The strange case of “His Eminence” Bell
Date: August 9, 2012
MONSIGNOR BELL WITH THE POPE
A tough clash has broken out between the Bishop of Fiesole and Leo XIII’s “Tridentine” congregation, whose superior, the “Archbishop of London”, is not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church and is cursing
The media often report on news to do with the negotiations between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X, founded by Mgr. Lefebvre, who in his lifetime only consecrated four bishops without a papal mandate, in 1988. Their excommunication was lifted by Benedict XVI in January 2009. Even less is said or known about the hundreds – some say a thousand – of “episcope vagantes” wandering around the world: bishops who have been illicitly consecrated as Christian bishops and who thus have apostolic succession but are not in communion with the Pope and as such are formally schismatic.
The Diocese of Fiesole has come under the spotlight in recent weeks because its Bishop, Mario Meini issued a decree for the dissolution of the private association of faithful, the “Clarisse del Cuore Immacolato di Maria” (Clares of the Immaculate Heart of Mary), a new monastic community founded in 2008 and based in the convent of St. Francis, in San Giovanni Val d’Arno, Italy, offered by the Franciscans.
The decree outlines the gripes of faithful and Franciscans and refers to real estate projects that have “raised a great deal of confusion.”The nun’s collaborators have responded by presenting a letter signed by Bishop Meini, himself, in which authorises them to help the new community. They say the real reasons for the dispute are quite different and are to do with affairs relating to the diocesan clergy.
What really brought the case into the limelight was the hospitality the nuns showed to Bishop David Bell – who uses the title “Eminence”, reserved for cardinals, referring to himself also as “Archbishop of London” – superior of the Roman Catholic Society of Pope Leo XIII, a traditionalist group that celebrates the Tridentine Mass and has numerous bishops (at least twenty of which were consecrated by Bell himself).
The “Archbishop of London” celebrated a diaconal ordination in the monastery of San Giovanni Val d’Arno, conferred the Orders to two Italians: Michael Upmann (journalist and spokesman for Leo XIII in Italy) and Antonio Fabbroni.
Both were apparently also ordained priests later on by the congregation’s superior.
Bishop Meini responded almost immediately. After verifying with the Vatican Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he issued a communiqué stating that Bell is not a Catholic bishop in communion with Rome, quoting the words of the former Holy Office. He pointed out that Bell has “committed a schismatic act” and that both he and the two ordained priests have incurred excommunication.
Bishop Meini’s communiqués do not question the validity of “Mr. David Bell’s” Episcopal ordination but recall that it does not constitute communion with the Pope. London also sent an immediate, sour and tough response, saying that in the space of a few hours “Archbishop” Bell has indeed prepared a “curse” against Bishop Meini, asking God to “forgive his mistakes,” reeling off the Council of Trent Canons on the validity of Episcopal ordination. Just to add to this, Bell put down on paper his conviction that Messini was a bad bishop “who wears the mitre of Satan.”
But who is David Bell and what is the Roman Catholic Society of Pope Leo XIII really? Bell is a forty two year old Englishman who was ordained priest and then bishop within the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church (ICAB). ICAB is a group that was created in Brazil during the 30’s and was made up of priests and a bishop who did not want to follow the teachings of Pius XI against communism. Over the years, ICAB has adopted certain old Catholic positions, refusing to recognise the dogma of papal infallibility imposed by the Second Vatican Council and opening up to the idea of priests being able to marry. Today in Brazil, the ICAB has a number of bishops and communities which celebrate new marriage ceremonies for divorcees who wish to remarry.
It was ICAB’s superior, the elderly “patriarch” Luis Fernando Castillo Mendez, inappropriately referred to as “cardinal”, who consecrated Bishop Bell in 2006, proclaiming him “cardinal” in 2009, shortly before he passed away. Mendez had been in contact with the Holy See at the end of the 80’s but had not yet accepted John Paul II’s outstretched hand.
A video of Bell’s consecration ceremony is available on YouTube. Both the international and Italian Society of Pope Leo XIII websites regularly publish photographs of Bell kissing the Pope’s hand during one of the Wednesday Audiences in June 2011. There is even one image of the bell and another bishop from the congregation apparently co-celebrating mass in St. Peter’s Square.
The images of “His Eminence the Archbishop of London David Bell” before Benedict XVI aim to show that the bishops of the Society of Pope Leo XIII are Catholics and Romans and faithful to the Pope. The website also publishes Bell’s papal blessing certificate, which any Catholic can obtain from the Office of Papal Charities or from certified shops around St. Peter’s. But one only need take a quick look at the documents published on the congregation’s international website to realise that its bishops are not in communion with Rome.
Vatican Insider spoke both to the abbess of the monastery of San Giovanni in Val d’Arno, Sister Maria Michela (Elisabetta Negra) and to the spokesman for the Italian branch of the Society of Pope Leo XIII, Michael Upmann. Both spoke of “direct and continuous contact with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.”
In particular, Upmann underlined that the specific constitutions of the Society’s Italian branch, which was founded by Bell and has new headquarters in the city of Bologna, are completely faithful to Catholic doctrine and obedient to the Pope. “A process is underway – Upmann explained – and Archbishop Bell has asked to enter into communion with Rome. We intend to submit ourselves to the Pope’s authority.” The congregation therefore hopes to obtain canonical recognition. “Benedict XVI’s meeting with Bell and other bishops of the congregation – the Society’s spokesman concluded – was not a coincidence; it was planned.”
But if the Society wants to submit itself to the Pope’s authority and enter into communion with the Roman Catholic Church, it certainly has a funny way of showing it, going ahead and celebrating illicit Episcopal, priestly and diaconal ordinations and attacking legitimate diocesan bishops who in accordance with the Code of Canon Law forbid these celebrations, warning faithful not to participate in them.