The Cistercian abbey linked to the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (Santa Croce in Gerusalemme), one of the most revered basilicas in Rome, has been suppressed by a decree of the Holy See, following the results of an apostolic visitation that investigated allegations of improprieties.
The Cistercians had been at Santa Croce for nearly five centuries, since 1561, and at one stage the Abbot of Holy Cross was also the Abbot General of the entire order. Also, until quite recently the basilica was actually considered a success story in some circles. According to journalist John Allen, “the consensus was that a renaissance was unfolding under Cistercian Abbot Simone Maria Fioraso, an ecclesiastical mover and shaker if ever there was one. Vocations were growing, and the basilica had become a crossroads for Italian nobility, political VIPs, and pop culture icons.”
A few years ago, however, rumors surfaced that something wasn’t quite right. Some critics charged that Fioraso, who was removed a couple years ago by Vatican, seemed more interested in cozying up to social elites than in the traditional disciplines of the monastic life, while others raised questions about money management, especially given that the monks ran a successful boutique and hotel, apparently without clear accounting of the revenue flows. Even worse, there were rumblings concerning “inappropriate relationships” carried on by some of the monks.
These rumblings led to the apostolic visitation, which culminated in the dramatic decision to suppress the abbey entirely and to send its 20 or so monks packing. The decree was signed by Brazilian Archbishop João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and by American Archbishop Joseph Tobin, his secretary. It was approved by Pope Benedict XVI.
This move is just the latest of decisive actions taken by Pope Benedict to address scandalous activity in some religious communities. May such efforts redound to the good of the Church and the authentic renewal of religious life.