What matters to me is the “canonization of truth”. Everything else is secondary for me at the first instance.
Father Joseph Kentenich was concerned not with the canonization of his person, but with the "canonization of truth":
find a useful pastoral to help people today, develop their personality, recognize their mission to the world, and use all God-given abilities to do so. Father Angel Strada got to know and appreciate the Schoenstatt founder in the last three years of his life. After that he was postulator in his beatification process for 20 years until 2017. In the interview, he comments on some questions that are currently moving people in the Schoenstatt family and beyond.
Father Strada, over the past 20 years as a postulator for the beatification, you have collected, ordered, translated and prepared documents for the process of Father Joseph Kentenich. Can you say something about the scope and also the content classification of these documents?
Father Kentenich had a long life and great creativity. He wrote and preached very much in many different countries. There are 32,000 documents in the beatification process that were scattered across different countries: letters, expert reports, writings, studies. Rome was asked if they had so much space for this amount of paper. They suggested that the process History Committee make a selection. It has worked for 8 years and compiled 8,000 documents, around 70,000 pages. Schoenstatt and external persons worked together in the History Commission.
Is the media talking about alleged moral misconduct by Father Joseph Kentenich, founder of Schoenstatt? What did you find in the files?
In the files viewed so far, there is not a single trace that would indicate a case of sexual abuse. If there is convincing evidence in the documents of the previous Secret Archives in Rome that clearly demonstrate abuse, then the Church must decide to end the beatification process. That will find our full support.
Do you find anything about abuse of power in the files?
What one finds are statements by a few sisters who felt that Father Kentenich treated them harshly, unfairly or misunderstood. These statements are to be taken seriously, but in a community of 1,500 members at the time, one cannot expect that everyone agrees with everything and feels understood.
The media claim that the alleged sexual abuse was the real reason for the exile of the founder. Was this reason ever communicated to Father Kentenich and to the movement?
There is not a single word about sexual abuse in the documents that are available to us and that we have shared with the beatification process. If there is anything about it in the new documents, which we do not yet know, the new History Commission will examine this critically.
How did Father Kentenich learn that he had to be exiled and what was the reason given to him?
There are various decrees by Visitator Tromp, the Holy Office and the General Superior of the Pallottines, each with different contents. According to the Holy Office, some developments in Schoenstatt had to be corrected. They said that this is not possible when Kentenich is there because he is “unteachable”. A document also takes up the claim of some bishops that Father Kentenich suffered “roof damage” when he was in the Dachau concentration camp. In the requested psychological report, the doctor appropriately attested: A person who comes back from the concentration camp with such work-force, with such a spirit, with such motivation is perfectly normal.
What documents of the Vatican are there in which Father Kentenich’s rehabilitation is pronounced and are these documents publicly available?
There is no document on this. The Holy Office had no practice of issuing annulment documents. There is only one document to repeal a decree against a Dutch woman, and only because of the pressure from the Dutch bishops. Henri de Lubac SJ, an important theologian of the time, also received no cancellation document. He took his “rehabilitation” from the fact that he was later appointed to the council theologian.
The rehabilitation of Father Kentenich can be seen from the following facts: he returns from Milwaukee to Rome and does everything with the knowledge of the Holy Office that was previously prohibited to him: e.g. He takes over the spiritual leadership of the Sisters of Mary and the Schoenstatt Movement again. On December 22, 1965, he received an audience with Pope Paul VI. The German bishops, who were asked individually by Bishop Hoeffner on the advice of Cardinal Antoniutti, agreed that he would come to Germany. They wish him many blessings and had a few words: hopefully he has calmed down. Cardinal Antoniutti received the positive answers from the German bishops from Bishop Hoeffner and gave Father Kentenich full freedom.
From December 1971, Cardinal Ottaviani, the prefect of the Holy Office, wrote a twelve-page document called “Memories of Father Kentenich” in which he asked for forgiveness and apologized for what had been done to Father Kentenich. His secretary, later Cardinal Agustoni, gave a very positive testimony about Father Kentenich.
A natural reaction from many members of the movement is: “Go to the archives in Rome and have a look at the files yourself.” Can you or the postulator, Father Eduardo Aguirre, simply not do this to check for yourself whether there are actually new facts, which weren’t already known?
