This humble website exists to offer you information about the Focolare movement, information that you cannot find on the official website. As long as the people who have had problems with the Focolare are not heard and do not have a voice on the official website, this website will provide a platform. Here people can share their experiences, ask questions and give their opinions freely.
Here is an interesting question we have recieved:
Dear website team,
I regularly check your site (and recently also the OREF Facebook page) and questions keep popping up in my mind: I have been a volunteer of the Focolare movement for many years and have donated large sums of money within the framework of the community of goods donated. There was always an action, a charity or some reason to give. And many did with me! After reading La Setta Divina (particularly chapter 32) I understand all the more that the movement, with all movable and immovable property, has an enormous capital. But… who is actually in charge of all that money? The president?? Those responsible for the 'red'?? You are not telling me that 'Jesus in the middle' does the bookkeeping and has the last word in financial decisions.
People often talk about spiritual things, brotherhood, charism, living in unity…but isn't this a kind of 'smoke screen' to fool everyone?
What POWER is actually behind the movement?
By now I have the necessary distance from the movement, so now dare to ask this open question in all honesty. I'm very curious how you think about this.
Thanks in advance for any response,
Pierre F. (France)
Here are some experiences we have collected:
C. worked in a Mariapolis
Center as a cleaner, in the kitchen, in the distribution
of meals, at the reception in exchange only for room and
board. There was no INAIl coverage for accidents or INPS
for social security.
The working hours exceeded 48 hours of work per week, which theoretically would be the maximum allowed by the legislation.
On holidays or during breaks, housework had to be done in the Focolare, so in fact you never felt you had moments of rest or privacy to do something relaxing. During the holidays there was no possibility to choose the place to go, because everything was already established, the only possible choice was between sea and mountains. Visits to families were also established by the head of the Focolare.
M. worked in a public office. The salary arrived in his current account and the next day was transferred to the Movement for the needs of the Opera. Therefore, once he left the focolare he could not benefit from all the money he had earned during his working period.
L. lived in a Focolare, but due to her probably too determined and not very docile character she was invited to live outside the Focolare alone in an apartment, even if she had to always be accountable to the Focolare for all aspects of her life and her own work.
July 1rst, 2022
Six and a half months after La setta divina....
It seems that the strategy of ignoring and stalling is still the favorite choice of the movement.
Meanwhile, more and more people are
reaching out to us and to the new organization called
OREF, Organization Ex Focolari. For more information on
OREF, please look at their Facebook page.
Why and how did OREF start?
After the publication in Italy of
Ferruccio Pinotti's investigative book “The divine
sect", OREF - ORganizzazione Ex Focolari was born, with
the aim of investigating and recording cases of abuse of
all kinds by the Focolare Movement, which seem to be a
systematic problem, and to pursuing justice for the
victims. Many people contacted OREF to share their
experience of difficulties within the Focolare Movement.
The main objective of OREF is to offer,
to those who have moved away from the Movement or to
those who, despite being still inside, are experiencing
a situation of pain or crisis, a space for listening and
sharing, to face objectively, and with the support of
those who have lived the same experience, the problems
related to spiritual or property abuse.
OREF is an international organization that gathers members from various countries of Europe and America, who found in meeting and sharing the possibility of reworking the experience of totalitarian dedication to the Movement, which had led to psychological trauma and spiritual, difficult to overcome. In this meeting space we want to affirm the value of the dignity of the person, in the possibility of living the freedom of conscience and thought in a full and authentic path of realization.
Five and a half months after the release
of the book La setta divina....
When I was young, a few
times I went along to GEN-congresses in Rome and I still
remember well how special it was when Chiara gave a
speech. I was in a kind of hypnosis and could only look up
to her as someone who knew the answer to all my problems.
Did I need to cling to someone “beyond myself” in hopes of getting clarity in myself?? A strange confusing experience that has bothered me for years.
In the book La Setta Divina I read an interesting quote from the psychologist Miguel Perlado: “... movements like Focolare can become a psychological movement that should support and improve the health of the leader [...] The dynamics are very complex: there is a kind of deep exchange, a mutual transference between the foundress and the followers, one becomes important to the other and vice versa. A mutual dependence is created which is necessary on the one hand for the mental balance of the leader and on the other hand important for the follower because otherwise he does not know what to do with his life…”
Perlado's words make a lot clear to me, a confirmation of what I have dealt with in the past.
