Founder of Catholic Schoenstatt movement faces allegations of coercion

Jose Kentenich beatificacion 010720 Fr. Josef Kentenich. CNA file photo.

A German historian says that recently opened Vatican archives include documents that suggest the German founder of the Schoenstatt ecclesial movement engaged in manipulative and coercive behavior among the sisters of the movement. But the Schoenstatt community says those allegations have long since been addressed.

According to German Catholic newspaper Die Tagepost, theologian and Church historian Alexandra von Teuffenbach has reviewed Vatican assessments of the Schoenstatt movement, which reportedly portray Fr. Josef Kentenich, founder of the movement, as manipulative and coercive.

The Holy See reportedly began to receive reports from alleged victims of the priest in the early 1950s, and dispatched an apostolic visitator, or Vatican observer, to assess the situation. According to von Teuffenbach, Kentenich was sent to the United States after that visitation, but no reforms of the community were subsequently enacted. 

"The church under Pius XII protected the abused woman and the Mary Sisters, who at that time, instead of obeying the official instructions of the church, preferred to follow a questionable figure, as clearly described in the files," Von Teuffenbach wrote.

Kentenich went to the U.S. in 1951, and was permitted to return to Germany in October 1965. He died three years later. A beatification process for the priest began in 1975.  

Additional details of the allegations against Kentenich are expected to be published Thursday.

In a statement Wednesday, Fr. Juan Pablo Catoggio, superior of the Schoenstatt movement, said that "during the 1950 ecclesiastical visitation to Schoenstatt, some individuals made accusations against the founder of Schoenstatt to the Vatican authorities, which led to the 14 year long exile of the founder. These issues were discussed and clarified during the process of beatification opened in 1975. Back then, all the documents and testimonies that were in any way pertinent where made available to the competent Church authorities."

"If doubt regarding the moral integrity of the Schoenstatt founder would have remained, his exile would not have finished and the Vatican would have not published a nihil obstat to open his process of beatification,"  Catoggio added.

Kentenich was born in 1885 and ordained a priest in 1910. In 1914, he founded a new ecclesial movement in a chapel in Schoenstatt, Germany. The movement, which now includes priests, consecrated women, and lay involvement, is active in 42 countries, and focused on spiritual formation and Marian spirituality.

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