Issues with (Br) Alexis Bugnolo, Ordo Militaris & FromRome

Issues with (Br) Alexis Bugnolo, Ordo Militaris & FromRome March 26, 2021

Alexis Bugnolo runs FromRome, Ordo Militaris, and Scholasticum online. The first is meant to be a news site, the second to eventually be a religious order that militarily protects persecuted Christians and the third a university-level academic program. However, Alexis is not a brother as he claims. All three organizations also have significant issues.

This piece will define a religious brother, show Bugnolo is not one, then deal with the three sites individually.

Defining a Religious Brother

Logo of Sovereign Military Order Temple of Jerusalem on a picture of St. Peter's Basilica
Logo of Sovereign Military Order Temple of Jerusalem on a picture of St. Peter’s Basilica (CC BY-SA 4.0 Sergienkod & CC0 Xavier Coiffic)

As my canon law professor emphasized, one is a religious because of vows and community life. This is obviously a bit of a summary but is not far from the truth. Canons 607.2, 608, and 609.1 provides the best summary:

607.2. A religious institute is a society in which members, according to proper law, pronounce public vows…, and lead a life of brothers or sisters in common. […]

608. A religious community must live in a legitimately established house under the authority of a superior designated according to the norm of law.

609.1 Houses of a religious institute are erected by the authority competent according to the constitutions, with the previous written consent of the diocesan bishop.

A religious would obviously be a member of such a community.

Canon 607.2 includes those two elements I mentioned above: being formal vows received in the name of the Church (not just the institute), and common life. For common life, canon law elsewhere specifies a minimum of three members per community. For vows to be in the name of the Church, the community must be approved by a diocesan bishop or the Holy See.

Canon 608 refers to a line of legitimate superiors for a religious. One has the local superior who is often under a provincial and general superior who are ultimately responsible to either the diocesan bishop where the motherhouse is or the Holy See. Smaller communities often skip steps there as separate local, provincial, and general superiors are not needed for an institute with 5 members, and such an institute would be under a diocesan bishop as a community usually needs a few hundred members before the Holy See will take it on.

Finally, 609.1 further specifies 608 indicating that a religious must be under the authority of a bishop as well. This chain of command is important in case a religious does something improper. You may not know who my superior is, but knowing I’m a Legionary in the USA, you can look that up in 2 minutes online. Thus, if I say something completely crazy online, I expect people to write him and then face consequences in my community for the completely crazy content.

Members of secular institutes or societies of apostolic life can also often be called “brother” or “sister,” and sometimes diocesan hermits too. These are slightly different but rules for establishing groups are similar, and hermits need written permission from the bishop. Most non-clerical communities start as an association of the faithful with the intention of becoming one of the other three. However, even this to be proper requires the bishop’s approval, at least three members, and some kind of promises.

Alexis Bugnolo Is NOT a Religious Brother

The biography of Alexis Flavian Bugnolo claims he’s “a Franciscan hermit who observes the Rule of St Francis by private vows with tacit permission of Pope Benedict XVI and written permission of the Congregation for Religious in 2006.” He repeats this claim elsewhere.

So, I emailed the Congregation for Religious and got a response from the office: “On behalf of Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, I inform you that we have no record that Alexis Flavian Bugnolo is religious and we have no news that he is a hermit.” (That is my translation with the original at the end.)

I searched out evidence on whether he had permission to be a hermit in other sources. I found a 2010 note that he could be a hermit for 3 years in Noto (on page 98 of this PDF). He seemed to have some issue in 2009 as another Italian diocese (Patti) issued a statement against him (I could only find his reply). These two cases show that after his claimed 2006 permission from Rome to live as a hermit, he had moved to live as a hermit in two other dioceses. Canon 603 from Canon law deals with hermits. It notes that they are under a diocesan bishop. As such, permission from Rome ceased upon moving to these other dioceses. Thus, as far as can been seen he lacks the permission he claims.

Seeking further clarification, I emailed Don Antonio Panfilli, in charge of religious and consecrated (including hermits) for the diocese of Rome. He responded, noting that Bugnolo had presented himself to the diocese of Rome while on his three-year temporary period from Noto as he wanted to study in Rome. Don Panfilli followed this with: “He [Alexis Bugnolo] has never had permission from the diocese of Rome.” (Again, this is my translation with the original at the end.)

This claim of a 2006 permission from Benedict seems odd given that in 2006, Alexis Bugnolo was attacking Pope Benedict for being “Gay friendly” and implying maybe he should resign. Why would he seek exceptional permission for being a different type of hermit from Benedict if Bugnolo thought he should resign and why would Benedict give it if Bugnolo was attacking him.

Bugnolo published my DM to him on his site, claiming that Benedict knows he lives in Rome as a hermit since 2012 and approves it. However, provides no proof or evidence. Also, I highly doubt Benedict would approve a hermit for Rome with neither the diocese nor the Congregation of Religious having any record of it as Benedict followed the Church’s structure on such matters. Usually, such permissions are first given for a period of years then permanently, yet Bugnolo replies angrily to my question about whether the 2006 permission is still valid in 2021 (I did not use canonically precise terms and he attacks me for that without going to the essence).