Rosa P. (Argentina)
Four and a half months after the release
of the book La setta divina....
The Focolare movement still has to come
up with an answer, but one of the contributors to the
book has written to our website and she has also
released a very interesting video on Youtube.
We are happy to share this news with all our readers.
My name is Monique van Heynsbergen, I am an ex focolarina from the Netherlands.
I would like to say a few things about the book LA SETTA DIVINA (The Divine Sect). The author and research journalist Ferruccio Pinotti has done an extraordinary job. He described the dark aspects of the Focolare Movement and explained the sectarian drifts. And I would say, he revealed the mysteries of the Movement.
In the book you also can read 18 testimonies (inclusive mine) of former members: very painful stories of different people from different parts of the world, victims who have suffered abuse on various levels, former members who tell what they experienced within the Movement and explain why they left. I read everything and I noticed that all these testimonies have similarities. It means that there is something general in the structure of the Movement, in the so-called "system of unity", that does not work, that does not fit!
I got to know that there were much more testimonies, but the book already counted 500 pages.... Well, I cannot speak for other people, I can only say something about my own personal experience: I got to know the Focolare Movement in 1965. One of Chiara Lubich's first companions, Graziella De Luca, was traveling to the Netherlands for her apostolic work and in that occasion my father met the Focolarini. A few weeks later, my father suddenly died of a heart attack. Some Focolarine, having our address, came to our house and my family, mother and four children, were invited to come to the Mariapolis. This was the start of a new chapter. I was 10 years old and I was very sad about the death of my father, all of us in the family were shocked. Near my school there was a house where Focolarine were living in a commune and I often went there after school. The Focolarine were so kind to me and gave me attention; because of the emptiness and the sad atmosphere at home, I wanted to stay more and more there in the Focolare, as a new family. I participated in the meetings of the Gen and I wanted to follow Chiara, to choose God in the first place in my life. Me too - as a Gen – I wanted to commit myself to unity. I did not realize that I was slipping into another world, into a "parallel reality".
One day, I was 13 years old, I received a note from Eli Folonari, Chiara's secretary. The note says:
(September 5, 1969) “Dearest Monique, Chiara has chosen for you the same name as hers: CHIARA. Are you happy? I wish you to be really a little Chiara. In unity, Eli.”
I really thought I had the vocation to be a Focolarina. Then, at the age of 19, I officially entered in the Focolare commune, but I didn't realize that I had joined a cult. I wanted to live for unity, but I did not realize that to reach such a lofty ideal I had to give up the most authentic of my being. How many times I have heard those famous words of Chiara, I still know them by heart. Some quotes: "Every soul of the Focolare has to be my expression and nothing else ...To live the Life that God has given them, they must be nourished by the God who lives in my soul ... They must therefore let themselves be generated by me "....(end quotes)
Yes indeed, we had to live "the Soul"....the soul of Chiara. How many times I have been told: "Monique must not exist"..."Monique must be dead". This was my "education" in the years of growth, in adolescence. And even if there were things I didn't understand, people said to me "It doesn't matter if you don't understand, as long as Chiara understands!" In addition, I grew up in a female system. This created confusion in me in juvenile development and adolescence, because the person responsible for me was a woman and in the life of unity the only point of reference. In a very subtle manner I was more and more in her power, as if she entered inside of me on an emotional, psychological and spiritual level. Even later, growing up, somebody else was still thinking for me. This created a deep dependence on my capo who represented Chiara. I was - so to speak -, "in love" with the person who kept me in prison and I did not know how to get out of this strong dependence. Outside of unity, outside of the Movement, who am I ???
At the age of 33 I felt so crushed, under pressure, that I wanted to end my days. I had the feeling of being two people: on the one hand I was the external Monique, the good Focolarina in the national center, the pseudo-personality. On the other side I was the inner Monique, the real one, the hidden one and... so lonely. I had to leave Focolare for not getting crazy.
