We recently received this from a concerned Argentine who is well-informed on the IVE situation to say the least. More commentary to follow.
Father Buela: a Layman's View
by Jack Tollers
IN ARGENTINA TOO?
Please bear with me if you will, I’m an Argentine and on top of it all I am attempting to report a story from this remote corner of the world. Particularly the story of one of Sodano’s creatures, Father Carlos Miguel Buela, yet another of your new founders of the “New Movements” - in this case a congregation of priests, nuns, & laity, with a following spread all over Argentina and a dozen more countries, including the USA (they say their members are over one thousand, and counting - all in less than a quarter of a century.) But, as we’ll see, it’s now in trouble.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
In 1971 a young Jesuit, Father Alfredo Sáenz, arrived in Buenos Aires having just finished his studies in Rome. Back then the Argentine Church was in a perfect mess with practically every bishop in the country experimenting with liturgy, the clergy dressing up like the laity, nuns sporting skirts, the teachers in several seminaries going into “Liberation Theology,” changing the catechism, delving into Rahner or Congar (or their worst disciples), hundreds of priests and nuns shredding their calling, some of them marrying, some of them going into all sorts of strange doings, quite a few joining the Marxist guerrillas which in this country had begun a violent campaign against the military government then in office. In those hectic days, a well known bishop, Mons. Podestá, even eloped with a nun! For those of us who remember them, those were very agitated and confusing times. Even the devotion to Our Lady was more or less systematically discredited, the Rosary scoffed at, some of her images removed from classrooms, parishes, etc., there were collective confessions, the altars were torn down, in some parishes rock bands played during the Mass, people started to take communion standing up, followed, some years later, with the communion in the hand, the whole liturgy one enormous field of experimentation - all reverence, devotion, or decorum perfectly forgotten, let alone any semblance of uniformity. It was very difficult to attend a Mass where you could count on a few minutes of silence. They called that “the new springtime of the Church” and we wondered: if that was spring, what would winter look like? Now we know. As Shakespeare might’ve put it: “Now is the springtime of our discontent.”
Yet, then as now, Father Sáenz seemed undaunted. He had perfectly impossible plans: to begin a proper seminary with serious studies, patristical and theological, a solid history of the Church, Latin and Greek, liturgical decorum, heart-felt devotion, a good review, scholarly professors, a good choir, theatre and arts in general and, in short, all that it takes to make a good priest out of young men - a difficult endeavor if ever there was one. Anyway, one way or another, as we can safely say nearly 40 years later, Father Sáenz pulled it off. The bishop of the city of Paraná, in the heart of the country, one Monsignor Tortolo, had an enormous seminary that had seen better days: in 1971 there were only a couple of seminarians and little more. So he offered Father Sáenz the opportunity to take over, which the young Jesuit enthusiastically accepted. Soon the best priests in the country flocked over to take office as teachers, starting with the renowned Father Alberto Ezcurra, a great friend of Father Sáenz just back from Rome where he had acquired a licentiate in Moral Theology, and Marcos González, a scholarly Dominican theologian who was widely respected. Soon the seminary was beginning to look up - more than that: it was an astounding success. Boys from all over the country hearing about this new conservative (or traditional) seminary were signing up. In 1972, when I went up to see if I had a calling (eventually I decided that I didn't), there were only 8 seminarians, but by 1980 there were over 200; the classes were full to the brim; a joyful atmosphere pervaded; Fathers Sáenz, Ezcurra and González were much loved by everyone; and the seminary’s magazine (“Mikael”) had reached international standards with important contributors (Josef Pieper, Cardinal Ratzinger, Cornelio Fabbro, Gustave Thibon, Thomas Molnar, and Dietrich Von Hildebrand, among many others, come to mind.). The choir sang beautifully; the boys learned Latin, Greek, French, English, the Fathers, Thomist theology, spirituality, and dogmatic and moral Theology, etc.. And all of it done in little less than ten years.
Of course, the progressive lot didn’t like the thing one bit, and when Mons. Tortolo's health forced him to step down (in 1983, I think), a new bishop with very different ideas took over. Father Sáenz was recalled by his order, the Society of Jesus; the teachers were generally told that their presence wasn’t exactly wanted; and in less than three months the seminary was, once again, in general disarray.
