Sunday, July 7, 2013

20 Signs of Trouble in New Religious Groups Applied to the IVE

We found a very useful list over on the Vocation Station section of  It comes from the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA).  The first 15 signs are written by a very respected and conservative Canon Lawyer who is a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI).   The last five come from a Doctor of the ICSA itself.   We'd encourage you to read the original article and the discussion on  

The first comments on the Phatmass thread get right to the point:
"Being a novice (literally) I was sometimes confused about what was 'normal' and what was 'iffy' in religious life. I think this list can be a very useful tool for discernment with ANY community, new or old." 

"it's very good for discerners to have a healthy concept of what religious life should be, particularly in a new community. This list seems very balanced, and views religious life in a positive light." 
We agree wholeheartedly.  Many "founders" start orders to follow their own will, not God's.  Yet it can be difficult for young discerners to tell the difference without proper maturity in their spirituality and sufficient background in religious life.  These signs provide a good litmus test to discern if a new group is problematic or not.

The purpose of this site has been to give discerners the proper tools they need to evaluate the Institute of the Incarnate Word.  With that in mind we've looked at how the IVE shapes up on each of these points.   

Going through the checklist, the IVE/SSVM have 13 out of 15 on the warning signs from the Canon Lawyer and 4.5 out of 5 of the warning signs from the Cultic Studies association.  This should be a clear wake-up call to anyone still associating with this group.

Below we will give the warning sign, quote the article, then give our take.  Any emphasis is ours.

1.“Total” obedience to the pope
Many will find this first warning sign surprising. As Catholics, are we not all called to obey the Holy Father? Indeed, we are. When a new association sincerely seeks to obey and follow the teachings of the Holy Father, canonists are for the most part satisfied the group is doing what Catholic groups ought to do.

Nevertheless, some new associations abuse Catholic sensibility in this regard. These groups cite “total obedience to the Holy Father” when what they really mean is partial obedience to selected teachings of the Holy Father, without embracing the entire papal message. Additionally, when challenged over their partial obedience, these groups will appeal to their “total” reliance upon the Holy Father in an attempt to bypass the authority of the diocesan bishop.
YES.  Like the Legion of Christ, the IVE do their best to seek out and showcase photo opportunities with the Holy Pontiffs in the hope that this will overshadow their disobedience at the regional level.  There is special irony in the fact they pledged total obedience to Pope Francis when their earlier appeals to the Holy See were precisely to bypass the authority of the new Pope while he was their Archbishop and Cardinal in Argentina.

2. No sense of belonging to the local church
As Catholics, we belong to the universal Church. Yet we also belong to the local church community, meaning a local parish and a local diocese. Even the Holy Father is not exempt in this regard; he is, after all, the Bishop of Rome and thus belongs to a local Roman Church. Thus the ministry and apostolate of any association should focus on the local church. If a new association or religious order has no sense of belonging to the local church, then this becomes cause for concern.
YES. See below

3. Lack of true cooperation with diocesan authorities
To belong to the local church, one must cooperate with local diocesan authorities. After all, Christ instituted His Church as a hierarchy. Within this hierarchy, our Lord instituted the office of bishop to oversee a portion of Christ’s faithful. Thus the local bishop, and not a particular religious group or association, bears ultimate responsibility for the care of souls within a particular geographical location. If a new association refuses or impedes cooperation between itself and the local diocesan authorities, then its fidelity to the Church is questionable.
YES.  The creation of the IVE under Buela was precisely to escape the local church, first in Buenos Aires and then in San Rafael, so that Buela could be the boss and operate exactly the way he wanted to operate.  When his behavior and recruiting tactics raised suspicion of diocesan authorities, he refused to cooperate.  Buela's disobedience is documented here.  The continued disrespect for episcopal authority can also be seen in a very well documented case in Ireland.  Otherwise, there are numerous other examples on this site covering IVE violations of civil and canon law and their disregard for local diocesan authority.

4. Making use of lies and falsehoods to obtain approval
As Catholics, we concern ourselves with speaking the truth. After all, our Lord denounces Satan as the “Father of Lies.” So any new association should be truthful in how it presents itself to its members, Church authorities, and the outside world. This is not just a matter of basic honesty; any group or association that resorts to falsehoods to gain approval is likely concealing a deeper problem.

The Church understands that every association, particularly when the association is new, makes mistakes when engaging in ministry or apostolate. When an association is honest, however, these problems are easily identified and quickly corrected. This in turn increases the likelihood of the new association succeeding within the Church.
YES.  Not just lies, but subterfuge, politics, and given their "benefactor" and his history of bribery, who knows what else was involved in the IVE getting approval to the Diocesan Right.

