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Troubles at Bose highlight need for authentic ecumenism, monasticism

The focus of the Bose community in Magnano, Italy is ecumenism, but it is not an authentic unity where theological, ecclesiological, and historical differences are discussed, prayed for, and lived out.

Pope Francis meets with Enzo Bianchi, founder and former prior of the ecumenical Monastery of Bose, at the Vatican in this Jan. 12, 2019, file photo. Following an apostolic visitation of the northern Italian monastery, the Vatican ordered Bianchi and three other members to leave the community. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

On February, 18, 2021, the following statement was posted on the Monastery of Bose page: “With deep bitterness the community of Bose took note that Br. Enzo did not go to Cellole within the time indicated by the Pontifical Delegate’s Decree of January 4th.”

This is the most recent act of disobedience on the part of the Bose’s founder, Br. Enzo Bianchi, who by a Pontifical Decree dated May 13, 2020, was ordered to permanently leave the community of Bose and relocate to Cellole, which was founded in 2013, but was recently ordered to sever any association with Bose after the founder and three of his followers were expected to live in Cellole extra domum – outside the home. “Unfortunately the outstretched hand” to move Bianchi out of Bose was not accepted, continues the February 18, 2021 statement. In the end of March, Crux reported that Bianchi will leave Bose as soon as possible alone, when the pandemic is over and “as soon as  I find accommodation.” 

What had happened at Bose?

In 2019, serious concerns from the members of the community were made to the Holy See regarding the exercise of authority of the founder which had resulted in a tense and problematic situation in the community. Pope Francis arranged an Apostolic Visit (from December 6, 2019-January 6, 2020) to the community of Bose charging Abbot Guillermo León Arboleda Tamayo, OSB, Fr Amedeo Cencini, and Mother Anne-Emmanuelle Devéche, OCSO, Abbess of Blauvac with the delicate task of listening and further investigating into the tense situation among the members of Bose.

After a prolonged and careful discernment and prayer following the visitation the Holy See concluded that Br. Enzo Bianchi, Br. Goffredo Boselli, Br. Lino Breda and Sr. Antonella Casiraghi, had to separate themselves from Bose and relocate to another location, while being discharged from all their current positions. The decision was approved “in a special form” by Pope Francis himself. Additionally, the Holy See has traced a path of future and hope for the community, proposing some guiding principles for a process of renewal with the hope of giving new life and new direction to the community.

A new monasticism? 

In 1963, when he was a student of accounting at the University of Turin, Bianchi started an evening Bible study group and prayer inviting students of different Christian confessions, including Catholics, Baptists, and Waldensians. Several followers began to find a vocation for a life of prayer, community, and celibacy which led Bianchi to search for a quiet and remote place outside the city of Turin. He rented a small house in the secluded village of Bose, where he and his friends restored the eleventh-century Romanesque church of San Secondo of Magnano, which was probably part of the Benedictine convent.

The mixed (men and women), inter-confessional and ecumenical community of Bose started when Vatican II ended, on December 8, 1965. Obviously, the community of Bose is a modern interpretation of Christian monasticism, or a new form of ecumenical monasticism in which members of the community—men and women of different denominations—live a communal life of prayer, work and celibacy. According to rule 43 of Bose “the community is not confessional but is made up of members to different Christian denominations. Every member must find in the community the space to practice his confession of faith and the acceptance of its spirituality.” There is, according the Rule, no need to change or convert or change denomination, because one belongs to Christ through the church of his/her baptism to the end. Consequently, one “recognize [s] his pastors, his ministries in their diversity, and you will always try to be a sign of unity” (rule 41).

The claim, then is that the fullness of Christian life is achieved in the denomination one belongs to. But this goes against Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism, which explicates that “it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is the all-embracing means of salvation, that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation.” It is in the Catholic Church that “subsists the fullness of Christ’s body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him the fullness of the means of salvation” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#830). Practically, the non-Catholics at Bose, following the Rule, are not able to access the fullness of the means of salvation.

The Eucharist is also not celebrated every day at Bose, because of ecumenical sensibilities. So, even the Catholics among the community of Bose are forced to accept a reduced means of salvation as a demonstration of respect other denominations that do not have the same understanding for the Eucharist.

Ecumenism of Bose?   

The focus of the Bose community is ecumenism, but it is not an authentic unity where theological, ecclesiological, and historical differences are discussed, prayed for, and lived out. There is a diluting of real confessional differences for the sake of following Christ and a Gospel, which points to a universal nebulous community or a private association of the faithful but not to a monastery and a united monastic community in their way to theosis. Bose’s ecumenism is a minimalist type of ecumenism far removed from the authentic ecumenism expressed in the documents of Vatican II.