Here is where Father Buela comes in. In those days he was a young parish priest, recently ordained, and had become friends with Fathers Sáenz and Ezcurra. Now Fr. Buela was in good terms with another bishop, Mons. Kruk (of UkKrainian descent), who held his chair in the city of San Rafael, about 1000 kilometers from Buenos Aires. Bishop Kruk was in the same quandary that had afflicted Mons. Tortolo in Paraná, so why not repeat the traditionalist or conservative experience in San Rafael?
There was a catch however: as I’ve said, Father Sáenz was a Jesuit, and his superiors then refused to dispense him from his work as a Society of Jesus professor in their main house in Buenos Aires. So, what to do? Here we must go slowly to understand how this story unfolded. The three priests had been good friends for some years now and none of them could claim to be chief or superior among them in any sense - except that Father Sáenz was the eldest and had the natural authority of one who had experience in handling a seminary and that Father Ezcurra was older than Father Buela and had seconded Sáenz in his job. So finally they settled to an arrangement that seemed perfectly natural: Father Ezcurra would be the head of the San Rafael seminary, Father Buela his second in charge, and Father Sáenz would come over every now and then to deliver small courses on this and that and generally oversee things. At first, everything seemed to go pretty well. The seminary soon filled up, with many seminarians fleeing Paraná and the changes taking place there under the new bishop. Bishop Kruk was delighted with his brand new seminary full of enthusiastic youngsters who to all appearances were taking things seriously. Here too, at first, everything seemed quite promising. Father Ezcurra had a lot to do with this, being as he was, especially charismatic with the boys, helpful, insightful, sensible, patient and always cheerful.
And Father Buela – at that time – appeared no different…
PORTRAIT OF THE PRIEST AS A YOUNG MAN
I met Father Buela when he was in his thirties, struggling in a very poor parish in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, a hefty, big-headed, bright priest. He was always in excellent spirits, used to laugh a lot at everything and everyone (including himself), wearing at all times a defiant old cassock - something quite unseen in those days, the black piece of cloth being a symbol of resistance to the generalized progressive trends of the day. He had studied in Buenos Aires’ main seminary (Villa Devoto), a progressive stronghold, and had managed to work his way through to ordination despite his hard-hitting barbs against all things modernist and strong stand for traditional doctrines and practices. In those days he was a jolly chap, quick-witted, pouring out energetic and hilarious one-liners and funny stories about almost anything under the earth. On the other hand, Father Buela—in stark contrast to his counterparts, Sáenz and Ezcurra—came from the Argentine working class, was not widely read, did not have a polished education, and had not travelled much abroad. One couldn’t quite say he was a simpleton, but he certainly wasn’t sophisticated. He rather seemed to indulge in his general demeanor identifying his rather blunt ways with Christian humility in open contrast to the refined manners he seemed to associate with pharisaical tendencies. Of course there’s something to be said for this, but seen objectively, from time to time one felt he was a bit over the top. Now and then one would feel him a wee bit too rowdy and nearly uncharitable when he took to chiding someone. He was acute, but sharp too and not always as compassionate and forbearing as you’d perhaps expect a priest to be.
However - all things considered - lots of people (me among them) loved him and respected him quite a bit. He stood for the best causes, was a good preacher, wrote passably well, had showed valiant loyalty to the best traditions of the Church, had earned some reputation as an excellent confessor (I, for one, didn’t concur on this, feeling him to be too moralistic for my tastes, if you know what I mean), and his friendship with Fathers Sáenz and Ezcurra only contributed to his well earned fame as a living example of what a young Catholic priest should be.
