Recruitment & Discernment

The IVE is very concerned about recruiting.  They want to grow and will do and say whatever it takes regardless of whether joining the IVE is the best thing for the individuals in question.  They show no charity to these candidates and they practice zero prudence during this process.  It's a "throw as much as you can at the wall and see what sticks" approach that wounds both those who leave and those who stay.

As we will outline below, this group does not adhere to the traditional, orthodox catholic approach to discerning one's vocation.  Neither does their vocational material receive imprimaturs from Church authority.  Even though they use the exercises of St Ignatius as a tool for recruitment, they do not equip nor encourage their candidates to discern in the manner St Ignatius, even though he is the pre-eminent Doctor of the Church on that subject.

The IVE's recruitment, rather than the slow, prayerful, transparent process that religious orders have practiced for centuries, is hurried, pressured, and often hidden.  It bears more resemblance to rushing a fraternity or sorority and the process is peppered with used-car, high-pressure sales tactics.

The result is that many people join imprudently, hurting themselves in the process.  Once inside, doubts about one's vocation are not welcome and when the men realize they made a mistake and want to leave they are guilted and manipulated into staying by the very men they are supposed to trust as "fatherly figures."  

Despite this, at least 80% of those entering the novitiate eventually do leave before ordination - and rarely on good terms:  the Institute that pressures you to stay for years will very likely turn around later and order you to leave once they decide you are no longer useful to them. 

Many who stay and get ordained are unfit mentally and emotionally for the role.  These men wound - even abuse - many of their parishioners and cause great scandal at their parishes.  Eventually upwards of 40% of their priests end up leaving.

We give a general overview of this process below (note that most of this applies to the SSVM as well.)  For all our posts on these subjects see our topics tagged with "discernment."  Also visit our discernment links on the sidebar.


Many enter IVE/SSVM novitiates with zero discernment

Candidates will come to the IVE with varying levels of discernment and spiritual development.  On one side of the spectrum, a small minority will have properly and freely discerned their vocations to the priesthood prior to joining the IVE.  An obvious example would be the few who already have a few years of non-IVE seminary under their belt before joining.  They usually come to the IVE either because their previous seminary was too liberal or their previous diocese/order just wouldn't ordain them for whatever reason.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who never discerned at all before entering.   This is the most common situation in our experience.  They've never had any spiritual direction outside of a few meetings with their local IVE priest.  They've never been given any instruction on discernment.  Some aren't even familiar with the word.  In a few cases, individuals have even entered without any or all of the sacraments of initiation.

In between these two groups are those who may have made an attempt at spiritual direction and discernment, but they've done it all under the direction of the IVE.  If you fit this description, we encourage you to slow down and seek out as much third-party advice as possible.  There are always exceptions, but the average IVE priest/sister will not be able to give proper direction to those attempting to discern a vocation, if only because most have not been through proper formation themselves (see here.)  Additionally, as you can read below and in additional detail here, the IVE as an institution doesn't really believe in traditional discernment and will be unlikely to help you discern.  
We have immense concern for these latter two groups of candidates because since the IVE don't encourage and, in some cases, even hinder any real discernment, they might never properly discern their vocation until leave the IVE.  

The errors of IVE recruitment

The IVE tell people (often very young children) that something as simple as an "impulse to loftier things" could mean one has a religious vocation, yet what good Christian doesn't feel a strong impulse to higher things at various times during their life?  They deliver these messages on various occasions, but especially during their events - the spiritual exercises, a youth activity, a pilgrimage, a visit to one of their missions - when participants are on a bit of a spiritual high, filled with zeal.  Sometimes the message is delivered one-on-one, but other times it's delivered in a group setting.  

Rather than use this "impulse to loftier things" as an opportunity to encourage discernment, the IVE often use it as an opportunity to recruit.  They try to make young men feel special, telling them God may be calling them and they should join the IVE to discern if this is true.  Notice they do not encourage candidates to first discern exactly where they might be called.  Who is to say a young man doesn't have a vocation to a diocese or the Franciscans?  

Then they'll create a sense of urgency with sayings like 'Saints did not delay, they responded promptly'.  To make sure nobody has an opportunity to talk sense into the candidate, they'll discourage speaking with others - especially parents, saying that "Parents are the enemy of a vocation" and "should never be consulted."  They say you should only discuss with your spiritual director who, if you are involved with the IVE or SSVM, will likely be an IVE priest (which is not a good idea in any case.)  

What the IVE/SSVM are doing is creating a vacuum where they've taken advantage of your spiritual zeal to serve God telling you it's a sign that you should enter.  They've told you that any desire to delay and think it over is a temptation from the devil and that you must keep this new idea secret from those who care about you the most - and who will most likely see through these tactics.

What they fail to mention is that many, many saints, from St Paul to St Ignatius, did take time - sometimes years - to pray and discern before they pursued religious life.  Why?  Because properly discerning the will of God is important.  And while discretion can be important, for every isolated quote about it there are tens if not hundreds of saints who were quite open with their parents about their vocation before making a decision, from St Therese to St Francis De Sales.  

