Schoenstatt: Who is really Father Joseph Kentenich?

Analysis in light of accusations against him

Enrique Soros, for Zenit, translation from Spanish edition

On July 2, The Washington Post published an article based on a publication by the AP news agency, in which it referred to historian Von Teuffenbach’s report that the Apostolic Visitor for the Holy Office to the Schoenstatt Movement, Father Sebastian Tromp, had received a “credible report of sexual abuse committed against at least one nun” in the 1950s, referring to a Schoenstatt Sister of Mary. This information published in numerous media, is in reality, more than credible, an “incredible report” (as unusual as it is not true) of a phrase, simply a phrase, through which Kentenich intended to  psychologically help a sister with sexual complexes, concretely the acceptance of her own body. 

It is also erroneous, among other falsehoods that were said in the media and coming from the same source, to affirm that Kentenich was sent into exile as a punitive measure. It was an administrative measure for the purpose of investigating Schoenstatt without the interference of its founder. Furthermore, there was never a formal accusation against him by the Church, which reflects the treatment that this institution gave to those whom it investigated. Fr. Kentenich requested that a formal accusation be made against him in order to exercise his defense, but this never happened.

About the Holy Office

The origin of the Holy Office is the Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, founded in 1542 by Pope Paul III. In 1908, Pius X changed its name to the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office. In view of complaints that its methods were extremely legalistic, partial, inflexible and implacable in its investigations and impositions, unable to understand vital contexts and processes, Paul VI, in 1965, redefined its structure and gave it the name of Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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After the Holy Office suspended all decrees against Father Kentenich (October 20, 1965) and Pope Paul VI ratified this decision (October 22, 1965), Fr. Kentenich had an audience with Pope Paul VI (December 22, 2020)

The Holy Office never mentioned any kind of sexual abuse

Father Tromp, a Dutch Jesuit priest, drafted preparatory documents for the Second Vatican Council at the request of Pope John XXIII, with the possible intention of having them approved practically without question. Council fathers resisted this imposition and the Council worked from the conceptions of the Council bishops in synodal form, without taking into account any of the documents prepared by Tromp.

This priest, Apostolic Visitor in Schoenstatt, in accordance with the modus operandi of the Holy Office, investigated Schoenstatt by listening almost exclusively to a few sisters who criticized Fr. Kentenich’s pastoral and pedagogical style, without being interested in receiving the testimony of 1700 other sisters who valued him, and whose pedagogy led them to paths of profound personal fulfillment on the road to committed and fruitful holiness.

Since his work was focused on discovering possible deviations and not Schoenstatt’s virtues, it is interesting that Tromp at no time accused Fr. Kentenich of any kind of sexual abuse. Tromp relates the aforementioned “incident” with the sister that is referred to in media reports, to the sisters’ emotional dependence on the Schoenstatt founder, but does not mention a hint or even a deviation or sexual abuse in Kentenich.

Fr. Kentenich later clarifies that his task is not reduced to the souls that God entrusted to him simply complying with the precepts of the Church, but that he is called to heal souls from the depths, including unassumed sexuality and other psychological complexes, seeing in this point a personal mission for the Church, which in times before Vatican II were taboo, which is undoubtedly evident that it continues to be for some factions of the Church. 

And we wonder if today it would be news that a psychologist or psychiatrist would want to offer help to a person with a sexual complex, and if by giving that help, he would be exposed in the headlines of the mass media as an abuser. The Holy Office did not do it, the Church did not do it with Fr. Kentenich, but remarkably the aforementioned author did it and various media published it without checking the information. 

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Fr. Kentenich with families

Other charges 

Today, testimonies are coming to light that cast doubt on Fr. Kentenich’s pedagogical and psychological practices based on the testimonies of some sisters. These reports concerned many. They are published in the same way that the Holy Office has acted with Fr. Kentenich, unilaterally and without interest in explaining the contexts in which the possible events would have occurred, neither in the occasion in which they were written, nor in the emotional or psychic reality of their authors, nor in the testimony of thousands of other persons with diametrically opposed experiences about Fr. Kentenich’s pedagogy.

It is not my task to give explanations to such testimonies which have also moved me. In my research, I found coherent answers by putting everything into a context, which as I said above, the media have not done.

Bishop Stephan Ackerman, head of the Diocese of Trier, to which Schoenstatt belongs, and where Fr. Kentenich’s process of canonization is underway, has appointed a new Historical Commission that systematically analyzes the events that are in the news today. At the same time, the Schoenstatt Movement has established a Research Group, composed of 12 personalities from different countries, with the aim of giving objective answers to the subjects in question.

Regarding the importance of the truth for Schoenstatt, Fr. Angel Strada, the postulator of Fr. Kentenich’s cause of canonization from 1997 to 2017, affirms: “What matters to me is the canonization of truth.  Everything else for me is, in principle, a secondary matter.”

Observations of the General Presidency of Schoenstatt

On July 2nd, Fr. Juan Pablo Catoggio, president of the General Presidency of the Schoenstatt Movement, reported: ” P. Kentenich responded in detail to the Visitator and his superiors regarding the accusation of abuse of power and explained his thinking, principles and behavior.
Joseph Kentenich was allowed to return to Schoenstatt in 1965 and 1966, respectively, after a 14-year exile. The decrees that separated him from his foundation were lifted, and the founder’s case was returned to the Congregation for Religious of that time. Thus he could once again assume his founding position in the Schoenstatt Work. De facto, the accusation of abuse of power was thereby also invalidated”.

