Saturday, November 28, 2015

Our Concerns about the Institute of the Incarnate Word


This site presents our concerns about the Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE) and their female branch, the Servants of the Lord and Virgin of Matara (SSVM), also known as the Servidoras.  The information on this site is intended specifically for those discerning a vocation, but could also be relevant to current seminarians, sisters, as well as family and friends of those involved.

As Catholics, we understand this can be a difficult topic, but we feel we have a duty to make this information available broadly and will approach it as reverently as possible. Below we would like to explain our motivation for creating this site and how we hope it assists you on your journey.


The Institute of the Incarnate Word makes a very good first impression. They have a very strong web presence - certainly stronger than comparable religious communities. They are very active in public events and always show up with a large number of young smiling faces in cassocks and habits. They appear as a very orthodox group and are attractive to those who want to serve God without concerns about heterodoxy or certain types of “abuse” that have clouded seminaries in recent decades.

That was our feeling as well.  Unfortunately, as we got to know the IVE from the inside, we realized our first impression was a bit amiss and that the IVE is not completely honest about itself. The reality is that the IVE is a congregation with very big problems.  They have a very troubling history, very questionable practices in their recruiting, approach to discernmentadmission processes, major issues in their formation process, a plethora of practical, legal, and spiritual problems, and (we believe as a result of all these problems) a huge "drop-out" rate among their priests after ordination.

These are not trivial problems.  Souls are being put at risk.  Priests are leaving without dispensation.  Many sisters who leave are so harmed by their experience they leave the Church altogether or enter churches and attend mass only with great difficulty.  Because there is no screening process, many more who are not equipped or prepared for the IVE "formation" process are hurt emotionally, spiritually, and financially.

As faithful Catholics we overlooked the warning signs when we first became aware of them.  We gave the Institute the benefit of the doubt until our own experiences forced us to face the truth.  Young people with limited experience don't have the background to make an independent judgement.  Faithful Catholic parents aren't familiar enough with religious orders to notice the warnings signs.  Neither do most have a reason to be skeptical or to reach out for a second opinion  - "these are priests", "we should put our faith in God and trust", etc.  People allow themselves to be hurt because they want to serve God and therefore trust these priests giving them advice.  This makes it very easy for the Institute to take advantage of them.

We created this site to give you the background to understand where the IVE are wrong, to give you reasons to question and be skeptical about their advice, and to give you the moral obligation to seek out sound, informed third party advice before you engage with this group further.


This is the problem most relevant to our intended audience: the institute will not encourage or even help you to discern before or after entering.  Don’t take our word for it:  their own literature shows how they play on a person’s desire to serve God and “guilt” one into entering.  If discernment comes up – and it rarely does with them - they will say you can do that after entering, but don't believe them.  The truth is, after entering, the “D” word is never mentioned.

This is especially troubling because, since most that join had not properly discerned their vocation prior to meeting the IVE, they will never properly discern their vocations until they leave the group (and leaving can be a very painful process.)  

This is also why we highlight the IVE’s very high attrition rate, before and after ordination.  Although it is a sensitive subject, it is important and relevant, because we believe it is a direct result of the group’s discouragement of discernment and poor formation. 


If discernment is too subjective or nebulous a topic, we also outline serious practical and legal issues that should give you cause for concern.

These practices are why people have been complaining about the IVE for well over 25 years – just not in English.  In fact, Pope Francis even tried to shut down the IVE when he was the Primate of Argentina.   There have been complaints, there have been multiple investigations, the founder has stepped down twice, and one superior general has even left the institute.  

The IVE will never tell you about these things, so we document all of them to the best of our ability. As they have done for years, the Institute will pull the veil of orthodoxy over their shoulders as they deny any problems, dismiss these testimonies, attack accusers, and blame all the past investigations on jealous, liberal Bishops (though we wonder how they might respond now that one of those "jealous, liberal" bishops is Pope.)  

Yet there are many points in the IVE’s story that are not supported by the facts.  This is why we give examples of behavior that should raise suspicion and highlight  certain associations that, while not in and of themselves wrong, undermine the image and story the Institute would like to present. 


We are sorry we have to put this site up.  These issues have been brought up via legitimate channels for years, yet the institute not only refuses to address them, it refuses to acknowledge the problems even exist.   When the Church in Argentina first attempted to shut them down, the IVE went over their head to Cardinal Sodano at the Vatican.  Since that time, despite numerous appeals, the Church's hierarchy has shown the same reluctance in addressing the IVE that it has shown in addressing the abuse scandal at large - mostly ignoring the laity and finding ways to silence the few that don't go away after the first letter of complaint. So in lieu of an appropriate response, we felt compelled to make this information available publicly.

This situation is not unprecedented and it’s not a worst-case scenario.  A worst-case scenario would be when the scandal and damage is so great that it makes the press, and the church as a whole take the blame for one small group’s problems.  

Many good, well-intentioned individuals are attracted to the ostensible orthodoxy of the group and many themselves are victims of the group's practices.  The problem lies primarily with those in leadership positions within the Institute and affects primarily those that join the seminaries or Servidoras.   Still, one should be wary of anything IVE-related, especially their 3rd order.


We would urge you to be cautious in getting direction from any IVE priest or nun on the subject of discerning a vocation and all that it entails.  Since they themselves are products of this flawed formation process and dysfunctional environment, it's fair to question whether they can give sound and prudent advice on the subject.

We would also be skeptical of their office of vocations.  They have had girls under temporary vows (who later left the order) acting as national vocations director for the women.  Freshly ordained priests in their 20's are regularly appointed as novice masters and national vocations director for the men.  Based on these appointments, it's fair to question whether they give proper attention or charity to those considering a vocation with their institute.

That's why we would encourage you to get spiritual direction from a 3rd party (ie. a non-IVE director)  well before you consider joining.  We'd also recommend reaching out to multiple orders so you can have different perspectives on the process and the decision you are making (email us if you need some ideas on who to contact.)  Additionally, links are provided on the sidebar to resources on discernment.