Agreement between Cardinal Damasceno and parents of minors living with the Heralds of the Gospel: A “legal report of tranquility.”

Gaudium Press spoke with two mothers who participated in the conciliation process with the Cardinal at the Bogota Chamber of Commerce.  

Newsroom (22/11/2021 11:40 AM Gaudium Press) The conciliatory Agreement reached in Bogota, Colombia, last September 29 between Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis and parents associated with the Heralds of the Gospel regarding the issue of schools, seems to have brought peace and tranquillity to a sensible controversy, one more of the many disturbing ecclesial and civil society.

As widely reported by Catholic media, last June 22, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, decided that “all minors admitted in any capacity to the Private Association of the Faithful Heralds of the Gospel must return to live with their families and be entrusted to their respective parents.” This decision was communicated on August 10 by the Commissioner of the Heralds, Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis on behalf of the Cardinal Prefect.

What were the motives for such an extraordinary and radical measure? “To prevent possible abuses of conscience” including “plagiarism against minors”; the existence of families “excluded from the lives of their children”; contacts with parents “not sufficiently guaranteed” and an “excessively rigid discipline practiced in the communities of the Heralds of the Gospel.” These charges would be very serious if they were real and should first concern the minors’ families.

Parents react

However, since then, a very different reality has emerged. Indeed, The very parents of the minors directly affected by the “decisum” of the Prefect of Religious showed perplexity and indignation at the radical measure. They wanted and even demanded that the Heralds continue their educational activities, as they have been doing until now, in complete harmony with the Catholic orientation of their schools.

As reported by the Catholic media, the Association of Mothers and Parents of Student Arautos (AMPARE) from Brazil addressed an Open Letter to Cardinal Braz de Aviz. 

In this letter, the parents presented to the Cardinal the challenging situation they were experiencing and asked him to stop attacking their choice and that of their children because “they have the right to follow the path they have chosen and we bless them! They have the right to remain in their friendship circles!”

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Furthermore, the concerned families organized a signature campaign with 2,583 signatures from parents of the minors in support of AMPARE’s request; adding that the measure in question outraged the parents’ natural right over their children’s education, as well as canon and civil legislation that “guarantees the exercise of parental authority.” The Open Letter, and the signatures, was presented to the Holy See on September 2.

Moreover, parents sought other channels to defend their rights, and in several countries, they opened legal actions

In Colombia, parents requested an audience with Cardinal Damasceno and the representative of the Heralds of the Gospel before the Arbitration and Conciliation Center of the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce (an entity authorized by that State to reach agreements that avoid civil or criminal lawsuits) to reach a satisfactory agreement.

Gaudium Press spoke with two of the mothers who participated in the session.

Testimony of two mothers

Mrs. Sonia Peña Espitia was one of them. Sonia is an economist who has two children in Heralds’ schools. Both of her children live in the houses of the Heralds of the Gospel.

When she learned of the Decree forcing the minors to leave the Heralds’ houses, she had feelings of “indignation” and “impotence.” Sonia’s daughter has been at the school for six years and her son for five. Changing institutions would have been very traumatic for the youngsters.

She says that the education given by the schools is “deeply Catholic, where the preservation of the innocence of children is paramount.” In addition, “the academics are excellent, with the best teachers, adding that the same could be said of the focus on musical and language development. The children are protected by people of integrity”, she stressed.

“We took advantage of the fact that the commissioners of the Heralds, the cardinal who signed the decree about the schools, were here in the country, and we requested a conciliation process,” recounted Sonia. “As parents, we noticed that the right of parental authority that we have over our children was being crushed, (…) based on questionable information without any legal or real basis. We asked them to clarify, to show us, the proofs of what they were stating in the Decree of Cardinal Braz de Aviz.”

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Finally, in the act of conciliation, equivalent to a judicial sentence, “His Eminence Cardinal Damasceno signed the document where he affirms that there is, in fact, no information regarding any family with has children in the schools, speaking of the existence of a ‘rigid discipline,’ or that there is any abuse. It doesn’t exist, there is no proof, it’s not a decree that could be enforced in Colombia”, she stresses.

According to Sonia, the reputation of families with children in these schools was also being affected; the credibility of the donors and the name of the schools were being slandered. “Our expectation, regarding the conciliation, was to invalidate the Decree: first, because it was not based on any truth; and second, because the schools being private in scope, rendered the Decree irrelevant according to our Colombian laws.”

The signing of the conciliation agreement brought “great tranquility to the teachers, to the donors, and to the associations that are part of the schools; and also tranquility to the families, because now their children can continue to receive the integral formation that they have today,” concluded Sonia.

Yulieth Velásquez González, an organizational psychologist, also shared Sonia’s views. She also participated in the conciliation hearing held at the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce as a mother of children who receive the educational formation encouraged by the Heralds of the Gospel.

Yulieth told Gaudium Press that what motivated her daughters to study and receive this education were precisely the characteristics of the charism of the Heralds present in these schools. 

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When the Agreement came into effect, these very points were ratified in Yulieth’s spirit: “We were totally convinced that this would be the outcome. When we are aware that things are right, when we are not doing anything wrong, when we are not hiding anything, and when things are being done in the right way, we are sure to be doing the right thing. We were aware that the Decree was not applicable to Colombian laws,” she recounted. “In the end, Justice was done.”

Yulieth confirms that after the conciliation, both parties showed satisfaction and peace of mind. “I believe that the conciliation agreement has set a precedent on a worldwide level, in the sense that we cannot have a passive attitude in face of injustice. Although we in the Church are gentle and docile people, we cannot be docile in face of injustice. We must respond. We must defend the Faith and take a stand.”

“res judicata”: the issue cannot be addressed again

According to Colombian law, the Agreement is a final decision and is considered as res judicata. In other words, it means that this controversial issue cannot be addressed again. The Agreement signed at the Conciliation Center of the Bogota Chamber of Commerce on September 29, bearing the signature of His Eminence Cardinal Damasceno, has binding force. It obliges the parties to comply with the provisions agreed upon and provides for “executive merit.” If one of the parties breaks the Agreement, the other party can resort to the judicial system to fulfill its rights.

Finally, the Agreement establishes that “DECREE No. 29/2021 [concerning minors housed in Heralds’ houses] does not apply to or impede the development of the educational project” held by the Alcázar Campestre and Pilares del Castillo schools in cooperation with the Heralds of the Gospel in Colombia.

Indeed, as Gaudium Press noted at the beginning of this article, the document has brought peace and serenity to a sensitive controversy, one more of the many riveting ecclesial and civil society. 

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