France: Word of Life Religious Community Will be Closed

Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, Archbishop of Malinas-Brussels, has decreed the closure of the religious community Word of Life (Verbe de Vie) after his canonical visitation in early 2022. 

Gaudium Press English Edition

Newsdesk (28/06/2022 9:30 PM Gaudium Press) Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, Archbishop of Malinas-Brussels and responsible for the French Word of Life Community, decided for the dissolution of the religious community in a communiqué published on June 25th.

The decision was made after a canonical visitation made between January and April 2022. The visitation began thanks to the request of the community’s council right after the resignation of the community’s general moderator in 2021.

Radical decision to close

In all, 200 people were heard by the three canonical visitors. According to the statement from the French diocese of Châlons-en-Champagne, the complete dissolution of the community is based on the finding of a “serious and systematic malfunction since the foundation.”

“All attempts to specify the charism, to give a stable rule of life, to ensure a serene government, and to guarantee within the Word of Life respect for each person and trust, have failed,” explains the statement from the diocese that is home to one of the main communities of the Word of Life, the Abbey of Andecy.

Support for the members of the community

Cardinal De Kesel appointed Msgr. François Touvet, Bishop of Châlons, as administrator of the Word of Life until its dissolution on July 1st, 2023.

Five teams will be placed at the disposal of the members of the religious community to assist them regarding spiritual and consecrated life, and psychological, canonical and juridical, administrative and financial consultation.

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The intention is that the members will be listened to in order to allow for individual support and a new personal orientation for each one.

Problems and report of the first visit

Cardinal De Kesel’s decision, comes after the second canonical visit to the community. The first visit was carried out in 2002 by Bernard Charrier, Bishop of Tulle. In the report, the bishop pointed out the lack of formation and rules of religious life, the weariness of the members, the lack of attention to the personal capacities of the members, and financial shortcomings.

The direction of the Word of Life community showed problems right from the start of its existence, when the founding couple, George and Maria-Josette Bonneval, were accused of spiritual abuse and manipulation towards the members of the community.

After the first visitation, the Bonneval’s were removed from the community. They tried to start a dissident community before moving to Brazil where they founded a Verbo da Vida community.

Father Jacques Martin, a former worker priest, also figures in the list of the community’s problems. The priest was spiritual director of Verbo da Vida from 1986 to 2013. Accused by several women of sexual assault, the priest died in 2019, prohibited from exercising the Sacrament of Confession.

Large number of dissidents

Since 2003, under the governance of Olivier Belleil, the Word of Life community has experienced a large number of dissidents. Still, the community received approval in 2010 as a Private Association of the Faithful, with incardination in the Diocese of Maline-Bruxelles since 2010.

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The communiqué from the diocese of Châlons ends by expressing understanding for the pain and emotion of all the members of the community in the face of such a decision, and reinforces that the support teams are at the service of all. (FM)

Compiled by Roberta MacEwan

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