Another founder of a 20th century lay Catholic movement has been accused of abusing his power, including sexually and spiritually, with nuns in his care.
A German researcher says she found evidence in newly released Vatican archives that the Holy See investigated the Rev. Josef Kentenich during the 1950s and because of his abuses ordered the German priest exiled from the Schoenstatt Movement.
Church historian Alexandra Von Teuffenbach said she wanted to reveal the truth about Kentenich and “demolish the many proposed reconstructions of alternative truths” since the process to get him beatified is making its way to the Vatican after more than 45 years.
Von Teuffenbach detailed her findings in a report published Thursday in conservative Catholic publications, including Die Tagespost in Germany and the blog of Sandro Magister, the Vatican correspondent for Italy’s L’Espresso magazine.
Kentenich, who was a priest of the Pallottine Fathers, founded the Schoenstatt Movement in 1914 in Germany as a lay apostolic movement dedicated to Marian spirituality. It grew into an international movement, inspired in part by the founder’s own story of having been raised as an orphan and imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp during World War II.
Kentenich died in 1968 in Schoenstatt, Germany. Today, the Schoenstatt Movement has tens of thousands of members who flock to its chapels around the world, including in Germany, the United States and Chile.
In fact, the retired archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Javier Errazurriz, was superior of the movement from 1974-1990. Errazurriz was long a top adviser to Pope Francis until he was discredited for having covered up decades of sexual abuse by Chilean priests, including a Schoenstatt bishop who was recently defrocked.
In her research, Von Teuffenbach determined that the Vatican investigated Kentenich from 1951 to 1953 after receiving allegations of problems with the Marian sisters who were part of his nascent movement. The investigation had been known, but not the actual reported findings or files of the investigator, the Rev. Sebastian Tromp.
Von Teuffenbach said Tromp’s files, available in newly opened archives of the pontificate of Pope Pius XII, revealed “serious abuse of power by the founder at the expense of the nuns.” She reported that Tromp had received a credible report of sexual abuse committed against at least one nun during one of Kentenich’s closed-door, sexualized religious rituals that involved nuns pledging themselves totally to him.
In 1951, the Vatican removed Kentenich from the movement, exiled him to the U.S. and forbade him from having further contact with the nuns. But Pope Paul VI apparently reversed the decree 14 years later.
The Vatican didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment about the researcher's findings or what impact,if any, they would have on Kentenich’s beatification cause.
The movement, for its part, initially rejected Von Teuffenbach’s report, asserting late Wednesday that all allegations were clarified during Kentenich’s exile and before his beatification cause was launched in 1975 by the diocese of Trier in Germany.
“If there had been doubts about the moral integrity of the founder of Schoenstatt, the exile would not have ended and the Vatican would not have issued a nihil obstat (declaration of no objection) to open the beatification process,” the Schoenstatt Movement said in a statement Wednesday.
After Von Teuffenbach’s full report was published, Schoenstatt amended its position with comments from some Schoenstatt priests saying there needed to be light and impartiality shed on the whole case.
The case is similar to several that have come to light in recent years of charismatic founders of new religious movements who were subsequently found to have spiritually or sexually abused their followers.
Kentenich’s case has particular parallels with one involving the founder of the Legion of Christ, the Rev. Marcial Macial. Maciel was repeatedly investigated by the Vatican starting in the 1950s but managed to regain favor in Rome. The Vatican eventually ordered him in 2006 to live a life of prayer and penance for raping his seminarians.