We know from the mail we get that these cases of rash, imprudent urgency accompanied by lying to parents absolutely do happen - but it wont' be everyone's experience.  Some who have a vocation weighing on their conscience, but are unsure, won't need the hard-sell to enter.  Instead, when looking for answers to their questions, they'll be told it's the right time and they are ready to enter - they can continue discerning inside.  Trusting the priest, they'll do so (after all, these guys run a seminary, they should know, right?)

If the candidate is only speaking with the IVE, then what they won't know is that no other vocations director would give them this advice.  Other directors would help and encourage them to discern first before they would even begin the admissions process, let alone allow them to enter.  

So regardless of the methods, once the candidate is properly motivated, the IVE make sure he doesn't have any time to stop and think about what he's doing.  They allow him to enter as soon as  possible, no application, no background check, and no psychological evaluation required.  Compare this to what a local diocese requires prior to admission and consider that religious congregations are meant to be even more strict in admissions than dioceses due to their more rigorous lifestyle, formation, and commitment.

No help to discern once inside

Once inside, instead of the discernment one was promised, the candidate will suddenly have a vocation.  Any doubts about this vocation will be attributed to a lack of perseverance, lack of obedience, the devil, reluctance to take up one's cross, etc., but never addressed in the proper context of discernment.

As we've mentioned earlier, most young men and women entering the IVE/SSVM novitiate have never attempted genuine discernment, never had any spiritual direction (or at best they've met with a an unqualified IVE spiritual director a few times) and in many cases are not even regularly in the state of grace before entering.  Yet, after entering it won't be long until they hear the IVE philosophy on discernment:
That does not mean that as soon as someone has some temptation to leave the religious state everyone will say: “Okay, you aren’t called to the priesthood or religious life, go ahead and leave.” After all, these temptations happen to absolutely everyone at some point (especially in the novitiate), and the devil is very crafty in knowing how to push our buttons. Spiritual directors especially feel the need to encourage perseverance. Nonetheless, the temptation is very often to second-guess or even disregard our spiritual director--this is why the saints so universally encourage obedience to one's director (even when he says something you don't want to hear) as the surest path to holiness.
This comes straight from the IVE.  Once inside you'll hear it repeated on a regular basis.  Remember that most of these novices will enter with zero discernment or postulancy and after entering will quite naturally have doubts about not only their decision to enter, but also about the IVE itself given all the Institute's problems which they are beginning to see first hand.  

Yet as you can see from the above quote, these novices will be told that their doubts are really just temptations from the devil.  Think about that: a kid has never discerned, then he impulsively joins this group, begins to have doubts about his decision, and - instead of viewing his doubts as part of discernment or even just part of a normal decision making process - his superiors will tell him that his doubts are temptations from the devil. 

If that's not bad enough, you can see that the novice will be instructed to only share these "temptations" with their brand new spiritual director.  They'll be told to obey him and that to doubt him is also a temptation from the devil.  To make matters worse, the IVE violate canon law by limiting your choice of director to a small number of IVE priests - see Sign #13 here.  On top of that, the IVE spiritual directors you will be forced to choose from will be horribly unqualified (go to "Danger in Spiritual Direction" at this link for more info.) 

So even though these aren't people who should be handing out vocational advice, you'll be told they are the only people you should discuss your doubts with and you'll be told your doubts are really temptations and that to doubt this new spiritual advisor is also a temptation.   

This is not the tradition of the Church 

How is anyone supposed to truly discern a vocation when they are constantly being manipulated in this way? Answer:  You are not.  The goal of the IVE formation is not for someone to discern, it is for them to bring in the maximum number of candidates and to keep them there as long as they can.  

This is not the tradition of the Church.  This method of casting a wide-net, giving a hard-sell, and manipulation rather than discernment is a relatively new development.  It's practiced by a few new groups with questionable founders that have taken advantage of crises in the Church to serve their own desires and agendas.

There are traditional methods to discern a vocation that go back centuries.   These methods don't involve joining a religious order on the slightest impulse, then blaming any doubts on the devil.  They generally involve spiritual direction, discernment and a patient, prudent application process protecting both the candidate and the order.

According to St Ignatius discernment takes time, a commitment to prayer, and advice from someone experienced in this area.  Fr. Gallagher's books and free podcasts on Ignatian discernment are a good place to start.   You can also email us to be put in touch with good orders that will help you discern.  You are unlikely to get quality advice from IVE priests, if only because few have properly discerned themselves.

As a result of these methods almost nobody leaves the IVE because they have properly discerned a different vocation.  Instead, people leave because they figure out the Institute has major problems or because the Institute takes such a toll on the individuals that their superiors don't find them useful anymore and they ask them to leave.  That's why their attrition rate for priests is so high (See here, here, and here.)  Among those that do make it through the system, many - once they have some space - will see the issues more clearly and leave.  

