‘La Famille de Marie’, a “sulphurous” community under guardianship (1/2) – Swiss Catholic Portal

Like several other new communities, ‘The Family of Mary’ was placed under guardianship by the Vatican in June 2022, for suspicions of psychological and spiritual abuse. A surprisingly discreet approach aimed at a community with “sulphurous” emanations, whose ramifications extend as far as Switzerland and within the Vatican itself.

Gebhard Paul Maria Sigl would own Padre Pio’s mittens, which he used to impose on the faithful. He would also claim to suffer from invisible stigmata and to be able to read people’s hearts. These are some of the revelations of former members of La Famille de Marie about the former spiritual director of the Catholic community. The qualifiers of ‘megalomaniac’, ‘tyrannical’, ‘narcissistic’, or even ‘thirsty for power’ are also used by these witnesses to describe the personality of the Austrian.

The latter is officially no longer at the head of The Family of Mary since a decree issued by the Vatican on June 1, 2022, ordering his dismissal and the placing under guardianship of the community, as well as of its priestly arm, “the Work of Jesus Sovereign Priest”. Rome officially justified its action by noting a “confusion between the internal forum and the external forum”, a “blind and unconditional cult of the founder”, “mental manipulation”, or even “mystification of the spiritual narrative “.

“The fact is that La Famille de Marie was not established on sound foundations, far from it”

The trusteeship of the community, which today has more than 60 priests, 30 seminarians and “lay brothers”, 200 consecrated lay people, present in eleven countries, including France and Switzerland, was decided following an apostolic visit led in 2021 by Msgr. Francesco Cacucci, Bishop Emeritus of Bari. The Family of Mary has been entrusted, while waiting for the Vatican to decide on its fate, to a ‘commissioner’, in the person of Msgr. Daniele Libanori, auxiliary bishop of Rome. The female branch was placed under the responsibility of Sister Katarina Kristofova, former Superior General of the Sisters of the Divine Redeemer.

Late takeover of Rome

The case has so far received little media attention and has been handled discreetly by church authorities. The situation of La Famille de Marie is reminiscent of that of other Catholic communities “reinstated” by the Vatican in recent years, after serious abuses were brought to light within them.

The Family of Mary is certainly a rather small and little-known community compared to others. But his case raises a number of questions. One of them is the particularly late aspect of the alerting of the Vatican, when worrying signals had already emerged for many years on the community, which took its current form in the early 1990s. drifts that rise to the surface makes this question even more significant.

A “sectarized” community

The fact is that La Famille de Marie was not established on sound foundations, far from it. Its main founding figures drag heavy pans. Repeatedly in the crosshairs of the Vatican, the community managed to survive by various “stratagems”, in particular by changing places, form and name.

“No indication of sexual abuse has so far emerged in the context of La Famille de Marie”

The circumstances surrounding La Famille de Marie might not have been revealed without the insight of journalists who spotted suspicious gray areas. The case was widely investigated by the Italian Catholic media Adista and journalist Ludovica Eugenio. The latter collected a large number of testimonies and documents on the community and its founders. A long-term investigation that gave rise to a whole series of scrupulously documented articles. The image that emerges is that of a deeply “sectarianized” community, locked in the cult of personality, the submission and instrumentalization of people, as well as megalo-mystical delusions. Contacted by cath.ch, Ludovica Eugenio specifies that if the spiritual and psychological abuse seem characterized, no indication of sexual abuse has so far emerged in the context of The Family of Mary.

Marian Apparitions, Anti-Communism and Lodge P2

Sexual abuse, however, appears as a backdrop in the history of the community, as far as one of its founders is concerned: Joseph Seidnitzer. The Austrian priest is one of the three tutelary figures of the Family of Mary, along with the Slovak bishop Pavol Hnilica and the Austrian Gebhard Paul Maria Sigl.