Alas, (I’m telling you, this is a difficult and tragic story to recount for American readers) things went wrong for him, for San Rafael’s seminary, for all of us. First of all, Father Sáenz could only visit the seminary every now and then, so Fathers Buela and Ezcurra had to manage things on their own. Then, all of a sudden in 1984 Father Buela announced that he had bought a small farm in the outskirts of San Rafael where he was to start a congregation of sorts, taking with him some of the seminarians, in order to live a “religious life” as opposed to that of a secular clergymaen (as to where the money for the farm came from, that remains an open question). Soon there was talk that he had taken his decision “inspired” by a vision or something and it was announced that the original charism of the new organization included a more exacting religious life for their candidates who, once ordained, would occupy their places in abandoned parishes, wherever bishops would call them. The plan was that once the recruits were ordained as priests they would go there in twos or threes to their assigned parish and live a common life of prayer and devotion while ministering to the laity. The general idea seemed to be that leading a cenobitic life of sorts would protect the young priests and help them along with the otherwise daunting job of managing a parish. In those days it was quite an interesting scheme. In effect, there were lots and lots of deserted parishes all over the country and to send a young priest with no experience to handle it all by himself, in those days, seemed to all intents and purposes, a self-defeating proposal.
(I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I think I should mention here that as things turned out, Father Buela succesively added one charism after another to his congregation so that in the end no one quite remembered what had been proposed as its distinctive feature in the first place.)
But back to the beginnings… Very soon things soured. First, as we eventually found out, Father Buela never consulted his move with Fathers Sáenz or Ezcurra. He followed his own counsel much to the dismay of his friends - by the way, we found out about all this long years afterwards: Sáenz and Ezcurra kept their grudges very much to themselves, discreet as they were - though not Buela. Right from the start he began to court San Rafael’s seminarians in a rather aggressive way, to the effect that his congregation (named “The Institute of the Incarnate Word”), was stricter in its duties and obligations than the ordinary run at the secular seminary. As time went on things got worse, implying that if a seminarian refused to follow suit, it was because he wasn’t earnest enough about his calling. As if this wasn’t enough, the seminarians that had moved over with Father Buela continued to study in the secular seminary: soon enough a rift was opened between both sorts and sometimes the subsequent arguments and discussions gave way to acrimonious quarrels and unpleasant disagreements.
Fathers Alberto Ezcurra and Alfredo Sáenz were flabbergasted at this turn of events: firstly, their friend, Father Buela, had turned his back on them and gone his own way without the slightest consultation. Now he actively promoted the seminarians’ defection from the original seminary in favor of his newly founded congregation, and this promotion was carried out with a fair degree of belligerence and manipulation. Years later Father Ezcurra confided in me that this aut-aut campaign was being conducted in a “He that is not with me is against me” (Math. XII:30) spirit - something, Ezcurra said, only Christ could legitimately claim for Himself.
I dare say.
But, as I say, this is beside my point, which is this: that the higher does not stand without the lower as well - it’s a perfect rule of thumb if you want to tell the tares from the wheat. All right, Fr. Buela had a vision - why wouldn’t he tell his friends about it? Why not joyfully tell his associates Fathers Sáenz and Ezcurra about it? Why not talk it over? And above all, why act on it without carefully planning how this was going to be carried out, trying to iron differences, trying to reconcile the new project with the older one? (I told you it was a good rule of thumb).
He did nothing of the sort: as I’ve said, he just carried on by himself, without consultation, without reference to older, wiser, more experienced men. He seemed to know perfectly well what he was about and didn’t seem to need the counsel, the comments, the advice of friends. In fact, as time went by, he lost all his friends, and continued simply by himself - that is, if you don’t take into account the small clique of very young priests and seminarians which he preferred to have around him at all times (not the best way of avoiding that old enemy of any leader, no matter in what province - sycophancy, the classic curse bound to afflict anyone in charge of a group of people).
The higher does not go without the lowest, and even if a vision, a calling, a saintly initiative can be as lofty as you will, one shouldn’t do away with friendship, a “lower” thing if you like, but one that Our Lord had in high esteem as we well know, so much so, that he included it as one of the central tenets of the Church he was to found (John 15:15).
With the benefit of hindsight one cannot help but see in these beginnings the seeds of what was to be. But that is not to say that we share the views of those who reproach Father Sáenz or Father Ezcurra for their discreetness, forbearance, patience, and general “let it be” attitude. They were doing their best and could hardly have surmised how bad things would get.
And things did get worse. Father Sáenz was away for most of the year and to compound everything, in 1991 San Rafael’s bishop, Monsignor Kruk, died, leaving behind him a seminary in something of a disarray. The following year, Father Alberto Ezcurra, the seminary’s man in charge, was diagnosed with what seemed to be terminal cancer and consequently could handle things less and less, forced as he was to make long trips to and from Buenos Aires for his chemotherapy sessions.