5. Too soon an insistence on placing all goods in common
While the Church has a history of associations and religious orders in which members place all their goods in common, the decision to do so should come after a reasonable period of careful discernment. Placing one’s goods in common in not for everyone, and the consequences of such a decision are lifelong. Additionally, the potential for abuse by those who administer the common goods is great. Therefore, canonists frown upon any insistence by an association that its new or potential members place their goods in common.

Due to the fact that modern times see less stability in common life, with members sometimes opting to leave after a number of years, the most prudent handling of goods in common is to place them in trust until a member dies. That way, if the member leaves, the goods are available to meet his or her needs outside of the community.

6. Claiming special revelations or messages leading to the founding of the group
Although this represents a warning sign, it is not absolute. The Church recognizes the presence of many legitimate apparitions and private revelations throughout her history. Yet not all alleged apparitions or special revelations turn out to be true. Therefore, the Church must further investigate any claims of special revelations or messages — particularly when they become the catalyst for founding a new association. If, however, a new association refuses to divulge or submit its alleged revelations or special messages to the Church, then this immediately calls into question the authenticity of both the association and the alleged apparition.
NO.  There are conflicting stories about how/why the institute was founded and while Buela cites inspiration, there are thankfully no stories of messages, apparitions, or revelations that we are aware of - but give Buela time, his story changes as the years go on.

7. Special status of the founder or foundress
Of course, the founder or foundress will always enjoy a special role in the founding of a new association or community. Nevertheless, in all other respects he or she should be a member just like everyone else. This means that he or she is similarly bound to the customs, disciplines, and constitutions of the community. If the founder or foundress demands special meals, special living quarters, special dispensations from the rules imposed upon other members of the community, or any other special treatment, then this is a clear warning sign. It is of special concern if the founder or foundress claims exemption from the requirements of Christian morality due to his or her status (see point 15 below).
YES.  While Buela certainly receives celebrity status at IVE formation houses, the clericalism even extends past the founder to the priests, some of whom receive more privileges than others.  These privileges begin with special meals served by seminarians and extend as far as Pasquetta (Easter) vacations at exotic resorts in the Dominican Republic and Cancun as we've documented here.

8. Special and severe penances imposed
As St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, virtue is found in the middle, between two extremes. Therefore, any penances imposed upon members of the community should be both moderate and reasonable. Special and severe penances are not signs of virtue — rather, they are signs of extremism.
YES.   The IVE practice penances such as self-flagellation and the hair shirt.  These are "voluntary" and - just like the basic penance of fasting - are good when done with the right spirit, but can be dangerous physically, spiritually, and mentally if undertaken without proper prudence and guidance.  Given that the flagellation is performed in a group setting beginning in the novitiate, you can see that prudence is essentially non-existent.  And since nobody in the IVE gets proper spiritual direction, few will understand the proper purpose and role of these corporal mortifications.  As a result, there is great potential for these to be misused.  

Additionally, the restrictions on sleep, the all-night adoration, and the poor diet are not  compatible with the very active lifestyle the IVE/SSVM lead.  These are practices for contemplatives.  As numerous doctors of the Church point out, those living an active lifestyle (and the IVE/SSVM are very active) should not sacrifice sleep or nutrition lest it wear one down and impact prayer and spiritual well-being. 

9. Multiplicity of devotions, without any doctrinal unity among them
The purpose of sacramentals and other devotions is to bring us closer to Christ and the sacraments. Hence sacramentals are not superstitions. A new association or community should insure that any special devotions or sacramentals unite its members to Christ, the sacraments, and the mission of the association. For example, praying three Hail Marys in front of the statue of St. Joseph while the Blessed Sacrament is exposed does not offer such unity. Eucharistic Adoration, Marian devotion and devotion to St. Joseph are all good in themselves, however, they should be offered either individually or collectively as devotion to the Holy Family. They should not be offered simultaneously.
YES.  IVE spirituality is a grab bag of spiritual practices that are often in conflict.  Like their charism, their spirituality is so broad and has so little impact on their day to day lives that it's essentially nothing more than spiritual name-dropping, "Our Lady", "St Ignatius", "St. John of the Cross", "John Bosco", sure we got that.   Read more about the problems with their Spiritual formation here

10. Promotion of “fringe” elements in the life of the Church
As previously mentioned, every association or organization within the Church should exist to serve the needs of Christ’s faithful. Therefore, canonists view any association that exists solely to serve fringe elements — whether these elements be special apparitions, private revelations, or extreme social or political agendas, etc. — with suspicion.

