Written by: Covadonga Asturias
(ZENIT News / Châlons-en-Champagne, France, 28.06.2022).- On Saturday, June 25, it was made known to the members of the “Word of Life” Community that the Community would be dissolved on July 1, 2023 and hence, that its existence in the Church would cease from that period.
Cardinal Josef de Kesel, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, communicated the news to the memvers, following a canonical visit that took place between January and April of this year. The visit had been requested by the Community after the General Moderator resigned in August 2021.
According to the press release, the Visitors discovered grave and systematic disfunctions in the Community. “The three designated Visitors listened to more than 200 individuals. They verified grave and systematic disfunctions from the foundation.” Over 30 years, at least 240 individuals left the Community. ”All attempts to clarify the charism, to give a stable rule of life, to ensure a serene government and to guarantee — in the ‘Word of Life’ — respect for each one and trust, have failed.” It also states that “the Community’s founders, Georges and Marie-Josette Bonneval, have been accused of exercising spiritual abuse and control over several of the members . And Jacques Marin, Spiritual Guide of the “Word of Life” and worker-priest, was accused by several women of sexual aggression in the context of the Sacrament of Confession. Marin died in 2019, after a canonical judgment a few years earlier.
Bishop François Touvet of Châlons has been appointed Administrator of the “Word of Life” Community until its dissolution. Five teams will assist him in addressing matters related to spiritual accompaniment and consecrated life, psychological accompaniment, canonical and juridical questions, administrative and financial questions, and communication. “His main concern is to listen to the victims and to offer each member individual support and hospitality areas to make possible a peaceful discernment and a new personal orientation,” points out the press release.
Given that the Abbey of Andecy, headquarters of the Community, had reached a place of high appreciation in the diocese, Monsignor Touvet said: “Believe that this serious decision is taken for the good of the members of this Community, even if it is hard for you to believe and understand that such disfunctions were able to happen there.”
The ”Word of Life” Community had already had a canonical visit in 2002, during Saint John Paul II’s Pontificate. Interviewed by La Vie newspaper, Monsignor Touvet also said that “twenty years later, the new canonical visit , from January to April 2022, verified the same facts, giving the impression that things had not evolved sufficiently, and that the Church had not watched over this Community sufficiently, despite 240 departures in 30 years.”
Monsignor Touvet added: “Cardinal Jozef De Kesel considered that the human strengths were too weak to proceed to a re-founding, due to the suffering and moral and psychological exhaustion of the members. Moreover, tt begin again it would have been necessary to find a good team of administrators and a favourable atmosphere, but there are too many divisions, tensions and sufferings. Finally, the charism of this Community should have been defined, which in reality was never done. In face of this triple observation, Cardinal De Kesel considered that only dissolution remained,” as the answer.
Asked about the failures, the Bishop in charge of accompanying this Community until its dissolution answered: there was “primarily spiritual abuse, excessive spiritualization, phenomena of control, lack of realism, abuse of power. The functioning of the houses was always seen in such a spiritual way that sufficient account was not taken of the reality of life of the people, their sufferings and their questions. [There was] excessively spiritual speech intended to hide the reality of things. Noted was the abuse of authority and the confusion between the internal forum and the external forum. The members thus explained to me that their spiritual guide was, at the same time, the one in charge of the house, hence, their Superior . . . “ He adds that “when individuals tried to express their questioning on the Community’s functioning, sometimes they were expelled. If they announced their intention to leave, they were under the pressure of guilt. Added to this is the lack of sufficient formation and of a true rule of life. These were the facts expressed almost unanimously by the current members and former members heard by the Visitors.”
Speaking about the founders, the Bishop said that “there was a centralization of the government in the founding couple of Marie-Josette and Georges Bonneval. They affirmed they were the only founders and asked the members to recognize them as father and mother. This look to spiritual paternity made [the members] lose their autonomy, their freedom of expression and degraded them in a certain way. This put everyone in a state of suffering.” And when asked if these imperfections continued after the couple’s departure, he answered: “There was a change of Moderator in 2003 but the new governance reproduced the same model. This is what makes us say that there was something of the order of a system since the beginning — a system based on a lie. During this year’s canonical visit, it was discovered that the association’s minutes of creation, signed by the different founders, had been falsified. The names were erased, and this falsified document used in the Community made [the members]believe that only this founding couple existed.
When the Bishop was asked how these problems, known since 2002, were able to persist for another 20 years, he said: “In the mission I receive, I must acknowledge that the Church has not been sufficiently vigilant. There is a failure of the ecclesial institution and a failure of the government of the Community, which did not pick up the words of suffering and which was unable to carry out an endeavour of interpretation of the departures, no matter how numerous they were. The combination of these two failures made the system last. Failure of the institution, given that the only canonical visit carried out was that of 2002. In 2011, the Bishop of Mechelen-Brussels, André-Joseph Léonard, wished to make a canonical visit, but in the end it became a simple, very brief and friendly, pastoral visit. I found a very strong expression of a former member in the minutes of house leaders’ meeting: he talked about a system in which they learned to praise the Bishops, to show them that all was fine, to give them nice presents and to receive encouragement. It was part of the system.”
The press release on the dissolution can be consulted at this link.