Why does the Institute do this?   We believe it goes back to the founder.  Fr. Carlos Buela has a history of issues you can read about here and here.  He's instilled these philosophies and tactics into his priests and the most ardent of these followers have been put in charge of formation and leadership.  

The bottom line

Hopefully it's clear what we are saying and what we aren't.  We aren't saying that entering a religious order or seminary while still discerning is a problem.  What we are saying is that discerning is important before and after entering.  We are also saying that the IVE does not want to, nor are they equipped to help you discern prior to entering and that they have no intention of helping you discern after entering either - and these are both big problems.

We'll also be clear that, although the founder and leadership should certainly be held accountable, we aren't accusing the IVE/SSVM rank and file of any malfeasance here.  Most were subjected to the same recruiting methods and the same "formation" once inside.    They are encouraged by the leadership to "work for vocations" and they do so the only way they know how.  The reality is they simply don't know better.  

The bottom line is this:  you should not enter the Institute unless you have thoroughly discerned your vocation, both generally and specific to the Institute, under direction from an unbiased third-party, because you will not be in an environment conducive to proper discernment after entering.  

For all our posts on this subject see our topics tagged with "discernment."  Also visit our discernment links on the sidebar.


The IVE essentially have no application or admissions process.  Most do not fill out applications until they have already arrived at the Novitiate.  A few will fill out applications beforehand, but it's not necessary and a paper application and a short chat with an IVE priest would be the maximum extent of the process.

As long as you don't have a large amount of debt, you'll be told you can come.  Nothing else will bar you from entering.  No canonical questions will be asked.  No background check or psychological exam will be performed.  People will be let in with severe psychological conditions, childhood abuse, no baptism, no confirmation and these novitiate classes will regularly be over 50% undocumented immigrants.  If you have any background on religious orders then you will know how troubling and strange this is.    

These admissions steps are there to protect both the candidate and the community.  These steps are a norm for diocesan seminaries and religious houses are supposed to be even more discriminating due to their more rigorous lifestyle and vows.  Yet the IVE have no requirements whatsoever.  There are many cases where people knock on the door one week and are wearing a cassock the next - no questions asked.

The IVE are willing to do and allow what others in the Church are not because the Institute has no concern for its candidates.  Numbers - any numbers - are good for the IVE, so the more the merrier.  If you no longer become useful to them they can just tell you to leave and they view it as your problem, not theirs. 

Get the complete story on the troubled admissions process HERE.


As if all of the above wasn't enough, the IVE/SSVM also have very unqualified people overseeing "discerners" through this process.  The SSVM Sisters have had vocation directors who were still under temporary vows and later left the institute themselves - are those really people that should be acting as authorities, holding such strong, extreme opinions on vocations, and advising young girls on such a big decision?  

The two priests who have been novice masters in the US (and who also act as vocation directors for the men) have been freshly ordained with little to no parish work - even when more experienced priests are available.   

With the many young superiors and even younger seminarians being put in charge of IVE novitiates, one could say it's a bit of a  "Lord of the Flies" environment that new recruits are walking into.

Get the complete story on their unqualified leadership HERE.


Before you even think about joining the IVE or SSVM be sure to ask them these questions,  make sure you are satisfied with the response before joining, and hold them to their promises after you enter:
  • If I am unsure about my vocation and you say you will help me discern, what is the discernment process I will follow after I enter?
  • Will I have financial obligations after entering?  Who will pay for my trips home to see my family? 
  • If I give money to the Institute and later decide to leave, will the institute give me any of it back?
  • If I decide to leave, will the Institute provide me with money for transportation and food to get home?
  • Why would no Bishops ordain even your transitionary deacons for the three years before you moved from Argentina to Italy? 
  • What were the allegations against your founder Fr. Buela that prompted him to resign?  
  • Why do so many of your priests leave?  Can you give me exact numbers?  Can you put me in touch with some ex-IVE/SSVM so I can get their perspective as well?
  • Will you be running background checks and psychological exams on novices before they enter so we can feel safe in the novitiate house and the seminary?
  • Do you have a syllabus of the classes you give?  Do you have a list of the professors who taught at your seminary this year?  
  • Why do priests eat different food than the seminarians and novices?  Why don't the priests ever serve themselves?
  • Why does the Rector (and the rest of the seminary staff) hear the novices' confessions?  Is that blurring the lines between internal and external forum? 
  • Will I have access to outside (ie. non-IVE) spiritual directors and confessors as is my right by Canon Law?
These might seem like tough questions, but when you consider that the IVE is asking for your blind obedience for the rest of your life, these questions are actually very reasonable.  And you better ask these questions before you enter, because you aren't going to get any answers from them after you've joined.  Even if they promise you things, they'll change their mind, tell you it's circumstance and that, since you are under vows, you have to obey and go along.