This is not to deny that extraordinary events may sometimes become the catalyst for a new association or religious order. For example, St. Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscans after receiving a locution from our Lord to “Rebuild My Church.” Nevertheless, St. Francis did not found the Franciscans with the intention of promoting his internal locution. Rather, the internal locution inspired St. Francis to found an order that would serve the Church.
YES.  The IVE started with strong political influences.  The Buela family was politically connected and in its early days the congregation was visited by extremists who made several coup attempts.  There is still an undercurrent of this taught within the IVE that contributes to their lack of obedience to civil authorities (exemplified by their disregard for civil law) as well as their lack of respect for episcopal authority.  

In terms of their philosophy, while they study Thomism, they don't study the traditional Aristotelian approach to Thomism, but instead follow Thomism according to the study of Italian Cornelio Fabro. (Interestingly, the only other group we found very interested in Fabro was the Legion of Christ.)   It appears the IVE has gotten control of his papers and is in charge of translating and disseminating his approach to Thomism.  

So the IVE isn't so much following traditional Thomism as putting itself in a position to create it's own obscure interpretation of it and promote this system within it's own organization, taught by IVE "professors", which are really just IVE priests and seminarians with no professorial experience.  It's a dangerous group-think environment.  You can read more about the problems in their Intellectual formation here

11. Special vows
Within the Church, one finds the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Additional or special vows present numerous problems. Often, special vows are reduced to means through which superiors unduly control members of the community or association. The danger is particularly pointed where a special vow cannot be externally verified. Take “joy” for example; one can usually appeal to objective evidence that someone is not living a life of poverty, chastity and/or obedience, but as a feeling, “joy” is too subjective to be judged in an objective manner.
YES. The IVE take a vow of "Slavery to Mary."  The idea of "slavery to Mary" considered as "consecration to Mary", is useful in a spiritual sense, but as a vow it's meaningless and can't be verified externally. It's also strange because there is nothing specifically Marian about the IVE at all.  They say the rosary, which is good, but so do most orders, not to mention faithful lay catholics.  Beyond that it's a meaningless vow and there is no aspect of their spirituality, charism, or daily life that distinguishes them as Marian.  

12. Absolute secrecy imposed on members
While some discretion and privacy is necessary within any Church community or association, secrecy should never be absolute unless one is a confessor preserving the seal of confession. Therefore, any association or organization that imposes absolute secrecy upon its members should be approached with the utmost caution. Members should always be free to approach diocesan officials and the Holy See if certain problems arise within the community that are not dealt with in an adequate fashion. Similarly, since these associations exist to serve the Church, all members should be allowed to converse freely and honestly with members of the Church hierarchy when requested.
YES.  There are numerous problems within the IVE.  Their own priests have written us admitting as much.  Yet those still in the order will say they are bound by obedience to defer to their superiors and cannot address issues they see as obviously dysfunctional (which is what the Legion of Christ taught as well, thought it's not a proper interpretation of religious obedience.)  The idea of an IVE priest or seminarian approaching diocesan officials with issues is laughable.  The repercussions for doing so would be very grave (cut off from family, sent to a faraway mission, etc.)  

The IVE has never operated transparently with episcopal authority and nobody at the IVE is free to approach diocesan officials.  Their history is rife with these examples and we can see in Ireland - even when they had a reasonable idea what happened - they were ordered to tell the bishop "We don't know" over and over again. 

Neither is there any transparency with the laity or discerners.  They will not discuss their seminarian drop-out rate, the attrition of their ordained priests, or their historical problems with anyone on the outside and the first two are not openly discussed within the Institute.  

13. Control over the choice of confessors and spiritual directors
Confession and spiritual direction concern the internal forum — that is, those things that are private to a person’s conscience. Within reasonable limits, a person should be free to choose his or her confessor and spiritual director. On the other hand, obedience to one’s superiors in carrying out an association’s apostolate or ministry concerns the external forum. In other words, the latter are public actions that can be externally verified.

The roles of confessor and spiritual director should never be confused with the role of superior. Nor should there even be the appearance of confusion. Of particular concern to canonists is when a superior imposes himself as confessor and/or spiritual director of a member under his charge. After all, a superior will have to make decisions about a member’s future — and in so doing there exists a strong temptation to make use of information gathered under the seal of confession.
YES.  Internal / external forum are never discussed within the IVE and the Institute's practices in this area regularly violate both the spirit and the letter of the law on these issues.  

