The Communion and Liberation ecclesial movement acknowledged on Tuesday that the movement’s former U.S. leader has been accused of sexual and psychological abuse against young adults and minors, and that the movement’s officials initially failed to respond appropriately to allegations.
“[W]e believe the moment has come for a more public account of a situation that deeply wounded some of our communities,” said an Oct. 31 letter posted to the Communion and Liberation website.
“We sincerely apologize to the victims, families and community members harmed by these evil acts. We are truly grateful to the victims, families and community members who had the courage to bring these events to light.”
The open letter is signed by Fr. Michael Carvill, the North American Responsible for Communion and Liberation, and by Steve Brown, president of the Human Adventure Corporation (HAC), a non-profit which coordinates the activities of CL in the United States.
The letter recognizes multiple accusations of abuse and misconduct made against Christopher Bacich, former CL national coordinator, with alleged incidents occurring between 1997 and 2018.
Bacich, 53, was a member of the Memores Domini association of celibate Communion and Liberation members.
While the letter did not specify how long he led the Communion and Liberation movement in the U.S., The Pillar confirmed Bacich was national leader from at least 2006 until at least 2013, when Bacich announced that he would resign from his leadership positions, while remaining a member of the movement.
The Oct. 31 letter said that Bacich was accused of “sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, psychological abuse, and boundary violations perpetrated against some young adults and minors in our communities over an extended period of time.”
Bacich was the only perpetrator accused in the allegations received by the organization, it said.
According to the letter, Bacich was initially accused of abuse in 2018. While he denied the allegations, Communion and Liberation reported them to law enforcement officials, and contracted a law firm to conduct a review, which concluded that the allegations were “substantiated” and “based on credible evidence.”
In 2019, Bacich was banned from CL activities and resigned from the movement, even while maintaining that he was innocent of wrongdoing. CL members were notified of the allegations and investigations which had taken place up to that point, the letter said.
But after Bacich’s 2019 resignation, two more abuse allegations were reported to the movement, were investigated, and determined to be “substantiated.”
As of press time, neither Bacich nor CL have responded to The Pillar’s request for comment.
The letter said that both ecclesial and civil law enforcement officials have been notified of the allegations.
“To our knowledge, no criminal charges have been filed to date,” the letter said.
It does not seem likely that Bacich will face canonical charges for his alleged abuse.
While 2021 changes to the Code of Canon Law make more likely the canonical prosecution of lay people who abuse ecclesiastical offices or commit acts of abuse while serving in Church leadership positions, those changes do not apply to crimes committed prior to their promulgation.
It is not clear what prompted the publication of the Oct. 31 letter, but Carvill and Brown wrote that they had decided after meetings with victims over the past year that a more public account of the situation was necessary.
The letter stressed CL’s commitment to preventing abuse and reiterated its willingness to help abuse victims.
It also voiced regret about the way allegations against Bacich were handled.
“At times, those to whom concerns were reported were slow to believe and respond to the accounts presented to them,” the letter said.
“If certain evils happened within our community, they did so partly because the environment lacked safeguards specifically designed to detect and prevent such abuse.”
But Carvill and Brown said they believe CL has addressed some of its abuse prevention issues.
“We sincerely hope that by acknowledging that abuse indeed took place and that it inflicted great harm, we might provide some solace to victims and help them find healing. We also hope to dispel any remaining doubts, ambiguities, or fear in our communities by informing you of the steps we have taken to provide support for victims, to be ever more vigilant, and to prevent this from happening in the future.”
The letter said that CL leadership in the United States published policies for protecting minors in 2020. The policies include child protection training, a code of conduct, and required background checks for those working with minors in CL.
In addition, it said, CL has created a Committee for the Protection of Minors to investigate allegations of abuse and misconduct.
In the mid-1980s, Bacich’s family, living in California, were instrumental in helping to spread the Communion and Liberation ecclesial movement in the United States, with Chris eventually joining the Memores Domini association.
In a 2012 interview, Bacich said that American members of Communion and Liberation have a “real willingness to grapple with the real life, everyday culture in which we live, while showing no fear, like Pope John Paul II said, ‘Be not afraid.’”
“People who have encountered Jesus Christ through Communion and Liberation, and I'm sure I can speak for many of us, recognize that the encounter with Christ, and his presence in our life, is the answer to this desire for a life that is better, that is great, that is worthwhile and fruitful,” he added.
Communion and Liberation is formally a lay association of pontifical right, but is most often described as an “ecclesial movement,” and is based upon the spirituality and catechetical method of Fr. Luigi Giussani, who was a Milanese priest. It emphasizes friendship and engagement with culture for both Catholics and non-Catholics.
The movement was approved in 1982 as an association of the faithful, and has a global footprint, with Catholics attending CL “Schools of Community” in countries around the world. The movement has spawned a religious institute of women, a clerical society of apostolic life, and Memores Domini - branches of celibate men and women who live in common homes.
Communion and Liberation has faced controversy in recent years over the movement’s governance in Rome, with Vatican Cardinal Kevin Farrell appointing last year Davide Prosperi to a five-year term as CL’s leader, and canceling an expected election for the leadership of the ecclesial movement.
Prosperi had served as interim president of CL since the 2021 resignation of its previous leader, Fr. Julián Carrón.
In November 2021, Carrón said he was stepping down “to favor that change of leadership to which we are called by the Holy Father” after Farrell’s department issued a decree calling for regular changes of leadership in all ecclesiastical movements. Carrón had led the movement since the death of the movement’s founder, Fr. Luigi Giussani.
In 2020, Memores Domini was placed by Farrell’s dicastery under the care of now-Cardinal Gianfranco Ghirlanda, SJ, a senior canon lawyer, after Farrell said the association had been slow to make needed reforms to its governing documents. The next year, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Filippo Santoro of Taranto, Italy - who had longstanding affiliation with the CL movement - to assume governance of the association, with Ghirlanda still tasked with a canonical reform of its governing structures.
Prosperi was appointed the movement’s interim president to help oversee a reform of the movement, its statutes, and the election of a new president.
But in a letter last year, a copy of which was obtained by The Pillar, Farrell said he had decided on a different direction, after concluding the membership could not be relied upon to elect a suitable leader.
“First of all, I would like to specify that the doctrine of the ‘succession of the charism’ proposed and nurtured during the last decade within CL by those in charge of management… is seriously contrary to the teachings of the Church,” Farrell wrote.
The cardinal said that there was within CL “an undue and misleading attempt at appropriation and personalization of the charism by those who have the role of guide; from this would derive a self-referentiality that is not admissible in the Church,” — amounting to the idea that the president of the movement personally inherited the mantle and authority of the founder.
But some members of the movement have told The Pillar that the alleged issues addressed by the Vatican have been overblown, and mostly concerns personality clashes within CL, rather than theological or ideological disagreement.
In August, 52-year-old Memores Domini member Andrea Davoili was arrested in Venice, Italy, and is facing charges for the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl in the Italian city of Rimini.