By Richard Salbato
Fr. Burresi, who
is now 73 years old, was until 1992 a member of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary,
an order founded in 1816 by Italian priest Bruno Lanteri.
A man with a great devotion to the revelations of Fatima, Burresi
became a priest at a relatively advanced age, in 1983, but even before this he
had gained great fame as a mystic and spiritual director, as well as for the
stigmata and visions.
In a small way, his popularity resembled that of Fr. Pio of Pietrelcina. And not really in too small a way: hundreds of persons from
His headquarters were in the countryside below
First Accusations 1988
This was until May of 1988, when first two
and then five more of his young followers put an end to the enchantment. They
told the superiors of the congregation that on a number of occasions the priest
had lured them to his room and abused them sexually. When they were set down in
writing, their accounts were a mixture of fascination and self-blame. For
"Fr. Gino was kissing me, and at the same time he was saying wonderful, holy things: 'Let yourself be touched by God. Loving is not a sin.' I was confused and paralyzed. I knew that he was a stigmatist, someone who had direct contact with the Virgin Mary. So I felt that I was wrong, that he could not be like I thought he was, because if he had been that way God would not have chosen him as his minister on earth. I said to myself: Look at how evil and rotten I am, I see malice even in the affectionate embraces of a saint."
After they assessed the accusations, the superiors of the Oblates took immediate action. On June 6, 1988, they put Fr. Burresi on a flight to
I was in San Vittorino at the time and
interviewed the boys and the order of nuns under his control. I was also there when the American boys were
sent back to
But the secretary of that congregation at
the time was Vincenzo Fagiolo,
a future cardinal, who sympathized with the accused. "He came to me often
for confession," Fr. Burresi quickly revealed.
He, in the meantime, had already left behind the borders of
The fact is that the
The superiors then appealed to pope
The reply came on the following January 3: appeal denied. And not just that. Fr. Cura and the other superiors of the Oblates were dismissed from their positions of authority. Gendrot was promoted from inspector to commissioner for the order. The case remained in the hands of Hamer and Fagiolo. The only concession made was a supplementary investigation entrusted to three cardinals who have since died: Giuseppe Caprio, Opilio Rossi, and Luigi Dadaglio. They listened to only one of the seven initial accusing witnesses (in the end there were eleven of these). One year later, in February of 1990, they concluded by permitting Fr. Burresi to stay where he was, in Montignoso, and to continue his work there, with the sole stipulation that he could no longer work with young men pursuing vocations.
Gino Founds Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
But Fr. Gino took initiative on his own. In 1992 he left the Oblates and founded a new
congregation, the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with branches for
both men and women. Today the order counts 150 members. We know for sure that Gino became a priest
without ever going to a seminary and his ordination violated several Canons of
the Church. We suspect that the new
priests of his order have also violated the Canons regarding the formation of
seminarians and the formation of priests before ordination. To this day there are at least two priests
from Gino's order and eight nuns living in Fatima and another group in
Originally I have a good relationship with
them until I gave one of them the report I did on Gino in 1988. They have not talked with my since. Here in
Ratzinger Re-opens the Case
Five years later, however, in 1997, the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith opened another investigation on him.
The case was concluded on May 10, 2002, with a decree signed by Ratzinger and by the secretary of the dicastery
at the time, Tarcisio Bertone,
who today is the cardinal archbishop of
The sentence takes into consideration the fact that the accusations were made past the statute of limitations, so it neither condemns nor punishes Fr. Gino Burresi. But the 20-page report accompanying the decree – which is also in the possession of the "National Catholic Reporter" – contains passages worth citing. It was signed by the four prelates charged with carrying out the investigation, headed by Velasio De Paolis, who today is a bishop and the secretary of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Segnatura.
The report lists the accusations against the priest: violation of the seal of the confession, the illegitimate use against the penitent of confidential information revealed during confession, defamation, violation of the right to privacy, incitement to disobedience against superiors, false mysticism, and claims of apparitions, visions, and supernatural messages.