Some time ago I have read a metaphor who says: being in a sect is the same as a fetus that is inside the mother's uterus. The mother feeds, and the fetus is very well, in a warm place and safe. But then, to become a real person you must get out of that uterus and learn to stand on your own feet.
Well, in 1988 I went out and in fact I had to learn many things in life… After a long road of ‘healing’ I can say that I am well, I have rebuilt a life, I am serene and happy. Even if I still live with consequences, underneath I am always living with a wound inside of me, that is part of my life, that made me the person I am now today. I speak of a wound because I see all those years in the Focolare as a great rape! Violence on my being, violence in my soul. I do not know how to say it differently ..... It was a painful road to be able to regain my autonomy, my dignity. It was a painful road to rediscover the strength of my soul. It was a painful road to finally discover my personal connection with the Creator .... and this no one can take away from me!
Details of my story are in the book of Ferruccio Pinotti, but believe me, to be able to write one single chapter, it took so many years. Every word has been suffered. The only job left for now is to forgive myself: I forgive myself, again and again, because I thought that in distant past I had made a sincere choice. I thought that life in the Focolare system was the real one. I forgive myself that in those years I made the wrong choice, because as a girl and as a young adult I did not have the human capacity, I did not have the mature discernment to do otherwise.
However, read LA SETTA DIVINA. Finally, with all my heart I would like to thank Ferruccio Pinotti, because his book function as a loudspeaker for so many cries in the desert.
In my opinion his work has a great importance!
Find the video of Monique in Italian here!
February 1rst, 2022
Two and a half months after the book La setta divina was published, there still has not come a serious answer from the Focolare movement to the people who have told their stories in this book. We are somewhat surprised about this, but we will continue to wait somewhat more...
In the past few days we received a lot
of letters and mails about the new book La setta divina.
It is not possible to put all the reactions here on
these websites of www.focolare.net and
but we will do our best to give our readers a general idea
of what is written to us.
Marian from Naples wrote: "I bought the book and I am now reading the first chapters. I am impressed by the introduction of Mr. Vignon. He writes about the way that Chiara formulates her vision of Unity in a letter dated November 1950: "Unity is therefore unity and only one soul must live: mine, that is, that of Jesus in our midst, who it is in me ». I heard this before and when I asked the focolarini about the meaning, they indeed used the magic word: "mystical".
The "Paradise '49" would be a text of such high mysticism that one would have to cover one's eyes and bury one's head in the sand to begin to reveal its intuitions. Pierre Vignon writes that an authority of the Vatican, in the 1950s, made it known that if these texts by Chiara Lubich had not been destroyed, the movement would not have been approved. Suddenly the text disappeared, only to reappear a few years after the end of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)".
Reading this and more in the introduction of this book makes me curious of what to expect in the other chapters. I will be happy to write again after I have read more of the book."
Some days ago we, the
people responsible for www.focolare.net and
received the book of Ferruccio Pinotti, 'La
setta divina', (The divine cult). We are
currently reading the book with great interest and care.
And even tough we are tempted to place a quick and general
reaction about the book on this website, we will only do
this after we have read the book completely. We have seen
many reactions to the book on the internet already and we
can't help but wonder how people are able to jump to
conclusions so fast, without giving the appearance of
having read the entire book....
Twenty odd years ago
someone posed the question on this website if the focolare
movement could be considered a sect. We have asked
ourselves this question for the past two decades and now
finally, November 2021, this book of mr. Pinotti seems to
give, after a hard and thorough investigation, an answer
that is bringing new life to this discussion. Whatever one
may think of the book, we believe that it must have taken
a lot of courage, both for mr. Pinotti and for those who
contributed to the book, to come forward and speak their
So, while accepting the
inevitable risk of leaving out some people, we are happy
to thank Ferruccio Pinotti, Pierre Vignon, Maria Iarlori,
Martina Castagna, Guido Licastro, Gordon
Urquhart, D.M. Fabbroni, Claudia Benvenuti, Matteo
Ricci, C. Sgaravatto, G. Rahoy, Lucia Zanier, Ursula R.,
Silvia Martinez, L. Palmier, Monique
Goudsmit, M. Collin, D. Lai and many others for
their contributions to this book about the focolare
This week (9th of November)
we will see the publication of a new book about the
Focolare movement. The title of the book will be 'La
setta divina' (The divine cult) and it is written by
Ferruccio Pinotti. This website will provide more
information about this book and the reactions from
different people who share their views about the book.