It was on one of these occasions that I had the privilege of sharing coffee with him in a cosy Buenos Aires café. It was some months before his passing and our chat took up the better part of that bright winter morning. I don’t quite know why, but Father Ezcurra was quite inclined toward me (of course, I’ve met lots of people who claim the same thing, maybe he was only addressing his flock one by one as any good shepherd should - John 10:3, 14, 16, 27). Anyway, I took advantage of the circumstances - we were quite alone, we knew each other quite well, and there was no hurry - to ask him what the problem with Father Buela was about. He hemmed and hawed, he hesitated and beat around the bush for some time, but in the long run his indictment was clear as crystal: he thought that the way Buela courted youngsters, pressing, urging them to be priests or nuns, disregarding the fact that it was a delicate, very personal, decision, one that called for extreme scruple, and on which he, Buela - nor anybody else, for that matter - had any authority or special say – only the youngster himself and his own conscience. He told me something to the effect that no one has a right to enter there, in a young boy or girl’s conscience, that it was like a sacred garden where only God Himself had a right to walk through. And that if it was a case of spiritual direction or of someone who asked for advice, a priest must be extremely careful in what he says for he is treading sacred ground. By then I was 38 years old, but I had never heard or read anything quite like what Father Ezcurra was saying, except perhaps in St. John of the Cross (anyone interested in this would do well to refer to his commentary to the poem “O Living Flame of Love”, chapter 3, number 30 onwards.) All the same, having heard the idea I later would find it repeated in various works , especially those of Cardinal Newman’s (who, rightly, makes so much of conscience in religious life).
In subsequent years, while the Institute grew its numbers at an astonishing pace, I came to see things in this light and again and again this delicate principle played out before me and Father Buela’s congregation and his numerous following began to seem to me like an unseemly and automatic reproduction of cells, something very much like a cancer. (Why the rush? Where did all this impatience come from? Why not at a slower and more consistent pace?) Anyway, no amount of warnings to our friends whose children were being whisked away into Buela’s congregation - some of them at a very early age in their teens - did much good. Nobody was listening, except a few friends with which we shared this same apprehension, especially because we ourselves had little children and wanted to protect them from this wind of “enthusiasm” (I believe Ronnie Knox would’ve called it that.) As a matter of fact, if ever we were interested in Father Buela’s sayings, behavior, or undertakings it was only because our own sons and daughters were on the line. Otherwise, we had, so to speak, other fish to fry.
I never again saw Father Ezcurra, who passed away a little later in a very peaceful way, his last months dedicated to his beloved seminary of San Rafael, even delivering lectures to his last days when he could barely eat.
He left behind him loving memories.
Anyway, by this time, Father Buela had assembled quite a numerous group of seminarians of his own, having started his own house of studies on the Institute’s premises. He did not, however, put much emphasis on the quality of his professors, and most of the better endowed ones soon left the Institute for one reason or another (I’m thinking here of Fathers Carlos Biestro and Ramiro Sáenz, but there were many more that left as well.). I had visited their premises in 1992 and had seen things for myself. To begin with, there was no proper library, no proper classrooms, no proper teachers - the whole system of studies amounted to not much more than a hodge-podge of a bit of philosophy here, and a bit of theology there. This was explained away, of course, with reference to the difficulties that go with all new institutions when at the early stage of their foundation, etc. Anyway, this never changed much, for Father Buela never had a high regard for scholarly studies - that is, an appetite and quest for truth. Quite different was his approach - as with everything else - if high grades and scholarly distinctions were considered only as a means to other ends. But, once again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
No, not much emphasis on studies and the like. The emphasis was basically centred on enlarging the ranks. An old friend of his, Father Nadal, started a feminine branch, the new nuns eventually settling in a neighboring farm - something also done in a somewhat wayward and unruly manner - and always accompanied by the unpleasant feeling that things were being done in a rush. Anyway, soon enough there were nearly a hundred nuns coming and going, no one quite sure of what they were up to (here I must admit to my own impatience, for I never really bothered trying to find out myself).