Stop the Abuse
It admits that the statute of limitations
has passed on the matters contained in the accusations. But it nonetheless asks
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to provide for
"It should not be forgotten that during this process some [of Fr. Gino’s followers] said that the accused ‘would come out of it triumphant, more esteemed than ever, and thus without any shadow, indeed more glorious than before’. [They 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."
As a decree issued against the founder of
a religious order on the basis of accusations going back decades for sexual
abuse carried out against his followers, the decree against Fr. Burresi recalls an analogous case, but one of much greater
significance. It, too, is being examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith: the case of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the
Legionaries of Christ.
And it is not out of the question that the severity adopted against Fr. Burresi is the prelude to similarly rigorous actions against Fr. Maciel.
The stated support of the secretariat of
state for Fr. Gino Burresi – which is referred to in
the report – is another of the elements that link his case to that of Fr. Maciel.
In effect, two of the prelates who work in the secretariat of state belong to these orders. Angelo Tognoni is a member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, founded by Fr. Burresi, and Donal Corry belongs to the Legionaries of Christ, founded by Fr. Maciel.
That's not all. The Legionaries of Christ have for many years had the support of the secretary of state himself, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
Confirmation of the support of the secretariat of state for the Legionaries' cause came last May 20, shortly after the release on www.chiesa of an article dedicated to the investigation on the Maciel case opened by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Thanks to a fax sent to them without a signature but bearing the stamp of the secretariat of state, the Legionaries of Christ issued a communication that day which stated:
"At this time there is no canonical process underway regarding our founder, Fr Marcial Maciel, LC, nor will one be initiated".
In reality, the fax from the secretary of state was less conclusive about the future. In Italian, it literally read:
"Non vi è nessun procedimento canonico in corso né è previsto per il futuro nei confronti di p. Maciel".
The formula "non è previsto per il futuro" is commonly used in the
What is certain is that the preliminary investigation in the Maciel case has moved forward since the pseudo-denial of May 20, with the accumulation of more testimonies and documents. And it is on the basis of this investigation that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – not the secretariat of state – will make its decision on the canonical process against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ.
Decree Against Gino
The general secretariat of the Italian
bishops' conference (CEI):
"Following the decree handed down on May 27, 2005, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, notice is hereby given that the following canonical provisions will be applied to Fr. Luigi (Gino) Burresi, of the congregation of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary:
"1 – revocation of the faculty to hear the confessions of any member of the faithful in any place, as provided in canons 966 and 969 of the code of canon law;
"2 – definitive prohibition against carrying out the ministry of spiritual direction for any of the faithful, whether a layperson, a clergyman, or a consecrated religious;
"3 – revocation of the faculty of preaching, as in canons 764 and 765;
"4 – prohibition against celebrating the sacraments and sacramentals in public;
"5 – prohibition against granting interviews, writing in newspapers, pamphlets, periodicals, or on the internet, or participating in radio or television broadcasts on any matter involving Catholic doctrine, morality, or supernatural or mystical phenomena.
"This is made known for the understanding and profit of the faithful."
Practically speaking, the CEI has made it known that Fr. Gino Burresi, founder the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, must leave the ministry and retire to private life.
Among the reasons for the action taken, the decree from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cites abuses in confession and spiritual direction. But
The decree against Fr. Gino Burresi is the first to have been issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the pontificate of Benedict XVI. And it is the first to bear the signature of its new prefect, former San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada. It was personally approved by the pope on May 27, when he received in an audience the secretary of the dicastery, archbishop Angelo Amato. The pope's approval "in forma specifica" does not admit appeal.
Let Us Hope Pope Benedict XVI Ends The Corruption
The Burresi case teaches a lesson. It seemed to have been definitively filed away after the favorable
sentence handed down on May 10, 2002. But it was reopened,
and a much more severe conclusion was reached – with the presiding judge being Ratzinger, who has since become pope.
The article on www.chiesa on the case of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ: > The Legionaries of Christ: Fr. Maciel's Trial Draws Nearer (20.5.2005)
The newsletter by
> The Word from Rome, July 22, 2005