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July 6, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – According to news reports from Italy and the U.S., Pope Francis has decided to place the religious order Memores Domini – four of whose female members are serving in the household of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI since 2005 – under a pontifical delegate. The reason given is that the statues and governance of this community that has been established in 1981 are in need of revision, next to the fact that there exist some internal disagreements. Observers are concerned that this decision will affect the personal life of Pope Benedict.

The news of this pontifical decision broke on June 26, when Cardinal Kevin Farrell – the head of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life – met with representatives of the religious community Memores Domini which has 1,600 lay members in dozens of countries, belongs to the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, and which follows “a vocation of total devotion to God by living in the world and practising the Evangelical counsels with personal and private commitment as their purpose,” according to the Vatican. These lay members practice obedience, poverty and chastity, and live in a climate of silence and common prayer. Four female members of Memores Domini have served in Pope Benedict's household since his election to the papacy in 2005 and continue to do so in his retirement home.

On June 26, Cardinal Farrell informed the community that Pope Francis has decided to put them under the rule of a pontifical delegate, the Jesuit Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda (professor emeritus of Canon Law at the Gregorian University in Rome) who is to oversee the revision of the statutes as well as of the community's directorate. The community had not yet met the Vatican's 2018 request for a revision of the statutes, and there seem to be concerns over the mixing of matters of governance with matters of spiritual guidance. As the decree as presented by Farrell states (see full translation of the text below), the intention of this intervention is to “achieve a clear separation of the sphere of governance of the association and the sphere of conscience of the members.” In addition, this new pontifical delegate is to “assist the government in promoting among all the members of the association an opportune pedagogy ordered to the understanding of the sphere of conscience, the internal sacramental forum, as well as the external forum.”

After the Italian blog Messainlatino had first reported on this event, the Italian journalist Aldo Maria Valli confirmed the news on July 1 and published the official decree as presented by Cardinal Farrell on that June 26. Subsequently, the National Catholic Register's Edward Pentin also wrote on these developments.

The German Catholic commentator Giuseppe Nardi also reported on these events and referred to ongoing tensions within the larger religious community Communio e Liberazione since the death of Don Luigi Giussani, its founder, in 2005. These tensions, he reported, have especially increased under the pontificate of Pope Francis, with some parts of the community trying to adapt to his novel teachings and approaches and with others trying to remain on a more conservative path. Since 2005, Don Julián Carrón has been the new leader of the community. Many members of Communio e Liberazione regret a change of direction under Carrón; some have left the community altogether.

Worrying about this new apostolic delegate – who had been doing similar work with the Legionnaires of Christ under Pope Benedict – is that there is an explicit reference to Pope Francis' direct 2015 rebuke of the religious community. The Pope had then warned the Communion and Liberation movement about the danger of turning into a museum. He stated:
“Faithfulness to the charism does not mean to write it on a parchment and frame it. The reference to the legacy that Don Giussani left you cannot be reduced to a museum of records, of decisions taken, of the rules of conduct. It certainly entails faithfulness to tradition, but faithfulness to tradition, Mahler said, 'is not to worship the ashes but to pass on the flame'. Don Giussani would never forgive you if you lost the liberty and transformed yourselves into museum guides or worshippers of ashes. Pass on the flame of the memory of that first encounter and be free!”

Pope Francis then also cautioned them to “reject self-referentiality, in all its forms.” “It means,” he continued, “knowing how to listen to those who are not like us, learning from everyone, with sincere humility.” In negative terms he spoke of becoming “slaves to self-referentiality” which makes us “end up cultivating a 'labelled spirituality.'” Such a self-referentiality “transforms us into mere impresarios in an NGO,” the Pope warned.

According to the Italian journalist Valli, Cardinal Farrell made during the June 26 meeting with the Memores Domini community an explicit reference to this 2005 papal speech and rebuke, referring to the danger of being self-referential and of becoming an NGO.

Father Ghirlanda, similar to Cardinal Farrell, at the same meeting also referred back to the Pope's March 7, 2015 address and told the Memores Domini that one must not “become self-referentiality, as the Pope warned, because the association would die of asphyxiation and sooner or later would risk of not receiving nourishment from the life of the Church.” He cautioned the community to receive the changes with “docility” and a “great deal of humility.” The priest and papal delegate added that what counts is not only the founder's own charism, but also “the spiritual experience” as it is being lived by all the members of the community.

According to one senior Vatican source with whom LifeSite spoke about the matter, this new papal move seems to mean that the Pope is trying to get the Communion and Liberation movement “reformed” in the sense of “liquidating that part of the community that wishes to remain loyal to the original charism.” “Communione e Liberazione,” the source continued, “is to align itself with the new paradigm.” Some members have “strong resistances against this new order,” the source explained. This source, however, does not believe that it will affect Pope Benedict's own personal life and that the members of his household would not be removed.

Other observers in Rome with whom LifeSite corresponded, seem to agree with this assessment.