In the meantime lots of people began flocking to the “Finca” as the farm was getting to be known by then, where the priests of Buela’s Institute (and some others associated with, but not properly belonging to it) were holding numerous conferences, retreats, Benediction, the prayer of the Rosary or what will you. The IVE was getting a name for itself and was growing in numbers, influence… and money.
However, some stories about their ways and manners began to leak out: foremost, that quite a lot of bullying seemed to be going on, apparently between the elder seminarians and the younger ones. This was one of Father Buela’s characteristic traits. I’ve referred to it before, but by this time it was worse. Whenever anyone dared to voice some dissent on any subject under the sun, the way things were being run or a point of dogmatic theology, unvariably he would be subjected to a fair amount of bullying from the rest, if not from Father Buela himself. The boys were being slowly robotized, love of truth for its own sake unheard of, originality banned, personalities ironed into a single spiritual, psychological, & moral mold.
Take what happened when one of the seminarists, a boy named Morsella, died in an unfortunate accident one summer. Immediately Buela proclaimed him to be a saint, his remains were buried in “La Finca” with great honors, a museum was set up where some of his posessions were exhibited as relics, and everyone was invited to revere his memory. Well? He was only a young boy who died electrocuted and, for all we know, he must’ve been very agreeable - but this? This, as with many of the Institute’s activities, was done in Buela’s style: recklessly, precipitately, in a coarse, undignified, profane manner. For him, nothing was sacred enough to be dealt with awe, with reverence, with circumspection.
In those years he published an incendiary pamphlet (titled “Reminiscencias” - ad usum privatum) written with the purpose to undo all and everyone of his ex-associates who had had the cheek to object in one way or another to the way he handled things (Fathers Sáenz and Ezcurra, come out especially badly, but also his old friend, Father Nadal, the founder, if you remember, of the feminine branch, who had fled - followed by no less than fifty nuns - apparently scandalized by what he had seen).
And in this manner, everything else. He took to Pope John Paul II, whose every word, he believed, should be digested as coming straight from the Very High - even the Assisi gathering, the general “juvenilia” (the term was coined by Romano Amerio), and his ecumenical-relativist trends. In fact, he sponsored an intercommunion service with local Lutherans in San Rafael (an event not to be repeated, owing to the subsequent scandal.). He had turned into a Vatican II bigot and welcomed the communion in the hand, obliging his priests do go along with the practice (one Father Bonello from the Institute even published a piece to the effect that that was the way early Christians received communion).
And then, to compound it all, he led an attack on the local FSSPX priests, especially because they held on to the Latin Rite, publishing his demonising pamphlet which he always had at hand in case he met a bishop, just to show what a regular priest he was. (I here protest that I do not belong to Mons. Lefebvre’s set, who locally is not very much considered, but one must recognize that they are basically sound people, and have showed great courage in these last thirty years in their stand. In any case they certainly didn’t deserve Buela’s treatment).
Anyway, if you’ve got the general picture perhaps you’re able to understand that as time passed one could recognize an IVE member in a five minute chat - all of them saying the same things, sharing the same prejudices, the same expressions, gestures, silly sayings (usually Father Buela’s), disgraceful manners, short-sighted views, dimwitted humor, dumb perception of things in general, lifting debatable views to dogmatic altitudes (“Father Buela said so”), delivering very foolish opinions on complicated subjects, trivial ways of dealing with sacred matters (such as liturgy, for example) and astounding levels of ignorance.
When together they were a jolly lot of youngsters in their cassocks and, seen from a distance, constitute a reminiscence of better times in the Church (the photographs on their web-site are a good example of this.) But when approached they were a different story altogether. The bishop of a neighboring province, Monsignor Laise, saw through them immediately and said they were a sect, like the Ku-Klux-Klan - except that they were not to be taken that seriously, so he promptly began to call them the Ku-klux; the knickname evolved rather speedily into “Kuku” or the plural “Kukus” and that is the way everyone in the know actually referred to them. But there’s more to it than meets the eye: Buela has solidified his sayings and manners in such a way that by now there was a distinctive flavour to all his moral, spiritual, dogmatic or political diktats - so whenever anyone who’s not an IVE proselyte, but somehow adopts any of these bywords or characteristic clichés will be promptly accused of being a “Kuku” (among general laughter, as the exercise reminds us to be ourselves, to think by ourselves, to be real Catholics, which is to say, singular, original, unrepeatable persons who share one faith, one Church and one and only Lord).
