We are a group of laypeople and clergy who have, for some time now, followed your interventions with sincere interest. We are greatly pleased to observe that in recent years you have reached a position of clear doctrinal awareness regarding the crisis in the Church that emerged with the Second Vatican Council, a position that is nearly unique among the episcopate. Your doctrinal stances have appeared to us to have achieved a remarkable clarity and lucidity, even though we might disagree with the kind of sedevacantism you have recently proposed.
Given the interest Your Excellency has earned among faithful Catholics who adhere to the traditional teachings of the Church, we would like to respectfully, yet candidly, request some much-needed clarification regarding your project “Exsurge Domine.” In this regard, we have been invited by you to contribute financially.
In the past, many of us have tried to contact you in a constructive way, but with no results. Therefore, we consider now a necessity to write an open letter. We consider it our duty to encourage you to provide the broader public with a more accurate understanding (in any case, more accurate than the one that can be gleaned from the limited information made public by the Association you have founded) of your intentions and the intentions of those whom we imagine to be your fellow travelers in this endeavor.
Our intention is not to question your good faith. It is on the basis of facts, and not on subjective good intentions, that a Catholic’s evaluations must be founded, especially when it comes to deciding whether or not to support a Catholic initiative with one’s financial resources. We do not question what you say, but what you and your companions do.
After thoroughly reviewing the website of the “Exsurge Domine” Association, we kindly invite you to respond publicly and comprehensively to the following questions:
The true purposes and structures of the “Exsurge Domine” Association
“Exsurge Domine” was established “to aid priests and religious victims of Bergoglian purges” (press release of July 1, 2023) and is presided over by a layperson, Mr. Giuseppe Vannicelli Casoni, who, as stated on the website, responded to your invitation to found the Association “with a group of laypeople.” “Exsurge Domine” is presented as an initiative by laypeople to gather assistance for persecuted priests and religious. In a brief reference (message of May 28, 2023), you mention that “there are also priests on the board of directors.”
Our questions are as follows:
- a) Why is only the President’s name made known among the members of the board of directors?
- b) Who are the other members of the board, both laypeople and priests?
- c) What are the exact numerical ratios between laypeople and priests within the board?
- d) Are the priests sitting on the board canonically “regular” priests who wish to remain anonymous to avoid reprisals, or are they themselves beneficiaries of the aid provided by the Association for the stated purpose of assisting the “purged” clergy? In the latter case, why is their identity and the circumstances of their “purging” not disclosed?
- e) Do you not consider it inevitable that in an Association with a (stated) lay orientation, which aims to assist needy and persecuted clergy, the potential coexistence of benefactors and beneficiaries on the board may lead to discrimination and injustices in the distribution of aid? What are the objective criteria upon which a priest deprived of his support will be assisted or not by the Association, and under what subsequent conditions?
- f) If you believe that you cannot answer the previous questions, what concrete assurances would be provided to a potential benefactor to ensure that the statutory purposes are observed impartially and according to genuinely distributive criteria?
Priests and Ministry
In the same message of May 28, 2023, you affirm that “without good priests, there is no one to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice, administer the Sacraments, preach opportune importune,” and you, therefore, urge “all people of good will to donate their assistance only to those who truly work in the Lord’s Vineyard, and not to those who devastate it.” There is indeed a need for “every priest to have the necessary means to provide for their primary needs (food and shelter, utilities, transportation) and even more so for the requirements related to the performance of their ministry.”
Our questions are as follows:
- a) Where do the “good priests” you speak of operate, and what ministry do they undertake? You encourage us to donate money “only to those who truly work in the Lord’s Vineyard,” which would presuppose a stable, identifiable, and public action by these priests and preachers. Why does the website not provide addresses, contact information, or practical details regarding Mass times or other initiatives that the priests associated with “Exsurge Domine” (as is evident not only from the website but also from numerous, hard-to-ignore rumors) are, in fact, already engaged in (regarding the manner, see below)?
- b) What concrete assistance can we, as faithful, expect from the priests who are affiliated with “Exsurge Domine” when we do not know how and where to reach them, who they are, and, in some cases, whether they are indeed priests?
- c) Several testimonies have reached us regarding your practice of clandestinely performing Sacred Ordinations, both in Italy and abroad. How can we be certain that a hypothetical individual in clerical attire who may present themselves to us one day, invoking your name to establish themselves as a priest, is indeed one? How can we be certain that the Sacraments they administer to us, including the Holy Mass, are valid?
