An article was published several days ago in “Il Mattino”, written by Loredana Zarrella and taken up again by Huffington Post, in which very serious accusations are made against Fr. Stefano Maria Manelli, Founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. What are your thoughts regarding this matter?
I have known Fr. Stefano since my daughter entered into the convent and I can say that he is quite the opposite to the lies written in that article. I think that Fr. Stefano has done a lot of good to a great number of people, and he doesn’t deserve this at all! I don’t know why there is so much hostility towards Fr. Stefano and I think that behind it there are enemies of the Church who want to destroy the good that’s being done.
In the article, which I repeat word for word, still in reference to the accusations, “Fr. Stefano would bombard the sisters with constant harassment, blackmail and degradation. Anything to obtain the absolute fidelity of the religious. A pact of loyalty which would be sealed with blood.”
These are lies! You know… a mother knows her children well and notices everything. My daughter has always been an intelligent girl, free from constrictions. She became a sister only because she understood that this was God’s plan for her, and not as a result of being pressurized or blackmailed. She isn’t the type to let herself be forced into this kind of thing, and I am convinced that if she entered into the Institute of Fr. Manelli, and if she remains, it is only because she has found the love of God and Our Lady there that she has always been looking for. What’s more, from my own experience I have always seen great love and paternity in Fr. Manelli.
Several ex-religious have claimed to have left the Institute due to harassment, blackmail and degradation suffered at the hands of Fr. Manelli. Their testimonies, according to what is reported in the press releases, have been consigned to the Holy See as of 1998 and taken to the Public Prosecutor’s office by the lawyer Giuseppe Sarno.
I think that if several ex-religious with a venomous tongue say bad things about the founder and superiors of the Institute they have left, perhaps even with the intention of spreading libel, they should not be given much notice, and the other 300 or more who are still in the Institute should to be listened to; who, to see them, calm and smiling, don’t seem to be the victims of harassment or abuse in the least… And there are many who still enter… who leave everything, as my daughter did more than 20 years ago. Could a cruel “monster”, as they describe Fr. Stefano, ever bear fruit like this? On the contrary, I think that these girls that enter are a real miracle, given that in the other Institutes I have known, it’s difficult to find such young sisters, and I am deeply saddened by how such a thriving Institute is being treated.
Has your daughter ever mentioned the presence of similar problems in the Institute or expressed discontentment for whatever reason?
As I’ve already said, my daughter has been a sister for more than twenty years and she has never said anything of the kind to me. She has always shown respect and trust for Fr. Stefano; she has always spoken with enthusiasm about love for Our Lady and Jesus, encouraging me to grow spiritually. And in fact, together with her I have grown a great deal. I have also known Fr. Stefano personally, I have confessed to him several times and received valuable advice, I have taken part in retreats and conferences held by him and other friars, and have drawn great benefit for my soul.
I am disgusted and outraged by the very serious accusations that have appeared in several newspapers, that slur the dignity and honesty of a priest like Fr. Manelli and indirectly raise doubts about the purity of the sisters. It seems to me that they have overstepped all reasonable limits and I appeal to those responsible to do whatever they can to halt this attempt at demolishing the excellent reputation of the sisters and their Founders. As the mother of a sister, I think I express the thoughts of many parents who see their own daughters defamed so seriously, knowing instead that the reality is very different and that in the Institute they have found that oasis of purity which it is already impossible to find in such a corrupt world!
Are you pleased with the life choice made by your daughter? What is your opinion of this religious Family following the recent news?
Yes, I’m happy, because my daughter is happy. Initially, the detachment was a bit difficult for both of us, but the grace of God has helped very much. I’m also very upset for the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, who I have always admired and esteemed, and who I now see being so tested. I am well aware of how much good they have done, and I know they can continue to do a lot of good.
As for this religious Family, I can honestly say that I often cry for everything that’s going on. I just don’t understand the reason for all of this: these friars and sisters have never done anything wrong, they have left home and family to respond to God’s call, they pray, live in a poor and simple way, they do so much good for souls with their apostolate… why are they being attacked in this way? I would like to ask the Pope to help them, to understand them, to appreciate them, because they really are a hope for the Church, but I’m powerless, all I can do is pray.
Referring to the Manelli family, St. Pio once said: “This is my family. I do a duty in protecting and defending it.” In your view, how can the current events be interpreted in light of this significant statement, spoken by one of the greatest Saints of our times?
I hope that Padre Pio will intervene to defend and protect not only Fr. Manelli’s blood family, but also his religious one, the family of the Franciscans of the Immaculate. Fr. Manelli has given to his religious family the teachings that he, in turn, received from Padre Pio as a spiritual son. This religious family, therefore, is also really the family of Padre Pio and I trust that he will protect it.