So it is ironic and sad, then, how a community of brothers and sisters, which boasts of being born on the very day of the closing of Vatican II with the mission to continue and apply the decisions of the Council, denies and misinterprets its teaching. Speaking of ironies, the day (July 22, 2014) Pope Francis appointed Br. Bianchi as consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, this how Bianchi responded to the unexpected appointment: “The Pope will reform the papacy, and this will favor the relations with the Orthodox,” adding that “the reform of the papacy means a new balance between synodality and primacy…This would help to create a new style of papal primacy and the government of bishops.”

What Bianchi is proposing, frankly, a is deconstruction and diluting of the of the papacy in favor of synodality.

On November 7, 1967, the local Bishop (of Biella), prohibited Eucharistic celebrations at Bose, because of irregularities and the presence of non-Catholics among Bianchi’s followers and guests in liturgical celebrations. The prohibition was lifted a year later in 1968, by the Cardinal of Torino, Michele Pellegrino, who celebrated Mass at the new community on June 29, 1968. Since then the career of Bose’s founder has been on the rise, holding some of the most prestigious positions in ecclesiastical circles including an academic for-like appointment in the Board of Directors of John XXIII Foundation for Religious Sciences (Bologna school).

Time for renewal? 

Monasticism had been at the heart of the Church for millennia. One cannot understand the history of Christianity without reference to monasticism and the monastic ideal, which created Western civilization and brought renewal, preservation, and continuation of the West. Monasticism was the existential source of European culture, as Pope Benedict XVI stressed in his address to the world of culture at the Collège de berardins in Paris in 2008.

The fifty-three-year-old Bose experiment is having a middle-age crisis. What is urgently needed at Bose is institutionalization, structure within the Church, and an approved monastic rule to guide the monastic community. Only then will an authentic renewal and real healing begin in earnest.


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About Ines Angeli Murzaku 21 Articles
Ines Angeli Murzaku (http://academic.shu.edu/orientalia/) is Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, Director of Catholic Studies Program and the Founding Chair of the Department of Catholic Studies at Seton Hall University. She earned a doctorate of research from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome part of the Pontifical Gregorian University Consortium and has held visiting positions at the Universities of Bologna and Calabria in Italy and University of Münster in Germany. She is a regular commentator to media outlets on religious matters. She has worked for or collaborated with the Associated Press, CNN, Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Voice of America, Relevant Radio, The Catholic Thing, Crux, The Record, The Stream, Vatican Radio (Vatican City), and EWTN (Rome). Dr. Murzaku is currently writing a book on St. Mother Teresa entitled Mother Teresa: The Saint of the Peripheries who Became Catholicism’s Center Piece to be published by Paulist Press in 2020.

9 Comments

  1. [Speaking of ironies, the day (July 22, 2014) Pope Francis appointed Br. Bianchi as consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, this how Bianchi responded to the unexpected appointment: “The Pope will reform the papacy, and this will favor the relations with the Orthodox,” adding that “the reform of the papacy means a new balance between synodality and primacy…This would help to create a new style of papal primacy and the government of bishops.”]

    Fr. Bianchi has misunderstood Francis, who knows nothing of synodality but everything about primacy — he is certainly more ultramontanist in the exercise of his office than Benedict XVI.

  2. “The mixed (men and women), inter-confessional and ecumenical community”

    It should have been obvious from the beginnning that it was a disaster waiting to happen.

    • I was just about to quote the same sentence, and for the same reason. This Bose community was not the first or the last experimental community along these lines, and they have generally ended up as disasters, with sexual and financial improprieties, religious indifferentism, cult-like mind control, conversions away from the Faith, and so on… The pre-Vatican Church would have treated this as nonsense, and ended discussions before they began.

  3. I realize that the private life of the Bose community is none of my business but surely a news report ought to describe why Enzo et al were separated from it, beyond ‘differences’. And I am not so sanguine as Professor Murzaku that the ‘novelty’ of Boze is praiseworthy or destined to last, at least in the Catholic Church.

    • “And I am not so sanguine as Professor Murzaku that the ‘novelty’ of Boze is praiseworthy or destined to last, at least in the Catholic Church.”

      She is actually very critical of the novelty of Bose.

  4. Bose is reflective of ecumenism within the Church manifest in German policy for intercommunion with Lutherans and Pope Francis’ exaltation of the Augustinian friar who divided Germany and the world. And permitted to flourish. Francis may be protecting his power as suggested in comments nonetheless he appears determined to recreate Catholicism precisely along the lines of Bro Enzo Bianchi’s vision of heterodox unity Catholicism one among the many justified before God. The Vatican effort to remove him from Bose is to this writer a transparent ploy with appearance of papal orthodoxy while this papacy continues to drive a trend toward vacuous heterodox ecumenism preached to the world in Fratelli Tutti.

    • Fr. Morello, excellent points. All is free for all including the Eucharist.
      Well, the bigger question is why was it allowed for 50 years and this is the result. Why was the lead from the local bishop who sent alarming notes were not taken and acted seriously? Thank you father.

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