Up to now, I can vouch for every single word that I’ve written in this piece. What follows, however, has some degree of speculation and is a result of putting two and two together.
As the Institute grew in influence and new houses were set up all over the world, Father Buela, naturally, travelled more and more frequently to Rome. He seems to have learnt the ropes over there judging by what happened in 1994. Some parents of children or youngsters who had been charmed into the Institute got wind of strange doings, brainwashing, manipulative techniques, inordinate practises (for instance there was talk of collective flagellation sessions known as “discipline”), and very specially the drilling of young minds to the effect that marriage was second best, women to be despised, and sex a rather filthy thing - one of Buela’s Manichaean tenets that was formulated over time in crude and uncouth terms. (His main Moral Theologian, one Father Fuentes, has a blog where he claims to specialize in sexual addictions, of all things. Fortunately for me, there’s no space here to go into that..) Anyway, word got to Rome and, to the surprise of many, Father Buela was removed from his office (he moved over to one of his houses in Peru or Ecuador) and the Institute was investigated by a pontifical comissioner (one Rico, as I remember) with a mandate to find out what the heck was going on. After some time, Rico went back to Rome with his findings, the Institute was put under the supervision of the bishop of San Juan (Mons. Delgado) and a new Father Superior was elected to run the show, one Father Solari - an incredible outcome if you come to consider that Fr Solari was the mechanic in charge of the congregation’s bus! Talk about manipulation…
Despite Monsignor Delgado’s recommendation to the effect that the IVE should be dissolved, things were straightened out in only a couple of months. Soon Father Buela moved his main house to Rome, under the bishop of Velletri-Segni, Mons. Erba, who gave the congregation diocesan approval, and was reinstated as General Superior. (By the way, Father Solari disappeared, at least from the official account of the Institute’s story, just as it now stands on its web-site - I’m not sure of this, but apparently he left the IVE and resides in Peru, I do not know in what capacity.) It was at this time that Cardinal Sodano became the object of much praise by all IVE members, including Father Buela, who repeatedly celebrated - him and still does to this very day. Anyone in doubt will do well in consulting their web page, “Cardinal Sodano visits…”, “Cardinal Sodano celebrates…”, etc.
Anyway, Father Buela and his Institute thrived over the years, the numbers of their members ever growing (even if, it must be said, there is a disproportionate number of ordinated priests who have left the Institute, some of them even shredding their priesthood, leaving the Cchurch, eloping with women and the like - but the exact number of defections is the IVE’s best kept secret and only the Vatican would know exactly how many they are).
THERE'S A BIT OF A HUSH
Let us conclude.
Over 25 years of remonstrating with friends, pointing out our objections to Father Buela’s doings and behavior, it has revealed itself of little avail. And, much to our consternation, many continued sending their children to this Institute.
But at the end of 2009, we began to hear on the grapevine reports which were hard to believe: put bluntly, that Father Buela was involved in one, or several, abuse scandals, similar to those of Father Maciel. I, along with lots of my friends, was flummoxed: over the years we had been used to expecting anything from this priest, but not this.
By May 2010 we heard that Father Buela had formally renounced his office alleging old age (he’s about 70) and bad health, though only two years before he had stood and won re-election. He has written to the Pope entreating him not to intervene in the Institute, but allow them to elect a succesor according to their constitutions.
Officialy Rome has said nothing as of yet. In 2010, having got wind of the rumors, the secular press asked for comments from the IVE’s highest authorities: they only got a couple of words from Father Clarey, leader in charge of “La Finca” in San Rafael: “At this point we will give no interviews and have no comment to make.” And they still haven't.
That was in June 2010. Now, in 2013, with Pope Francis in charge of the Church (and Sodano out of the way), Buela seems to be in very hot water: we have heard, but have nothing official on this yet, that he has been sentenced in a second case of abuse and that his appeal to the Pope has been rejected.
But even if these last pieces of news turn out to be false, what we have written and witnessed stands as a cautionary tale of sorts.
A necessary one, in these difficult times.
Let no one be deceived.
Buenos Aires, July, 2013