The Miles Jesu Intervention: Through the Eyes of a Former Member

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Andrew Sullivan was a member of Miles Jesu for 28 years, a priest for seven years and served as General Secretary of the Society of Miles Jesufor four years.

Miles Jesu, a Catholic religious congregation underwent a visitation by the Vicariate of Rome in 2007 and later a Commissioner was appointed to take control and re-found the order. On July 28, 2010, Fr. Barry Fischer, C.PP.S, the Commissary, issued a Statement on the Situation of the Ecclesial Family “Miles Jesu”. Here is the official version: http://www.milesjesu.com/About_Miles_Jesu/Leadership.html  

In response to the above communiqué, Andrew Sullivan, who served in the general governance for ten years issued his own statement. He passionately desires to spread the truth about the “ecclesial family” and the investigation to spare people the suffering that he and others have experienced through their association with Miles Jesu.

Testimony of Andrew Sullivan Regarding the Investigation of Miles Jesu

My name is Andrew Sullivan. From 1979 to 2008 I was a member of Miles Jesu, a Catholic “religious congregation”. For about a decade, I was a member of the general government of Miles Jesu and for a few years the secretary of the general director, Fr. Alphonsus Duran. Besides, I served as the provincial of Miles Jesu for Eastern Europe for a few years and vocation director many times during a twenty year period. I was a Miles Jesu priest from 2001 to 2008.

I lived in the Miles Jesu residence in Rome, Italy from 1995 to 2007. The investigation of Miles Jesu began in June, 2007. Having an excellent viewing point for knowing the causes and effects of that investigation, I provided almost one hundred pages of sworn testimony, more than any other member of Miles Jesu, I believe.

Motivated by the recent public statement of Father Barry Fischer and by the publication of that statement regarding the investigation of Miles Jesu, I do this in response to Father Fischer’s encouragement that the truth be known. I will first offer some background information on the investigation and its outcome and then comment on Father Fischer’s news release.

The investigation resulted from a two-fold cause. As Miles Jesu superiors lacked the competency to handle my need for exclaustration, I was instructed by Archbishop Luigi Moretti, the Vice Regent for the Vicariate of Rome, to bypass Miles Jesu superiors and appeal directly to Cardinal Ruini, the external Superior of the diocesan institute of Miles Jesu. As instructed, on May 16, 2007, I exposed the grave reasons for my need to live outside of Miles Jesu and subsequently exposed the dysfunctional internal dynamics of the community. The document provided for the first time to legitimate external superiors over Miles Jesu, a viewing window of how Miles Jesu really operates, regardless of public orthodox appearances.

A few days later, the Vicariate of Rome and the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life received an urgent appeal for help from twelve Miles Jesu leaders. Their appeal disclosed a “critical situation” and asked for intervention to resolve “injustices” and “relieve great suffering … in the most charitable and prudent manner, under the guidance of the Church”. This document explicitly asked for a canonical investigation, saying that “it would be of great assistance in the present crisis”.

Subsequently, by June 25, 2007, with permission from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Vicariate appointed a Canonical Visitor to investigate Miles Jesu. Cardinal Ruini’s disciplinary decree cited the following reasons:

The inquiry will tend in particular to ascertain the well-foundedness of the alleged violations of canonical discipline, to verify the ways in which the ecclesial Family is being governed and the real functioning of its organs of government, as well as examine the community life of each religious in all its aspects – including the relations between them and with the Superiors – and the administrations of goods, in a special way those constituting the stable patrimony of the Ecclesial Family itself, with the drawing up of a detailed final report to present to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Rome, as well as to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, for those measures that will be held appropriate and necessary.

The documents that led to causing Cardinal Ruini’s decree advanced many strong reasons for a thorough investigation, including:

  • Citing a case involving French kissing, oral sex and masturbation, Fr. Duran was accused of sexual seduction and attempted sexual seduction of younger male members and candidates. The vicar director and other members were accused of cover-up.
  • Father Duran was indicated to be drug dependent upon pain medication and psychiatric medication. Accordingly, he was largely disconnected with reality, although with moments of lucidity. He was incapable of governing.
  • For many years, his governing manifested an ultra-authoritarian use of power, sociopathic symptomology, cult dynamics, and disregard for both canon and civil law. Besides, in imitation of the Masonic power structure, a secret Miles Jesu membership both protected Fr. Duran and assured that the future transition of power remained in the hands of his chosen successors.
  • The documents also clarified that Father Duran’s governing methods included keeping his subjects in ignorance and without studies. He instilled an anything goes kind of obedience that damaged members’ mental and physical health and ignored human dignity. For instance, he ordered members to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, give him enemas and administer drug overdoses.
  • While assuring members that his manner of acting and spiritual practices represented the best traditions of the Catholic Church, Father Duran’s standard governing methods were largely based upon the induction of fear and the use of deception, humiliation and manipulation. Under the standard of loyalty to the Pope, members of the hierarchy were manipulated to publicly support Miles Jesu, unaware of the internal governing methods of the group.

