religious institution, however, should be judged by different standards. It should be judged by the quality, not quantity, of its members.  It should understand that one of the surest things that can harm an order is to prioritize growth over virtue.  It leads to a lack of discernment on both sides that ultimately harms both parties.  Instead of size, popularity, and power the Institute should instead be focused on the sanctity and virtue of its members.   

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cults And Common Sense - Part I : 4 Warning Signs

Our Sister blog SSVM Abuse recently blogged on a column by well known Catholic priest, convert, and columnist, Fr. Longenecker.  The piece, entitled "Cults and Common Sense" focuses on the tendency for new religious groups to exhibit cult-like behavior.  He offers up 4 warnings signs to recognize these cults along with ways to steer clear of them.  

We believe Fr. Longenecker's points could be useful to readers of this blog, so in Part I below we'll cover his warning signs with an eye toward the IVE.  We'll cover his recommendations on how to avoid these problems in Part II.

4 Warnings Signs of a Cult

1. The “too good to be true” public relations operation

"This is the first sign of a cult: everything is too wonderful and everyone is ready to tell you how wonderful it all is." - Fr. Longenecker.

Indeed, the IVE always describe themselves as "joyful", "faithful", "young" and "growing".  Their websites, while short on spiritual or intellectual substance, are filled with photos of young smiling faces attending mass, working at missions, or having dinner to celebrate a feast day.  Members are told to be joyful - even in their own constitution.  To be openly melancholic would be equivalent to disloyalty.

"The cult will invariably have an amazingly good public relations operation. They will present a good and glossy front with 100% participation of all involved." - Fr. Longenecker.

Despite their small size, the IVE have the best web presence of any catholic congregation we have ever seen.  They have an online marketing engine equivalent to a medium size company: numerous blogs with giant banner advertising, regular updates with event photos, smiling group photos ad naseum.

Any seminarian with an education is assigned to some form of IVE promotion, whether it's working on their web presence, editing books for Fr. Buela, or working on ads and flyers in photoshop.  There is also the full-time seminarian photographer constantly snapping away - even at private seminary events.

This public image is their priority.  You only have to google them to see how many different web URL's they have purchased and set up (follow the link and flip through the search results to see all their pages.)  

SSVM Abuse says it best: "don’t get me wrong, joy is great, but perpetual smiles and no seeming hardships from the outside are red flags. No, really. And the IVE’s various social media, websites, and publications speak for themselves."

Why is this such a warning sign?  Fr Longenecker explains: "because group cult behavior conspires to cover up and hide away anything that tarnishes the glossy image of that 'wonderful community' that all the members want so much to believe in."    

Perhaps that is the reason they fail to mention their troubled history or their sky-high drop-out rate on any of their sites?  

2. Non-transparent leadership

One can't expect to be privy to every decision or how it was made. Yet when perpetual vows of obedience are required, one would at least expect to know who is in charge.  Unfortunately, with the IVE that is often difficult to ascertain.  

Their founder, Fr. Buela, had to step down once in 1994.  A Fr Solari (who has since not only resigned, but left the order altogether) was unanimously elected Superior General.  Most believe that Solari was only a puppet and that Buela remained in charge of the Institute in disobedience to the Argentine Bishops that forced him to resign. 

Fast forward to 2010 and Buela (having retaken his previous post as Superior General in 2002 - after Solari's resignation) again steps down for reasons that are not entirely clear.  Fr. Carlos Walker is then unanimously elected to take his place. 

What is strange about all this is that many in the Institute aren't aware of any of it at all.  Many aren't aware Fr. Buela has ever stepped down.  Even those the priests that are aware of his resignation, still say that he is "the boss" and continues to make all the decisions.  Even stranger is that - though Fr. Solari led the order for 6 years - he is never mentioned within his former order.  Fr. Solari's tenure and departure are kept as a secret from all members who joined afterwards.  

With the IVE not only is the decision making non-transparent. It is never even clear who exactly is making those decisions.  

3. "A third trait of a cult is that complete loyalty is demanded of the followers. Dissent and criticism are not permitted."

Like the Legion of Christ before them, the IVE believe and teach that their vow of obedience requires near-absolute and blind obedience to their superiors - yet this is absolutely not what the religious vow of obedience or St. Ignatius "obedience of the intellect" is supposed to mean

This is no minor point.  The IVE share the Legion of Christ's approach to obedience.  That's exactly what allowed the Legion and Maciel's scandals to continue for so many decades.   Insiders lied and covered up abuse due to an unconditional sense of obedience.  They have been trained since the novitiate never to question their superior.  This is the same with the IVE.

"Those who dissent will be marginalized, excluded from decision making and demonized... The disloyal and rebellious ones will be deemed 'unspiritual' or 'difficult'."

Relating this line to the IVE is a full blog-post on it's own.  You don't get to a 40-50% attrition rate unless there is some marginalization and exclusion occurring. 

For those in formation, voicing any doubts about the IVE way of doing things will get them the wrong kind of attention.  When applicable they'll be told it's a sin against the "vow of obedience" and the "spirit of the institute."  It may even lead to them being spied on - via mail, phone, and even by their fellow brothers.

