Vatican: Minors living in homes of Heralds of the Gospel must return to their families

Female branch of the Heralds of the Gospel The female branch of the Heralds of the Gospel. | Heralds of the Gospel.

The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life has decreed that minors living at homes of the Heralds of the Gospel are to return to their families.

The Heralds of the Gospel, a private association of the faithful, is based in Brazil and includes various forms of consecrated life. It was founded by Fr. João Scognamiglio Clá Dias and was erected in 2001. Fr. Clá Dias is a disciple of Plinio Correa de Oliveira, the founder of Tradition, Family, Property.

A decree dated June 22 said that “all minors admitted to any capacity in the private association of Heralds of the Gospel or who reside in houses, schools or boarding schools of the same association, or in the Virgo Flos Carmeli and Regina Virginum, at the end of the school year must return to their families and be entrusted to their respective parents.”

It was communicated to the Heralds Aug. 10 by Raymundo Cardinal Damasceno Assis, Archbishop Emeritus of Aparecida, who was appointed pontifical commissioner for the Heralds of the Gospel in 2019.

After being notified, the Heralds filed an appeal requesting that the decision be reversed, presenting what they consider to be "irregularities and illegalities" in the decree.

The decree was signed by João Cardinal Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

It seeks to "allow younger children to have the indispensable relationship with families and aims to prevent any situation that could favor possible abuses of conscience and plagiarism against minors."

The decree uses the term "plagiarism" in the sense that this word has in Italian and in the Italian Penal Code, i.e., to reduce a person to a state of total subjection.

Cardinal Braz de Aviz stated that the decision was made “in light of the information received by the Apostolic See, taking into account the numerous communications sent here by the parents of the children and young people inserted in the orbit of the Heralds of the Gospel Association, in those who regret that the families of origin are, most of the time, excluded from the life of their children, and that contact with the parents is not sufficiently guaranteed.”

The cardinal aid he also considered "the type of excessively rigid discipline practiced in the communities of the Heralds of the Gospel."

Cardinal Braz de Aviz requested “that the Secretary General of the International Association of the Faithful of Pontifical Right Heralds of the Gospel, in common agreement with the directors of the houses where minors reside, define and make known to me the practical procedures and the specific measures so that the decision is carried out within the established deadlines.” 

The press office of the Heralds told ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese language news partner, that of the three entities cited in the decree, only the International Private Association of Faithful of Pontifical Right Heralds of the Gospel takes in “adolescent minors, with written authorization from parents or guardians, who retain their parental rights.”

The statement pointed out that "this association doesn’t have schools or boarding schools" and that the Heralds’ schools "are civil and autonomous institutions, inspired by the charism of the Heralds of the Gospel, and are sponsored by the Educational Institute Heralds of the Gospel.”

The Heralds of the Gospel filed an appeal to the decree Aug. 15, expressing their disagreement to Cardinal Braz de Aviz and noting that "none of those responsible" for the association "was called to address the complaints" nor were they "granted the possibility of defense."

The Heralds also noted that the parents who made the decision to send their children to these homes weren’t heard from, and that the people who complained to the Holy See for the most part were not parents of minors.

Those same people, the Heralds’ press office stated, also filed a complaint with the Brazilian civil authorities and the case investigating the physical and psychological abuse of minors "was already adjudicated and dismissed" by the Sao Paulo Court of Justice Aug. 24.

These accusations, “already examined in civil court, were inadmissible," the Heralds’ press office stated.

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A group of parents of students who stay in these homes sent a petition with almost 2,600 signatures to the Holy See, which was presented Sept. 2. The parents noted that their parental rights are guaranteed by civil and canonical legislation, and that they don’t accept the Holy See’s decision to have their children come home.

In an opinion on the decree, jurists Dircêo Torrecillas Ramos and Ives Gandra da Silva Martins stated that it “interferes in matters other than canon law, namely, the intellectual, moral and religious formation of minors in Brazil,” and that the issue falls under the the responsibility of the Brazilian civil authorities.

The jurists noted that the applicable civil authorities in education "have not found anything to confirm the generic suspicions found" in the decision of the congregation.

In addition, the Heralds of the Gospel Educational Institute stated that as a teaching institution, it is subject to the authorization and evaluation by civil, not ecclesial authorities.

An apostolic visit to the Heralds by the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life began in 2017, and as a result a pontifical commissioner was appointed in 2019 due to, the Holy See said, a series of deficiencies "in the style of governance, the life of the members of the Council, vocation ministry, the formation of new vocations, the administration, the management of the works and resources" of the Heralds of the Gospel.

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