The documents supporting an investigation underlined that candidates were recruited under false pretenses and deceitful promises, such as the assurance of studying or becoming a priest or going to a particular country to do missionary work. Afterwards, no formation program existed to form recruits and uneducated and uninstructed new members were morally coerced to commit their lives to Miles Jesu. The constitutions were designed to assure maximum rights to the institute and barely any to individual members. Members ordinarily invested great amounts of time recruiting candidates, fund raising and trying to implement the latest erratic new ideas of Father Duran.

By the time of the investigation, dozens of members could be described as emotionally traumatized. Concretely, nine members were suicidal.

I only mention a few things here, the iceberg tip. To enter Miles Jesu was to fall into the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole of an experimental form of consecrated life that both escaped Church scrutiny and developed in a rogue way without ecclesial monitoring.

After an almost two-year investigation by Fr. Anthony McSweeney, Cardinal Vallini, the new head of the Vicariate, appointed Fr. Barry Fischer as the Commissary of Miles Jesu, on March 25, 2009. To this day, Fr. McSweeney’s investigative report remains a secret, unread even by the internal members of Miles Jesu. Fr. Giuseppe Tonello, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Rome, indicated to me that Fr. McSweeney’s report was about one hundred pages long. We can only guess as to the investigative conclusions and recommendations through the actions and statements of Father Barry Fischer.

Shortly after Father Barry Fischer took office he removed the entire Miles Jesu general governing apparatus. In a personal meeting with him, he mentioned to me that the Vicariate gave him the power to dissolve Miles Jesu if he wished. This implies the recognition of a drastic measure corresponding to an extremely high level of systematic dysfunctionality. Father Fischer chose to attempt to re-found Miles Jesu.

Lacking access to Fr. McSweeney’s report, its recommendations can only be implied by the sweeping mandate claimed by Fr. Barry Fischer. He was charged with defining the charism and spirituality of Miles Jesu, writing a new set of constitutions, developing vocation discernment and formation policies, reviewing the financial policies and completely revising the practices and customs of Miles Jesu. Father Barry Fischer told me personally that by the time he would be finished, history would consider him the real founder of Miles Jesu. Clearly, Fr. Fischer’s mandate implies hitting the restart button on a rogue institute.

Upon taking office, Father Barry Fischer almost immediately decreed the following: members now could travel and take walks all by themselves outside the community residences, i.e. without another member’s physical presence; members now could visit their families; members now would be allowed to study and work in secular jobs.

I would now like to comment briefly on Fr. Fischer’s statement regarding the Miles Jesu investigation.

It is a positive step that Fr. Fischer has parted the curtains, at least in generic terms, to let some truth out to the public about Miles Jesu. This is commendable. He justly publicly affirmed the courage and good will of the members who took matters to the Holy See.

At the same time, Fr. Fischer’s approach is both seventeen months late and still not transparent. His statement side-stepped the specific confirmations of the official investigation. The specific discoveries of the investigation should have been clearly stated.

Rather, Fr. Fischer chose to emphasize his personal experience, saying, “it has become clear and undeniable that the founder, Fr. Alfonso Duran, presented erratic behaviors that were totally beyond the scope of powers given to him”.

Father Fischer stated that “some of the allegations against Fr. Duran are hearsay and have not been verified”. The meaning and purpose of this line is ambiguous. Does this refer to ex-members claims of sexual abuse by Fr. Duran? It is unclear. Yet, even if the investigation did not emphasize sexual abuse, I know that highly credible testimonies were given that to Fr. Fischer documenting sexual abuse by Fr. Duran. Fr. Fischer chose to remain vague and silent on the issue. Such allegations still need to be verified and made public for the sake of healing both on individual and communal levels.

Father Fischer stated that, “I also am personally grateful for those members who had the courage to solicit intervention of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, thus bringing to light the situations under question”.