- d) Regarding a “purged” priest who turns to “Exsurge Domine” in the near future, what kind of discernment will be carried out concerning their personal and canonical situation, and by whom?
- e) In the absence of absolute transparency regarding the identity and histories of the “purged” priests who will operate under the auspices of “Exsurge Domine,” how can a simple believer be morally certain that the canonical sanctions that have affected these priests are genuinely persecutory (due solely to doctrinal reasons) and thus canonically null and void, or not? This would entail a real cause for suspicion concerning the sacred minister’s genuine intent and personal morality.
- f) In what type of ecclesiastical hierarchy, if one exists or will be established, will these priests be placed in order to facilitate the supervised continuation of their ministry?
- If you believe that you cannot answer the previous questions or even only some of them, we wonder what the actual benefits are for “the Lord’s Vineyard” that would motivate a potential benefactor to financially support “Exsurge Domine” and its so-called “good priests.” It appears evident to us that, if the context remains as it is, the drawbacks of your actions far outweigh any potential benefits.
Formation of Seminarians
Once again, in your message of May 28, 2023, you assert the need for “solid and uncompromising priestly formation, economically self-sustaining to avoid Vatican retaliation.” You emphasize the importance of raising funds “to be allocated to the formation of the numerous vocations that seek to grow and develop according to Tradition.” Therefore, there seem to be hypothetical priestly “vocations” that are already turning to you and the offerings collected by “Exsurge Domine” would partly support their path to the priesthood.
Our questions are as follows:
- a) Where are these seminarians or presumed seminarians currently located? Who is providing their priestly formation?
- b) Are the Superiors you have designated suitable individuals, namely priests of exemplary morality and rectitude, in possession of adequate knowledge and experience?
- c) Why is their identity not disclosed?
- d) Is the faculty at your disposal qualified to conduct academically rigorous theological courses?
- e) Does the number of trainers available allow for a distinction between external and internal discernment?
- f) Based on the information we have received, one might rather ask: Does any form of discernment exist? Is it true, as multiple trustworthy sources suggest, that you ordained – as a deacon and then as a priest – a candidate who had been expelled twice from “traditionalist” seminaries, and that you are welcoming other individuals with similar failed prior experiences? In reference to cases of this kind, is the duty (cf. 1 Timothy 5:22) to request written references from the Seminaries regarding the dismissed candidates being observed?
- g) The fact that it has been reported that you perform clandestine ordinations “on request” in distant regions and countries is compatible with what you refer to as “solid priestly formation” and with a vocational discernment worthy of that name?
- h) In the event you believe you cannot answer the preceding questions, how can a potential benefactor of “Exsurge Domine” be assured of the seriousness of the priestly formation you would be imparting and, consequently, the suitability of the priests who will constitute (or in some cases have already constituted) the fruit of such formation?
Nuns and Fundraising
The “Exsurge Domine” website provides detailed information about “an urgent project, namely the construction of a Monastery to be allocated to the Benedictine Nuns of Pienza.” In a note dated June 26, 2023, it is stated that “the community has been offered the opportunity to move to a large property in the province of Viterbo. This solution offers the advantage of providing security and stability to the Monastery, along with the no less important spiritual assistance of priests and clerics for the administration of the Sacraments, the celebration of the Holy Mass, and formation.” The contribution requested from the faithful for this project amounts to 1.5 million euros.
Our questions are as follows:
- a) Some images and other information on the website (at least as of the date of this writing) definitively suggest that the property in question is the former Capuchin Hermitage of St. Anthony at La Palanzana, located on the hills of Viterbo, and that the building designated for the Benedictine nuns is a secondary structure within the same property. For what reason does the website refrain from indicating that the entire property is owned civilly by the Vittorio and Tommasina Alfieri Association, which a simple internet search reveals is closely connected to the former Diocesan Society of Apostolic Life Familia Christi, established in Ferrara in 2014-2016 and officially dissolved by the Holy See at the beginning of 2020? Some priest members of this group, lacking incardination, and thus canonical faculties, and with whom you have maintained close relationships for some time, have continued to live on the property since then.
- b) Will the ex-Familia Christi priests ensure “spiritual assistance” to the Benedictine nuns and others?
- c) Are the nuns aware of all the events related to the dissolution of Familia Christi, or have they only been told about a “Bergoglian purge”?