At their Italian Seminary it's bad.  The superior will hear confessions of seminarians regularly.  This is a huge red flag to anyone familiar with religious life.  Period.  

In the US almost all the confessors and spiritual directors are staff at the seminary or novitiate, with the exception of one or two other IVE priests attached to a Parish, but not officially part of the formation team.  The only rule is that you don't get SD or confession from your direct current superior.   However, since those entering pass through both the novitiate and seminary, they will in the first year have their confessions heard by the seminary rector and, the next year, by the novice master.  Every priest on the formation team will have heard the confession of every IVE seminarian within two years.  The same team that is supposed to decide the fitness of the candidate.  This is not only a violation of internal/external forum, but also of Canon 240.  

In terms of freedom to choose confessor and spiritual director, well, it's very limited.  As we mentioned, there is a group of IVE priests, one of whom will hear confessions on Mondays evenings during adoration.  You will be given a subset of those priests to choose from as your spiritual director.  Unlike the other various orders around CUA that work to hear confessions and practice SD of those in other orders so that internal/external forum are respected, the IVE make no attempt at this. 

We have no idea what is practiced in San Rafael Argentina, but given it's isolation we would assume it is as bad as Europe or worse.   We discuss Spiritual Formation in more depth here

14. Serious discontent with the previous institute of which certain members were part
Like some of the other red flags presented, this warning sign is not absolute. Sometimes, a very good reason exists for a member’s discontent with his or her previous institute. Nevertheless, serious discontent with a previous institute should be carefully examined. In most cases, such discontent points to some deeper problems with the individual, particularly if he or she has a history of “conflict of personalities.”

15. Any form of sexual misconduct as a basis
This warning sign is fairly self-explanatory. The Church’s teaching is clear when it comes to sexual morality. If sexual immorality is the basis for a new group or association, then the association ought to be avoided. Additionally, one should immediately report this to the competent Church authority.
NO.  None that we are aware of.

Five Additional Warning Signs from the International Cultic Studies Association

From the article:  "In addition to the fifteen warning signs presented by Fr. Morrisey, Dr. Michael Langone has assembled a list of thirteen criteria by which many cult experts judge a group to be a cult. Dr. Langone is a counseling psychologist and the Executive Director of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA). He has spent nearly 30 years researching and writing about cults, and for 20 years has been the editor of the Cultic Studies Journal. The following five criteria have been adapted from Dr. Langone’s thirteen criteria and applied to the context of Catholic associations. Some canon lawyers find them useful when evaluating the legitimacy of a new association within the Church."

1. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members
Of course every new association, if it wishes to grow, will seek to increase its membership. Such growth, however, should come because potential members identify with the mission or apostolate of the association. Additionally, members should only join after a reasonable period of discernment. Thus, any association whose main focus is to bring in new members, to the exclusion of other acts of apostolate or ministry, should be carefully examined.
YES.  These guys make recruiting a huge focus and priority.   In fact, they have no mission or apostolate that doesn't either expand their footprint or double as a means of recruitment.  

Almost every website they have is an advertisement for their formation houses, full of pictures of those in formation along with giant banners advertising their upcoming recruiting trips for youth (ie. apostolates and potential vocations.)  

Their web and social media presence dwarves that of comparable orders and rivals that of a medium size business.  Their priests, their charism, holiness, etc. are almost never mentioned except when it ties back to advertising their houses of formation.  Do a little benchmarking of your own, comparing the IVE's Facebook and twitter feed to that of an order or diocese and you will see how bereft it is of anything relating to spirituality or holiness.  It's all promotion of their formation trying to get people to enter.   

Once people decide they will enter, there are zero barriers to stand in their way:  No application required, no background checks, no psychological exams.  They just want you in.

2. The group is preoccupied with making money
Like the previous criterion, there is nothing wrong per se with raising money for one’s association or apostolate. After all, even Christ and the Apostles used money. Nevertheless, money should be a means of carrying out legitimate ministry and apostolic work. Raising money should never be an end in itself. Additionally, the means employed in raising money should be honest and transparent.
YES.  These guys aren't the Legion of Christ in terms of fundraising (though maybe if they got along better with authorities they'd try to be), but they do have a pre-occupation with money.  We've documented the ways they try to extract money from seminarians, novices, and their families.  They constantly ask for free food from local businesses and the sisters of the poor, they don't pay real professors (as we will go into later), they ask seminarians to pay for all their own big ticket items, they don't pay for the land because they get that from the parishes.  Even without fundraising, it's not like they don't have income. They get a reasonable amount of money from Dioceses for each parish they have (probably between $30K-$50K/year), but they give the priests there maybe 10% of that for expenses and force them to beg to the parish for major expenses like cars.  