Bishop Ackermann from Trier is in the process of setting up and appointing a History Commission to process the new documents and they will investigate the secret archive of Pius XII. Father Eduardo Aguirre had tried to gain access to the secret archive earlier this year, then Corona came and there was nothing he could do. He is currently in Rome and is looking for files.
The public is asking that all files be put online and thereby create transparency. Are there other documents that Schoenstatt could make available beyond what you know and what was handed over to the Church as a collection of files on the process of beatification?
No, there are no more. With good will and a lot of work, we researched documents in 120 civil and church archives in Germany and abroad. I really cannot imagine that there are other documents.
Now that the documents have been released for inspection in Rome, I hope that we will be able to view these documents soon, and not only those until 1958, but also the next 10 years until 1968, until the death of the founder.
The researcher, who got the upcoming requests to Father Kentenich rolling, names a group of eight sisters, among them the former Superior General, who would have passed on criticism toward Father Kentenich to Trier and Rome.
Yes that’s true. These letters are also part of these 8,000 documents that were passed on for the beatification process. There is also a letter from the Superior General to Pope Pius XII in which she writes that she has no doubt about the moral integrity of the founder, the question is whether a successor would also exercise the office in a morally perfect manner. She also expresses that it bothers her, that there are sisters who would idolize the founder. However, that would not come from the founder, but from the sisters.
Why was it important to Father Kentenich that he was a father for his communities?
He also knew from his own experience that people who have strong and healthy bonds with other people can form strong bonds with God. It was precisely this forwarding to God that was important to him: the development of strong ties to God was important to him for the Movement. And he has no doubt achieved this bond with many members.
The media claim that the “Nihil obstat”, the declaration of no objection, i.e. the prerequisite for the initiation of the beatification process, was issued only on the basis of the documents submitted by the applicant. How do you see this process?
A letter from the Vatican State Secretariat to the Bishop of Münster, Heinrich Tenhumberg, is rated as “Nihil Obstat”. It says: “After a thorough examination of your request by the relevant papal authorities, I would like to point out that the bishop of Trier, as the responsible local bishop, can exercise his authority in accordance with canon law and carry out the information process if he sees that the requirements are fulfilled.” In the following years there were discussions about responsibility between different Vatican authorities in this matter. On January 11, 1991, the Trier bishop, Dr. Hermann Joseph Spital, who asks again about the Nihil Obstat, receives from the Congregation for the Beatification and Canonization Processes the decision: “After another examination, we want to inform your excellence that the Holy See sees no reason why the beatification process of the servant of God Joseph Kentenich, cannot be opened.”
What did Father Kentenich think of the canonization of his person? Was he interested in it?
No, he was not concerned with the canonization of his person, but with the “canonization of truth”. He wrote in 1951: “Whether holiness or not, it doesn’t matter. It is a question of whether truth is a marketable prostitute or whether everyone is called to pull their chariot without exception. In the same way, P. Tromp made me aware of this beforehand: if I were to be relieved of my office now, I should expect to be canonized later. Many others felt the same way in a similar situation. My answer is the same: it depends on the canonization of truth. Everything else is secondary to me. ”
It is too personal to ask how you are dealing with the whole thing now. Does that affect your relationship with him?
If I can meet Father Kentenich in heaven in the mercy of God, I will be very happy. But then I have some questions for him. For example, I would ask him why he struck a hard tone in his conversations with Trier.
That doesn’t go well with completely different experiences that many people have had with him. There he is described as turned toward them, encouraging, in no way authoritarian, uplifting and very sensitive.
Yes, the boys with whom he started in the House of Studies saw him as a person who, like a mother, also took care of the small needs of everyday life.
In defense of his teaching and his cause…
… then he was hard, yes. But in contact with people, he was kind and interested and devoted. That’s how I experienced him.
So saints are people who are exemplary in certain areas, but who can also have mistakes?
Holiness does not mean flawlessness. Saint Peter denied Jesus. Saint Paul persecuted Christians. Francis of Assisi has led anything but a holy youth. … Only the angels can be without mistakes.
Thank you very much, Father Strada for the interview.
Interview: Claudia and Heinrich Brehm