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eventful days in curial Rome

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jul 22, 2005

Fr. Gino Burresi is an Italian priest, once a member of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, who in 1992 broke away to found a new congregation called Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. John Allen reports that the Holy See has disciplined Burresi for numerous offenses, and that an earnest investigation of allegations against him had been underway for years.

Sexual misconduct, however, is not the primary charge. On May 10, 2002, a tribunal within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concluded a penal process against Burresi that had been launched in 1997, five years after his split with the Oblates. The process resulted in a decree signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and his secretary Tarcisio Bertone, today the cardinal of Genoa. That decree, similar to the one issued on May 27, was never applied because the criminal process on which it was based had been annulled by a 10-year statute of limitations in canon law.

A 20-page report from the tribunal, a separate document from the decree, was obtained by NCR. It cites seven offenses by Burresi:

  • Direct violation of the seal of the confessional;
  • Indirect violation of the seal of the confessional;
  • Soliciting the violation of the seal of the confessional;
  • Illegitimate use of knowledge acquired in the confessional to the detriment of the penitent;
  • Illegitimate injury to one's good name and violation of the right of personal privacy;
  • Soliciting aversion and disobedience against superiors;
  • Pseudo-mysticism, as well as asserted apparitions, visions and messages attributed to supernatural origins.

Sources told NCR that the charges of violating the confessional stemmed from Burresi's practice of encouraging penitents to repeat their confessions for purposes of transcription, and if they declined, sometimes making his own notes, with names included.

Quite a guy. There's lots worthy of comment in this story, and in the story behind the story. In particular, Allen's oblique mention of this "document ... obtained by NCR" is intriguing. Obtained how? This wouldn't seem to be the kind of material that Cardinal Ratzinger would have left behind on a bus. And the unnamed sources (plural) that supplied the details of Burresi's confessional violations are remarkable both for their access and for their indiscretion -- if it is an indiscretion -- in leaking the document to John Allen. One wonders whether this apparent breach of confidentiality is connected with the change of command at the CDF, and how Archbishop Levada will respond to the challenge.

Allen quotes directly from the tribunal's report:

"[Supporters of Burresi said] 'that the Secretariat of State defends Fr. Gino, thus victory is assured.' If no new limitation is applied to his ministerial liberty simply due to the fact that the proven offenses have been prescribed [by the statute of limitations], probably the sentence of this court will be used as an instrument of propaganda in favor of the accused. He will be able to continue to do harm to those psychologically weak persons who place themselves under his spiritual direction."

Though the document does not clarify the reference to the Secretariat of State, a member of the Congregation of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the order founded by Burresi, is Fr. Angelo Tognoni, a mid-level official in the Secretariat of State.

Once again, one is moved to ask whether mention of Tognoni is Allen's own conjecture, or whether the sources that leaked the document provided further help by supplying the name. From today's report, it's hard to say which aspect is most noteworthy: the news of Burresi's discipline, the (as yet unverified) claim that the fix was in at the Secretariate of State, or the astonishingly fortuitous leak that put this kind of information into Allen's lap in the first place.

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