"In fact, the
intermingling of the sphere of governance and the
sphere of conscience gives rise to abuses of power and
the other abuses we have witnessed, once the cauldron of
these unpleasant problems has been uncovered." (Pope
On Saturday the 6th of February, Pope Francis gave a very useful and clear advice to the General Assembly of the Focolare movement. We are hopeful that this will help the movement to deal with the abuses of power that have happened in the past.
Soon we will publish on
this website the stories of some people who have
experienced a certain level of abuse.
Margaret Karram (58) is the
new president of the Focolare movement.
We sincerely wish her
wisdom and strength in the challenges that are in front of
her and the movement. The people of this website would be
happy to start a fresh new dialogue with the new president
about the process of healing and respect for all the
people who have been hurt in any way by the Focolare
movement or by individuals in the movement.
For the first time in history, the Focolare movement has offered its apologies for victims of abuse. " we would like to take this opportunity of a worldwide link to ask for forgiveness wholeheartedly, sincerely, of all the people who have been victims of any form of abuse" . (Jesus Moran).
This is only the first
step. People with complaints need to address a Central
Commission and follow a set of complicated
guidelines (19 pages). We hope that this will not
build another barrier for those who want to file a complaint. Please let us
know if we can be of any help.
If you speak Italian,
please look at this website:
Focolari e abusi for more information about the Focolare movement and Chiara Lubich.
Please visit our Guestbook,
to read what our visitors wrote and to leave your own
reaction. Thank you!
One of the letters we received in our guestbook recently:
My family was very active in the Focolare movement. Finally all the members of my family except me, who was rather hostile to it. It made me feel very isolated and marginal, and sometimes even judged, in my own family. I've been through a lot.
My parents became acquainted with the Focolare movement the year I was born and took me to the meetings of the movement as a child. I didn't like it, but I had no choice. After a few years, we settled close to a focolare and, from that moment on, the movement invaded our entire family-life. Everything, absolutely everything, revolved around religion, the Church, the pope, and above all the Focolaremovement, Chiara and its ideal. Members of the movement passed by almost every day. Meetings of the movement were sometimes held in our house. Chiara was completely adored. But above all, my father did not tolerate any thought that did not correspond to Catholic thought,the precepts of the pope or the ideology of Chiara. When we dared to evoke another opinion or any doubt, he reacted violently, with loud indignant cries and a sanctimonious speech imposing on us what to believe. As he was regarded as a good and respectable man on the outside, he became a true despot in our family. No dialogue was possible. Finally, the fear of expressing something he didn't like created a permanent tension. We couldn't, we didn't dare to express ourselves freely.
My parents had little contact with the outside world outside of their professional life. They were almost just people of the movement. The outside world was presented as evil, especially by my father who saw evil and temptation everywhere. As a teenager, all my contacts with the outside world were controlled and, very often, forbidden. We didn't have television. I was not allowed to listen to music in my room. There were only Catholic newspapers entering the house. My readings, music, film outings or other cultural, sports and leisure outings with classmates were severely controlled, censored and, more often than not, banned. The reasons for the refusals were not always clear to me: the organization was not Catholic; the activity, book or film was immoral; I could meet boys; the host was a man... Finally, it took courage to ask for an exit permit, as conflict and refusal were almost systematic. I remember, among other things, and for example, the virulent oppositions I encountered when, at the age of 16, I wanted to go to a concert by Alain Souchon and, at 22, enroll in an art school where I was going to draw nudes. In both cases, the attitude of my parents caused me such an internal conflict that I was sick of it.
Sexuality was taboo. My parents didn't talk about it at all, except in negative and reproachful terms tinged with a lot of mystery. I couldn't date boys. Love between man and woman was not addressed, only the love of neighbor and God. No flirtation allowed, pace boyfriend before graduation, no pre-marriage sex, no contraception. For my father, it was the woman who led the man into carnal sin. Men, on the other hand, were presented as poor being victims of their instincts and can hardly control them. All female coquettishness was therefore forbidden: no miniskirt, no bikini, no clothing that could be considered suggestive or provocative. Everything about the body was suspicious, its pleasures doomed. You couldn't hang out in the bathroom or in bed. In our family, physical contact was avoided. We didn't touch each other, we didn't kiss, we didn't hug each other. There was no physical display of affection.