- More generally, what is in your opinion a “Bergoglian purge”? Is any priest who has celebrated the old Mass sometimes in his life, and who has been subjected to canonical penalties under the present pontificate, a victim of a “purge” of Bergoglio? What if, beyond the self-narrative of the priest in question, there would be other causes to the penalties, not related (or not principally related) to the traditional Mass or the profession of good doctrine? Would this still be “a Bergoglian purge”?
- d) It seems that some ex-Familia Christi priests are currently, beyond the more or less imminent arrival of the nuns, celebrating Mass and performing other acts of ministry in private settings. In general, is it to this kind of “purged” individuals that you intend to offer assistance through “Exsurge Domine,” and is it to this type of “covert apostolate” that the priests who turn to you will be directed?
- Despite our natural sympathy for the nuns of Pienza, we believe we must press you for transparency regarding the reality of an operation for which the nuns themselves may seem like a sort of pretext. The “Exsurge Domine” website presents the genesis of the Viterbo solution as a “coup de théâtre” of divine Providence (“When the undertaking appeared to have reached a dead-end… a benefactor with an appropriate real estate property, complete with extensive green spaces, outbuildings, and rooms for use as workshops, offered to accommodate the monastic community. However, the properties designated for the project appeared to be in need of significant renovation”), while the so-called “benefactor” is, in reality, the aforementioned and long-known Alfieri Association. This curious “benefactor” would, therefore, be benefiting himself since the nuns would not own anything, and the one and a half million euros to be raised would go to reevaluate a property already worth over 10 million euros, which would remain firmly in the possession of the same Alfieri Association. The expenses published with apparent precision on the website concern only part of the building that will be used as a monastery, while several hundred thousand euros appear to be intended for the general refurbishment of the property itself. Do you believe that the faithful who have donated or will donate their savings “so that the sufferings of the poor nuns may cease” (as stated in the August 15, 2023, message from the lay President of “Exsurge Domine,” Mr. Vannicelli Casoni) do not have the right to know the true state of affairs? That is, that their offerings will be used to benefit irregular priests (“purged” for what reasons?) about whom nothing official is disclosed, and that, especially after your death, the material and spiritual interests of the Benedictine nuns cannot be guaranteed in the face of potential changes of the situation?
- Would you like to clarify the relationships that exist between the ex-Familia Christi priests and the issues mentioned in the previous sections of this open letter? Is the presence of priests on the board of directors of “Exsurge Domine” (as mentioned in question 1 of this letter) referring to the ex-Familia Christi priests? If so, how can it be considered prudent and appropriate that priests who may influence the decision to benefit the Vittorio and Tommasina Alfieri Association, the owner of the St. Anthony at La Palanzana convent, with the funds collected by “Exsurge Domine,” sit on the board of directors of “Exsurge Domine”? Regarding the trainers of your so-called “seminarians” (question 3), are you referring to the ex-Familia Christi priests? If you do not believe you can answer the above questions with sincerity and completeness, can you understand our impression that the Association you founded is little more than a conjuring trick?
Your Excellency, you are now 83 years old. In the event that you were to pass away without consecrating a bishop associated with the Association, the entire “Exsurge Domine” project (including seminary formation) would remain devoid of any lasting usefulness to the Church, assuming, not conceding, that things are different from now.
Our questions are as follows:
- a) Do you intend to consecrate or have someone else consecrate (clandestinely or publicly) a bishop? If so, will the candidate be chosen from the ex-Familia Christi priests?
- b) In the event you have the courage to answer “no” to both questions, why should we finance an enterprise destined to vanish with your death?
- c) In the event you believe you cannot answer, that is, do not wish to “present” your candidate for episcopal succession, what motivations should we assume for such reticence?
In a broader sense, we fail to understand the reasons for so much secrecy in your work. The full profession of faith, given the current, very serious crisis of the Church and the resulting state of grave necessity, certainly justifies and requires an undertaking that goes beyond the ordinary laws of the Church, but it also requires it to be carried out publicly. We cannot think that you or these priests act in secret out of fear of canonical sanctions, which would be, if due solely to matters of faith, empty and null, as you know and acknowledge. It would be contradictory to remain hidden for fear of economic retaliation, given that “Exsurge Domine” exists precisely to avoid this inconvenience. Thus, it is not clear what real reasons justify all this secrecy regarding people, places, apostolate, even ordinations. Indeed, this secrecy becomes increasingly a source of suspicion and potentially detrimental to the work of Tradition.
While seeking your understanding for the necessary candor with which we address Your Excellency, we invoke your blessing and kindly ask you to accept our respectful greetings.
A group of laypersons and priests