Voicing these kind of doubts can even get someone kicked out - even though considering the clericalism, the law-breaking, and the poor use of resources, doubts should be plentiful to any thinking person.

It applies to the discernment process as well:  any doubts about one's vocation are dismissed as temptation from the devil.  Continue to question your vocation and you'll be told you are being weak, lacking perseverance, not embracing the grace God is giving you, and giving into the devil.  

4. A persecution complex

The IVE have done and continue to do things that rightfully garner the attention of  Church authorities.  When that attention arrives the IVE leadership never admits any wrong-doing or makes any changes.  Any resulting discipline from Church authorities is then sold to members as "persecution by liberals."

They even wear this persecution as a badge of honor to their membership.  We get plenty of emails and you can find plenty of blog comments from those close to the IVE to the effect that "persecution is a good thing" or "all good orders are persecuted."  Yet that's just not the case.  When you are "persecuted for righteousness sake" then that is a blessing, but when you are persecuted for disobeying all of your country's bishops, for breaking the law, for manipulating children… That's not persecution, that's discipline.

Criticism from former members isn't persecution either.  We and others like us who are writing about this topic aren't liberals who disagree with orthodoxy.  Rather, we are former members who know that orthodoxy is not what the IVE is really about.  When former members publicizing their experience becomes "persecution" then there is a problem.  

How It Happens 
"The problem is that when a group is becoming cult like it does so innocently. Nobody sets out to establish a cult. Instead, unconsciously certain individuals start to behave in this manner and they support one another. The leadership starts to create an unrealistically wonderful religious atmosphere and those who want and need that sort of religious group will support it and feed the flames. The faithful will set the leader up on a pedestal and declare him to be wonderful and the leader (who needs and likes the adulation) will encourage their hero worship. Those who object or suspect what is happening will be automatically excluded or marginalized by those who wish to perpetuate the super wonderful world they are setting up for themselves." 
In Part II we'll look at some of Fr. Longenecker's recommendations for avoiding cults within the Church. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Even Superior Generals Leave the Institute

We've already touched on how the deep rooted problems at the Institute of the Incarnate Word lead so many to leave the group - even after ordination and perpetual vows.  (Our estimate was that at least 40% and possibly over 50% of priests ordained within the IVE have left the group.)  What we didn't know then and what has recently come to light is that even IVE Superior Generals have taken part it in the exodus.

Fr. Solari: Elected Then Ejected

In 1994 Argentine church authorities forced IVE founder Fr. Carlos Buela to resign and exiled him to Ecuador.  In his place the IVE unanimously elected Fr José Luis Solari as superior general.  Later, when Cardinal Sodano helped move the group out of Argentina to Italy, Buela was able to return to the order.  Once Buela returned, Fr. Solari resigned as superior general and Buela was unanimously elected to his previous post.  (Background on Fr. Solari here, here, and here.)

Did Fr. Solari willingly resign?  Was he forced out?  Was he ever really in charge or was Buela always pulling the strings?   As is the case with other important aspects of the Institute's history, the details of Fr. Solari's resignation are unclear.  What is clear is that, like so many other IVE priests, Fr. Solari left the IVE.  He became a diocesan priest in Peru and his whereabouts are currently unknown, though one would imagine he may have retired by now.

A Very Bad Sign

There are far reaching implications when a superior general not only resigns his position, but leaves his order altogether.  Priests and seminarians had taken a vow to obey this person (who was also under perpetual vows) only to see him leave.  So to simply say this is scandalous is an understatement.

Beyond scandal, the real question is what conclusions should be drawn from this departure?  Was Fr. Solari right or wrong to leave the Institute?  If he was wrong, what does that say about the prudence of the IVE?  They can't even pick a faithful leader for their own group (remember, they unanimously elected him), yet they want you to trust your discernment and vocation to them?  To take a vow of obedience to them?

And what if Fr. Solari was right to leave?  If he was right to leave then he had to be compelled by serious issues concerning both Buela and the Institute - issues serious enough that they should be disclosed to those in formation and those discerning with the order - but obviously no disclosures have been made.

Right or wrong, Fr. Solari leaving a group where he was superior general for six years is evidence of severe problems within that group.  These aren't things the Institute discloses or likes to talk about (or is even honest about when questioned), but this is information you deserve to know before you ever give them your trust or consider entering.

The IVE's Persecution Comes From Within

You see, the IVE like to dismiss talk about their troubled history by saying it's the result of "persecution by mean liberal bishops."  Well, what about Fr. Solari?  Who persecuted the IVE into unanimously voting him superior general?  Who persecuted Fr. Solari into leaving the institute to join a diocese?  (We can guess the answer to those two questions pretty easily and the answer is not "mean liberal bishops.")

The IVE's problems are real and they come from within.  Fr. Solari's departure is proof of that.  They aren't stories made up by "anonymous detractors" and they aren't hardships imposed by liberal bogeymen.

But does the Institute ever disclose these issues to those who deserve to know?  Have they attempted to address the people causing these issues?  The answers are no and no.