However, another senior source in the Vatican seems more alarmed and indicates that there takes place an unjust intrusion and a “grave thoughtlessness.” He is particularly concerned that this intervention takes place just at a moment when “the elderly Pope Benedict just lost his brother!” He reminds us to see “parallels” with previous events, such as how the Vatican dealt with the French conservative order of Little Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, with the Order of Malta, as well as the Brazilian Heralds of the Gospel, an association of faithful that was favored by Pope Benedict XVI. This Vatican source says he does not know whether the four members of the Memores Domini who are living with Pope Benedict for years now will be removed and exchanged, but this possibility will “hang over him like the sword of Damocles, which is evil in itself.”

Giuseppe Nardi of concludes his own above-mentioned report with the following words: 

“In Rome, there is speculation that the sending of a commissar could also affect the four Memores Domini who run the household of Benedict XVI and who live with him at the monastery Mater Ecclesiae. There is concern that under the pretext of the establishment of an administration by a commissioner, they could be removed and replaced by other members whose obedience has another direction.”

Edward Pentin, in his own above-mentioned report, reminds us of other different Catholic communities that have been recently placed under papal commissioners, for example the prominent case of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, an order that has been gravely damaged by this papal intervention.

On July 1, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI lost his last surviving family member, his brother Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, who died at 96 years of age. Benedict had been able, at the end of June, to visit his brother on his sickbed for a few days. (Those interested in writing a note of condolence to Pope Benedict and Bishop Voderholzer of Regensburg can do so here.)

Since this is a developing story, LifeSite will update this report as more information becomes available. 


Please see here a translation of the decree as signed and presented by Cardinal Kevin Farrell:


This Dicastery for Laity, the Family, and Life, in the exercise of its competence relative to the accompaniment and development of associations of the faithful, has received reports from members of the lay association Memores Domini, recognized as an international association of the faithful by decree of the former Pontifical Council for the Laity on December 8, 1988, expressing detailed doubts regarding the provisions of its statutory text and the directory of the association itself. 

Having thoroughly examined the normative texts of the association, and ascertained the presence of provisions that prejudice the necessary distinction between the sphere of government of the association and the sphere of conscience of its members, with particular reference to the powers of government and of spiritual direction given to the ecclesiastical councilor of the association; having assessed the repercussions of the contested provisions on the members of the association in terms of personal freedom, the right to privacy, and more generally regarding the right governance of the same association; having listened to the motivations of the president of Memores Domini, Dr. Antonella Frongillo, and of the former ecclesiastical councilor of the association, Rev. Julián Carrón; having received the opinion of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith as far as it is competent, given the need to ensure the right functioning of the government of the aforementioned association of the faithful and to protect the rights of the members of the same association, also preserving and promoting the participation of the association Memores Domini in the communion and mission of the Church according to the recognized criteria of ecclesiality; taking into account the ecclesial relevance of the lay association Memores Domini at the international level and of the need to protect and promote the charism that the Holy Spirit has bestowed on the Church by means of the Servant of God Fr. Luigi Giussani; having regard for canons 305 and 323 of the Code of Canon Law, article 7 paragraph 1 of the statutes of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, as well as the current statutes of the lay association Memores Domini; this Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, in the exercise of its proper function and by mandate of the Supreme Authority, decrees:


The appointment of Reverend Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda as Pontifical delegate for the lay association Memores Domini so that he may guide the process of the revision of the statutes and the directory of the association, with particular reference to:

a) the structure of governance, the configuration of the offices, particularly and not exclusively the powers of the ecclesiastical councilor, the president and members of the governing council, in order to achieve a clear separation of the sphere of governance of the association and the sphere of conscience of the members; 

b) the truly representative nature of the organs of governance of the association.


The appointment of a commission, presided over by the Pontifical delegate, composed of competent members of Memores Domini, with the specific competence of revising the statutes and directory of the association, following, according to the manner established by the Pontifical delegate, a procedure of consultation of all of the houses of the association and welcoming the contributions of all of its members. The number and names of the members of the aforementioned commission, as also its manner of functioning, shall be defined by this Dicastery in agreement with the Pontifical delegate.


For the formation of the commission the governing council of the association shall propose two nominees, whose appointment shall be subject to the judgment of this Dicastery. 


The Pontifical delegate shall also assist the government in promoting among all the members of the association an opportune pedagogy ordered to the understanding of the sphere of conscience, the internal sacramental forum, as well as the external forum. To this end, the delegate is granted the faculty to use consultors and experts on the subject. 


It shall be the responsibility of Memores Domini to provide for all of the necessary expenses of the Pontifical delegate related to the exercise of his office. 

These measures are taken with the hope of an effective collaboration of all the members of Memores Domini, for the good of the entire association of the faithful and of the Church. 

From the Vatican, 26 June 2020

Kevin Cardinal Farrell, Prefect

Father Alexandre Awi Mello, Secretary

Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino

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Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli,, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana,, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.