Bishop Hnilica is a real character from a novel. Ordained bishop in hiding in communist Czechoslovakia, in 1968 he founded the community ‘Pro Deo et Fratribus’, which would be the “ancestor” of The Family of Mary. The organization is largely intended to support the anti-communist opposition. ‘Pro Deo et Fratribus’ would have served as an intermediary for the transfer of huge sums of money to Poland and Latin American countries, notably from the Vatican Bank (IOR). Bishop Hnilica seems to have been “dipping” for years in all sorts of more than dubious “schemes”. He is particularly implicated in the case of the briefcase of the banker Roberto Calvi, belonging to the Masonic lodge P2 and found murdered in London in 1982. In this context, he was sentenced in 1993 to three years and six months in prison. suspended sentence by a Roman court of first instance for concealment.

“Following the departure of Joseph Seidnitzer, Gebhard Sigl takes over La Famille de Marie”

His name is also cited in various controversial ecclesial movements such as Opus Angelorum or Armata Bianca, which give pride of place to an exalted mysticism. In the same vein, the founder of ‘Pro Deo and Fratribus’ accompanied the Colorado clairvoyant Theresa Lopez on her tours in the early 1990s. The so-called Marian apparitions of the mystic had raised tens of millions of dollars. A step condemned by Bishop James Stafford, bishop of Denver at the time.

questionable roots

After the collapse of the communist regimes in the early 1990s, ‘Pro Deo et Fratribus’ lost its raison d’être. Bishop Hnilica was then looking for a new community. Through mutual acquaintances, he meets Joseph Seidnitzer and his spiritual son Gebhard Sigl, who in 1972 founded the Work of the Holy Spirit (OSS). The three men recognize themselves in the same type of spirituality, centered on a deep Marian devotion.

But Joseph Seidnitzer is one of the most sulphurous characters. He was sentenced to prison three times between the 1950s and 1960s for multiple sexual abuse of teenagers whom he raped after getting them drunk. In detail, he was sentenced in 1954 to eight months in prison in Styria (southern Austria), in 1958 to one year in prison in Innsbruck, and to 14 additional months in the same city in 1960, after having been convicted of two sexual assaults committed in Interlaken, in the canton of Bern.

“Joseph Seidnitzer is described as having been at the center of a communal system based on psychological tyranny”

When the Slovak meets the two Austrians, the OSS is in total perdition. The Vatican, no doubt made aware of Father Seidnitzer’s condemnations, dismissed him from the OSS, which was dissolved in 1990. The 21 “survivors” of the Work found in Bishop Hnilica an ecclesial guarantee to recreate a community “cleansed” of the legacy of Joseph Seidnitzer. Pavol Hnilica thus refounds under his leadership, from the ashes of the OSS, the Family of Marie. The Institute today consists of two branches: the Association ‘Pro Deo et Fratribus’ – Family of Mary and the Work of Jesus Sovereign Priest (Opus JSS), which function organically in the Apostolic Works that entrusted to them, explains the website of the community.

Following the estrangement of Joseph Seidnitzer, Gebhard Sigl took over the new community, which managed to forge legitimacy and be recognized by Rome in 1995. Joseph Seidnitzer died in 1993. Pavol Hnilica gravitated around the new community until his death in 2006.

A “new community”?

According Adista, Paul Maria Sigl was fully aware of Joseph Seidnitzer’s criminal past. He nevertheless remained faithful to him to the end, adopting in all respects his methods of “evangelization” and his “spirituality”. The Italian press agency reveals that the duo was engaged in a number of mystical-millenarian ramblings. According to some witnesses, Joseph Seidnitzer considered himself the pope of the new times, who would restore the Church. In particular, he would have prophesied that the end of time would occur on the 1er January 1975, and that on this occasion, Pope Paul VI should leave him his place.

Generally, Joseph Seidnitzer is described by former followers as having been at the center of a communal system based on psychological tyranny. How to think, then, that the “new” community under the aegis of Gebhard Sigl was going to radically change its face? The testimonies collected by Adista and the findings of the apostolic visitation suggest on the contrary that the “spiritual” heritage of Joseph Seidnitzer and Pavol Hnilica has been fully renewed in the Family of Mary. (cath.ch/adista/arch/rz)

The second part of this dossier will be released on July 4, 2023

‘La Famille de Marie’, a “sulphurous” community under guardianship (1/2) – Swiss Catholic Portal