I only add here that the men who exposed Miles Jesu to the Holy See have not been treated by Fr. Fischer and Miles Jesu with the corresponding dignity and respect they deserve. After all the injustices they had endured for many years, these members were offered a relatively small conditional donation, not even compensation, made difficult to claim by bureaucratic red tape. Meanwhile, these escaping members suffered from a post-traumatic condition characteristic of ex-cult survivors.

Mindful of the utter failure of the experiment of Miles Jesu, and it was an experiment on innocent human lives, I believe it is valuable to consider lessons that may benefit history. Hopefully, Church leaders can learn from this catastrophic omission.

Consider the bare facts of the ongoing attempt to re-found Miles Jesu. The founder was replaced and publicly identified as someone not to be imitated. The founder and general director was deposed by Church authorities. The successor was removed from authority, subsequently seeking a laicization. The entire general government was stripped of governing powers. Many of the chief customs and practices of the institute were abolished. The constitutions of the institute were scrapped and subjected to a re-write from scratch. The founding charism had to be discerned and discovered. A formation program had to be developed for the first time in the institute’s forty-six year history. The chief policies regarding apostolates, finances and vocations had to be abandoned and re-worked according to the thinking of the Church. The replacement head, i.e. Fr. Barry Fischer was invested with the authority to dissolve the institute.

Based upon my twenty-eight year experience as a Miles Jesu insider, numerous conversations with many Miles Jesu members, and familiarity with the investigation and its aftermath, I wish to share a few personal opinions.

The consecrated vocation is a participation in the distinctive divine gift of a founder’s spirituality. As such, a member of consecrated life appropriately seeks holiness by imitation of a holy founder. For instance, St Francis of Assisi received the divine gift of a unique holy way of life. His followers shared in that gift by imitation not only of Christ, but of St Francis. This is how religious life is supposed to work to nurture holiness in its members.

In the case of Miles Jesu, imitation of the founder produced personal paths of destruction. Besides, Church authorities properly deposed the founder and denounced him as a bad example. Accordingly, I suggest that Church policy not artificially prop up any institution of consecrated life that lacks a truly exemplary founder. Otherwise, the members are deprived of an essential element of their consecrated vocation and a principle is established that may inadvertently invite unholy founders to flourish.

Any experiment that damages human lives should be shut down immediately. I see little reason to reorganize the laboratory to continue the Miles Jesu experiment. I believe it would be better to transparently disclose the experiment’s failing results, dismantle the laboratory, and let history learn from a colossal mistake. Truth demands recognition and respect to produce its healing.

The new salvaged Miles Jesu may be hardly recognizable after Father Fischer’s sweeping pass with Ockham’s razor. Miles Jesu retains a few dozen professed members, mostly uneducated, and a handful of genuinely good ideals. However, the remaining members represent broken men and women in need of psychological and spiritual healing. I believe that an environmental change would be more conducive toward healing than to hit the institutional restart button. Perhaps it would be best to help the remaining members to discover healing in already healthy environments, instead of trying to build a healthy environment with broken people.

I propose that Church authorities establish the means to more effectively monitor new forms of consecrated life and make it impossible for rogue new institutions to fly underneath the radar of Church scrutiny. The law that allows for new experimental forms of consecrated life, i.e. canon 605 should include provisions that protect innocent vocations from possible abuse by unqualified new founders.

After a lengthy investigation, the appropriate Church authorities concluded that Miles Jesu merited to be dissolved. It’s confusing why these same authorities then withdrew from dissolving Miles Jesu. Why?

Fr. Duran taught that institutions outlive individuals. He preached that in adversity, shrewdness and patience would gain all things. He repeatedly underlined that our Lord taught his apostles to be as cunning as serpents. Such indoctrination permeates the blood of Miles Jesu I hope and pray that naivety will not witness the resurrection of the old Miles Jesu. There are resistant members of the old guard in the group.

I act independently in making this statement. I do so with the hope of sounding a warning to any young man or woman considering joining Miles Jesu. Additionally, every supporting hierarch, benefactor, and internal member of Miles Jesu has a right to know the truth about Miles Jesu. I hope and pray that my testimony will contribute toward healing. Cancer cannot be treated properly unless it is specifically diagnosed.

Andrew Sullivan was a member of Miles Jesu for 28 years, a priest for seven years and served as Vice General Secretary for two years.