VALLENDAR, Germany (CNS) — Can a “great founding figure” be beatified when some of his own followers level such accusations at him?
After causing a stir with her article about Father Joseph Kentenich in the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost in July, Rome-based church historian Alexandra von Teuffenbach has now presented evidence to back her accusations in her book titled “Father Is Allowed to Do It!” It contains detailed descriptions by several Schonstatt Sisters of Mary about Father Kentenich’s style of leadership, reports the German Catholic news agency, KNA.
“How can one offer this man, this priest, as a model to the Christians in the world, after what he has done and said?” von Teuffenbach writes in the foreword.
Father Kentenich, who died in 1968, remains popular to this day. Von Teuffenbach has accused him of systematic manipulation, abuse of power and sexual harassment. The researcher has based her claims on sources that include newly accessible Vatican documents from the pontificate of Pope Pius XII.
KNA reports most of the papers are from the Limburg provincial archive of the Pallottines, the religious order that Father Kentenich was a member of for a long time. They refer to a bizarre “father cult.” He made the sisters “dependent, humiliated and abused them and never distanced himself from this attitude,” the historian wrote.
Her book contains a pages-long letter written by Sister Georgia Wagner in 1948.
“We are only allowed to speak to him while kneeling,” Sister Wagner wrote. She goes on to report physical touches that had given her “misgivings.” She added: “He calmed me down by saying: Father was allowed to do that.”
Sister Wagner also mentioned the peculiar practice of the “child exam.” It was a ritual in which Father Kentenich is said to have asked questions that were always supposed to receive the same answers: “Whom does the child belong to? Father. What is the child? Nothing. What is Father to the child? Everything. Whom do the eyes belong to? Father. To whom the ears? Father. To whom the mouth, etc.? Father. To whom the breast? Father. To whom the genitalia? Father.” Sister Georgia wrote about this: “My entire soul, the whole nature shakes at these things.”
Her greatest sorrow, however, was that she had “experienced Father Kentenich as a man and can no longer respect or like him,” KNA reported.
In another complaint mentioned in the book, the sisters had to ask permission in the presence of their spiritual leader to go to the lavatory. On top of this, inadmissible, degrading methods of confession were practiced.
If the accusations are confirmed, the beatification process will be over, KNA reported.
It is unclear to this day what prompted the Vatican to send Father Kentenich into exile in the U.S. 70 years ago. The picture remains incomplete. Similarly, there is no definite answer to the question whether his return to Germany in 1965 should be interpreted as de facto church rehabilitation, KNA reported.
A further publication may shed light on this. Von Teuffenbach said she intends to publish the material she found in the Vatican Secret Archives on the 1951-53 apostolic visitation to Schonstatt.
The Schonstatt movement, which continues to stand by its founder, has pledged to investigate all accusations transparently. In late October, the general presidium appointed the members of an international group of researchers to investigate.