Before a process of beatification is opened, the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints must issue the nihil obstat (declaration of no objection) based on files from its archives, and after consulting other congregations of the Roman Curia. If there is a well-founded suspicion of moral misconduct on the part of the candidate for beatification, the green light is not given at the beginning of the process. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – formerly Holy Office – was consulted in this regard and expressed itself in favor of granting the nihil obstat to Joseph Kentenich, which, after making the necessary in-depth investigations, was given by the relevant authority, the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

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Schoenstatt celebrations in its 100th jubilee in 2014

Fr. Kentenich’s conception of a person

Fr. Kentenich conceived in his heart a new person, as a reflection of the nobility, purity and harmony of Jesus and Mary. He never preached anything that he had not previously experienced.

He saw his main mission for the Church and the world  in personal integrity, in an emotionally healthy person, coherent, transparent, and thus fully open to God’s grace. He understood that this was the most profound gift he could give to the Church: organic persons, who unite nature and grace in an exemplary, harmonious way, without forgetting weakness, sin and human limitations. That is why he gave such an important value to psychology in the pedagogical processes, which in his time, the Church could not understand.

The value of purity in Kentenich

For Fr. Kentenich, the Immaculate Conception is not only a devotion to be followed, but it is a profound ideal to be imitated from the smallest attitudes in life. One day he told a young adult, who would later become Sister M. Petra: “If you manage to form just one young woman as a little Mary, your life will have been an incredible success.

I think, whoever knows a Schoenstatt Sister of Mary can affirm with me that in their joy, service, inner freedom, generous attention to others, without eluding their obvious limitations, are in some way that presence of Mary in Kentenich’s ideal.

The truth can only emerge by taking into account the contexts

I have always said that it is very serious to judge a person by some elements that come up suddenly, and that do not agree with the certainties we had about that person. It should be no different with Fr. Kentenich. Everything must be analyzed in its historical contexts, without leaving any aspect aside, with an absolute attachment to the truth.

For my part, and evidently this is a personal opinion, after the reasonable doubts which are indispensable in every analyst and serious observer, I am certain of Fr. Kentenich’s holiness. I did not know him personally, but for more than 50 years I have interacted with countless people who have known him, and I can conscientiously say, all of them, without exception, have transmitted to me a paternal figure of Fr. Kentenich, with a pedagogy that helps to bring out the best in people, and a generous dedication to everyone who approached him. 

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Schoenstatt Celebrations in the Jubilee of its centennial with Pope Francis

Schoenstatt, hijo de la guerra

Sus hijos espirituales somos conscientes de que Schoenstatt tiene una misión profunda para la Iglesia, que está íntimamente unida a la persona de su fundador, y que está llamado a cumplirla en unión con muchos otros carismas. Schoenstatt fue fundado cuando ya había estallado la Primera Guerra Mundial, superó la Segunda ante los nazis, fue probada con el exilio del P. Kentenich, que finalizó con su liberación por Pablo VI. Schoenstatt ha afirmado a través del tiempo que es hijo de la guerra. Esto no lo hace ni mejor ni peor. Pero sabemos que no hay misión sin pruebas. Y cuanto más grande la misión, tanto más grande las pruebas. Esto vale para todos.

Personalmente creo que Dios permite este tipo de pruebas, en primer lugar, para mostrar nuestra tremenda debilidad humana. Somos de barro. Ni por un minuto podemos creer que algo es obra nuestra. Solo somos ínfimos instrumentos débiles. Pero a la vez, con la tremenda dignidad de los hijos de Dios, amados inmensamente y enviados a llevar el amor de Dios al mundo. En segundo lugar, tengo el convencimiento que Dios permite estas pruebas para despertar en la Iglesia el deseo de conocer profundamente el carisma del P. Kentenich. Tengo el íntimo convencimiento de que todo esto acelerará su proceso de canonización. Los caminos de Dios son misteriosos.

Rebelde de Dios

Un teólogo, periodista independiente de radio, televisión y periódicos y autor de biografías de grandes personalidades cristianas, el alemán Christian Feldmann, escribe: “No soy schoenstattiano. El P. Rudolf Amman intentó convencerme de que escribiese una biografía del fundador de Schoenstatt. A fin de tener argumentos convincentes para rechazar tal propuesta, me acerqué a José Kentenich. Pero mientras más lo conocía, más me entusiasmaba: me encontré con un sacerdote apasionadamente enamorado de Dios y de todas las personas desesperadas y desengañadas que giran en torno a sí mismas. Descubrí que con su ardiente entusiasmo arrasó la desesperanza del cristianismo contemporáneo. No se daba por satisfecho con tímidos planes a corto plazo, sino que soñaba con el pasado mañana de la historia, con una Iglesia rejuvenecida, de rostro resplandeciente, con un hombre nuevo y una sociedad humana, justa y pacífica.

¿Cómo logró este sacerdote de complexión no muy robusta superar sin amargura el campo de concentración, el confinamiento en un búnker hermético, el humillante destierro decretado por las autoridades romanas y catorce años de exilio, y hablar siempre con una sonrisa de la fe práctica en la divina Providencia? ¿De dónde sacaba fuerzas este hombre ya de edad avanzada? Esta es la increíble historia -capaz de quitarnos el aliento- de la alianza de amor entre Dios y este hombre llamado José Kentenich”.

Feldman terminó escribiendo el libro que quería evitar. El texto encomillado arriba es la introducción de su libro Rebelde de Dios, José Kentenich y su visión de un mundo nuevo.

 Revisado por el P. Ángel Strada, postulador de la causa de canonización del P. José Kentenich entre 1997 y 2017.

Zenit, 10 de noviembre de 2020

Enrique Soros es comunicador social, escritor, actúa como agente pastoral en la Arquidiócesis de Washington, en proyectos pastorales y comunicacionales en Pastoral de Conjunto en Estados Unidos y en Latinoamérica. Colabora con el CELAM, Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano, y es Consultor de la Comisión de Laicos, Matrimonio, Vida Familiar y Juventud de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de Estados Unidos.