Yet wine, ice cream, and special meals (eg. fresh food) for the priests is a daily occurrence.  They take expensive Pasquetta vacations to exotic beaches and alpine ski adventures.   Begging for food while spending money on luxuries.  It's all very strange, especially given their "vow of poverty", which apparently is a very subjective vow for the IVE.

They will say things like "The diocese makes people discern 100% because it's expensive for them to send people to a seminary… we'll let you come even if you aren't sure, because we run our own seminary and it's cheaper."  Where is their concern for the seminarian? There is none.  All their concern here is their bottom line.  And that's why they'll let you come in when you aren't sure.  They allow it because they want numbers and they don't pay real professors because they want to save their money for themselves.  

3. Elitism
The Catholic Church recognizes that by virtue of their baptism, a certain equality exists among Christ’s faithful, regardless of whether one belongs to the lay, religious, or clerical state. Additionally, among religious orders and newer forms of consecrated life, the Church recognizes different types of charisms. Some are active, in that they tend heavily toward active ministry and apostolic work. Others are contemplative, in that they tend more toward prayer and contemplation. Of course, you find everything in between. Therefore, any Church association that only recognizes vocations to its association is not thinking with the mind of the Church.  Nor are those associations with a polarized mentality that divide their vocations from those of the rest of the Church.
YES.  The entire purpose of the Institute was to separate itself from the rest of the Church in Argentina.  With the IVE, if you think you might have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, then in their eyes you de-facto have a vocation and should join the Institute - no discernment required.  If you feel called to apostolic work, contemplative life, whatever, the Institute has it all and you should join.  

Anyone that joins will then hear loud and clear from their formators that religious life is the highest calling and that life in the institute is much more meritorious than any other calling, especially diocesan priesthood or life in the laity.  Anything else outside the Institute is a "lower calling".  

At that point, from the Institute's point of view (and that of your SD and confessors)  leaving the IVE is a lack of perseverance (or the devil, flesh, or disobedience to spiritual director) and is a betrayal of one's vocation regardless if someone has discerned that the IVE is not for them.  

4. The leadership induces feeling of guilt in members to control them
One’s vocation within the Church should be freely chosen. Similarly, obedience is something a superior should inspire among those under his or her charge. While it sometimes happens that a superior must impose his or her will upon a particular member, obedience should never be coerced through illicit or improper means. Additionally, if a superior must constantly impose his will upon the majority of the membership through coercive means, then this proves problematical to the long-term health of the specific association or religious group.
YES.  We think this is the only way in which members are controlled.  They will have no qualms about guilting or manipulating you to enter (as evidenced by their own youth publication on the subject) or to stay.  That's why when men are finally ordained and sent away to a parish they get at least some degree of escape from the psychological grip of the IVE and leave. 

5. The group completely severs its members from the outside world
Granted, one must be careful here. After all, the Church has a long and honored tradition of cloistered and contemplative orders that sever themselves from the day-to-day activities of the outside world. Nevertheless, even those orders of the most strict observance encourage some forms of outside communication with friends, family and the world. Therefore, it is cause for concern when an association, particularly if the association is lay-based, encourages its members to completely sever ties with friends, family, and the outside world. Additionally, one should beware those associations that encourage or require their members to live and/or socialize only with other members of the same group or association. One should also beware if association or friendships with people outside of the group are encouraged only when they are used to further the goals of the group. - See more here.
YES and NO.  You will be completely cut off from friends unless they are potential vocations.  If they are potential vocations, you will have a lot of flexibility.  Your interaction with family will continue, but will be controlled - if you don't have money to fly or drive back and see them then you might not see them.  If you have family members who could potentially be vocations, then you will again get a bit more freedom of interaction.  Even then your communications with them outside of visits will also be monitored without the notification or consent of you or whoever you are communicating with: they will read your mail/email, listen to your phone calls, and have seminarians/sisters spy on each other at the behest of the superiors on a regular basis.


So we are 13/15 on the checklist from the Canon Lawyer and 4.5 out of 5 on the list from the Cultic Studies association.  We will let you draw your own conclusions.