John Allen’s “Word from Rome” this week bears some interesting news. Apparently it’s the first high-level crackdown on a prominent priest accused of misconduct. According to Allen, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued a decree against Fr. Gino Burresi, founder of the Congregation of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which basically bans him from any public ministry, including giving any kind of interviews or publishing any kind of writings.
This is significant because Burresi, an Italian, has been referred to by some Fatima groups as a new Padre Pio, and there have been claims of supernatural phenomena. Allen says that sources tell him that Burresi was accused of sexual abuse of seminarians in the 1970s and 80s and that this was part of why he was suspended, along with abuses of confession and spiritual direction.
What is most significant is the high level at which this took place. Archbishop Levada’s signature is on the May 27 decree and it stipulates that Pope Benedict confirmed the decree in forma specifica, meaning that it cannot be appealed because he has made the conclusions his own.
Could this be a sign of how this Pope will deal with other famous priests, including founders of religious orders, who have been accused of misconduct? Certainly, it’s almost certain that Burresi’s case before the CDF began when it was Cardinal Ratzinger still running the office.
What’s very interesting is the claim by some of Burresi’s defenders, in the original investigation, who claimed “that the Secretariat of State defends Fr. Gino, thus victory is assured.” Was it overconfidence? Or was there something else going on in what at the time was Cardinal Casaroli’s secretariat?