There was little or no room for joy, lightness, laughter, humor, spontaneity, self-deprecation. Everything was taken seriously. The suffering was magnified, it allowed us to live 'Jesus forsaken'. We were educated with, continuously, Chiara's speeches that we must renounce ourselves, sacrifice ourselves, deny ourselves, ignore ourselves. You had to suppress your emotions, always smile, pretend everything was fine. It was God's will to be nothing, to want nothing, to live only in the service of God and others. We were just talking about love. But what love when I didn't get room to exist? I was a very happy little girl but, from my teens,I felt more and more crushed by the dark and heavy atmosphere that prevailed within our family. I was withering.
In 1980, I was present in Rome at Genfest. Just as the pope or Chiara (I don't know) shouted to the cheering crowd of young people, "So you are all ready to sacrifice for each other!" the crowd said yes, gloating. And I thought, "No, I don't want to sacrifice myself! I haven't experienced anything yet and I'm not allowed anything. I have nothing to sacrifice: I have already been sacrificed." Besides, who has the right to ask a young person to sacrifice himself?
So I wasn't in favor of the movement and as a teenager I went less and less to meetings. At the age of 14, I didn't want to go to Mass anymore. I was considered by my parents to be in a state of mortal sin, in perdition. The pressure was terrible. I went back until I was 16, stopped again, went back, and gave up for good when I was 18. But I felt bad in my own family.
One day, at the age of 19, I made the 'effort' of making pancakes on a Good Friday while my parents and sister were at the service. I wanted to celebrate the first night of the Easter holidays happily with my family. The pancakes were categorically refused because they had to fast. I found myself alone with my preparations in the kitchen, my parents having retreated to the living room in an accusatory silence and my sister having climbed into her room. I was devastated. And I was wondering, is this God's will? I dreamed of a Jesus knocking on the door, coming in and saying, 'Are there pancakes here?' and sitting down at my table to share them with me. I felt rejected and sacrificed by my parents in the name of their God, their religion and their ideal.
At the age when teenage girls discover the world, I lived locked up, deprived of all freedom, of all autonomy, of any possibility of expression, in absolute solitude, with parents for whom religion came first. I always felt them in judgment, repression and reproach. I had no one to confide in. I didn't dare talk about what was going on at home to my classmates,I was ashamed. And then I always thought maybe I was the problem. I thought I was mean and bad. I was doing everything I could to 'look' normal. I thought I would run away but I was too shy and the outside world scared me. I became an insomniac. I woke up at night with panic attacks because I felt like I had no power over my life, that I had no place to exist. I felt like 'life' and lots of opportunities were passing through my fingers. I became depressed. I begged God to take my life back. I thought about suicide, but I was afraid to go to hell. I was afraid of going crazy. I felt something was wrong, but was it me where my parents? I was in total confusion. Not so long ago, a psychotherapist told me that it was psychological abuse, that my parents had done everything to prevent me from being myself and that I had been lucky not to have fallen into psychosis.
When I finally left the family home, I was very bad in my skin. I didn't know who I was. I lived cut off from myself, my body, my emotions, my desires,my needs. I didn't dare trust what I felt, express my opinion or make a decision. I felt uncomfortable in society, did not know how to behave and take my place. I had never felt satisfied my parents and felt their love for who I really was. The outside world,the others, the men and the sexuality scared me. As for God's love, I thought I no longer deserved it. I lived in infinite solitude, locked in myself.
Furious with my parents, I stayed several months without contacting them. I had to do a lot of therapy, but there's still irreversible damage. How do you live when your wings have been cut off at an age when they are being deployed? Feelings of anger, sadness and guilt still regularly overwhelm me. More than the Focolare movement, I blame my parents for allowing themselves to indulge in such extreme and destructive behaviors. I would have wanted only one thing: to be able to be myself and receive their love, their listening, their benevolence, their trust and their support to discover the world and to flourish serenely.