Alexis did join the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate in the 1990s but left before final vows. Emailing them, they confirmed this. He also seems to have done a partial translation of Bonaventure’s sentences of Peter Lombard. However, it seems at about the same place it was in 2012. (I wrote my STB thesis on this work and thus sought out an English version then. As I was dealing with a later passage, I ended up doing original translations from Latin.)

Further, in 2002, after leaving the Franciscans, but before he supposedly got permission from Benedict XVI, Bugnolo was going by “brother.” (In this case, Bugnolo is right in reporting suspicious behavior of a priest later suspended over abuse of minors.) He also used “Brother” when writing stories for this website from 2002-2004. This shows a pattern of him using “brother” when not appropriate.

Bugnolo does not seem to qualify under any normal category of the Church as a “brother,” so should not use the term so as to not confuse Catholics.

Bugnolo Is Not a Reliable Source

Bugnolo also makes me wonder as he presents contrary messages online. This leads to issues with his credibility. In 2018, he posted a letter renouncing his role on the Ordo Militaris on the Board of Directors to return to being a Franciscan hermit. Yet, in 2020 he allows himself to be introduced as the president of the group. Replying to my DM, he said he is the president of the legal corporation, which contradicts the 2018 letter where he said his motivation from stepping back was, “So that I might return to the pure observance of the Rule, in which I cannot undertake any legal or financial acts which dispose of property or monies,” when the President of a corporation is more involved in “disposing of property or monies” than a board member.

In the same video, he makes a claim that is factually questionable. He claims 300 have already signed up to join if he gets money but then says he has only talked to 30. It is hard to believe 90% of those willing to give their life for his cause haven’t even spoken to him. Also, this 300 seems questionable given other publicly available info such as their sparse view count on most videos save a few claiming that Benedict is the real Pope, and their apparently low number of donors and funds. (They seem to tweet when someone donates over $100 at once or over a year welcoming the member with an appropriate hashtag. By this metric, they have 9 at $100 a year, 2 at $300 a year, 2 at $600 a year, 3 at $1200 a year, and none at the higher ranks, although they may have others who do not wish to be recognized [the recognition does not name the person] and they have at least two smaller donors. Here we have 16 donors totally $6300 annually if they still all give. For comparison, my Patreon gets $4512 a year from 40 patrons.) I cannot imagine being willing to give my life for a cause but unwilling to give $100 a year or watch the relevant videos and share them with others. I can’t prove definitively Bugnolo is untruthful about the 300, but it seems highly unlikely given the evidence.

Furthermore, Bugnolo has a BA then claims he “graduated from Our Lady of Grace Seminary, Boston, in 1988” without noting the degree earned. However, Our Lady of Grace Seminary does not have classes. Instead, it is a formation house or residence for the Oblates of Virgin Mary attending nearby Saint John’s seminary. I can’t find evidence of Bugnolo being a member or even him claiming to have once been a member of the Oblates.

FromRome and His YouTube are Contrary to Catholic Faith

Alexis Bugnolo runs a news site called FromRome. It however is not reliable and frequently is contrary to the Catholic faith despite his insistence he’s orthodox.

I was alerted to him by this video that has since been removed by YouTube. He covered COVID, 5G, the world reset, and more in under 10 minutes, and made a bunch of errors. But the notes I made then were very sparse and my recollection is not good enough to write a critique from memory.

The most famous part of his website is the Benedict-truther articles. He believes that Benedict XVI is still the Pope and even has this link summarizing and indexing his thoughts on Benedict not resigning. Even the people at Novus Ordo Watch, who think Pius XII was the last valid Pope, think his arguments against Benedict’s resignation are ridiculous. Someone has written a 9,000+ word rebuttal of Bugnolo, point by point if you want to go deep. But the argument is pretty direct. The rules for papal transfer of power are determined by Popes. The Pope is only Pope because he freely wills to be Pope. At any moment, the Pope can will to no longer be Pope. All the structures like a life-long papacy, Cardinals, papal elections, etc. are small-t traditions that Popes could change. (Theoretically, the next Pope is free to announce he will retire after 5 years on his first day as Pope and that would be valid. The next Pope could then either continue a maximum of a 5-year reign or go for life.) Obviously, the Pope needs to be free in choosing to resign and a resignation made under duress would likely not be valid. However, Benedict XVI made it extra clear in his resignation text that the decision was made “with full freedom.” Also, Benedict himself has made it clear multiple times since then that he resigned. Not accepting the 2013 resignation is all the odder given Bugnolo said Benedict should resign in 2006, as noted above.

The Church is clear about who the Pope is.

There are a bunch of other issues with this site; I’ll cover rapid-fire some of the things I saw scrolling back 2 weeks.

  • He cites the Corbett report as a reliable source, yet this got a “Tin Foil Hat” rating from Media-bias / fact check and their top videos are 9-11 truther videos.
  • He cites another source that is strong for both conspiracy and pseudoscience.
  • He also cites Robert F. Kenedy Jr. as a reliable source on vaccines despite him being one of the biggest sources of misinformation on vaccines.
  • What is really a sad story about a priest who needed psychological medication but stopped it and then robbed a store is presented as a story about who is the Pope.
  • A lot of the posts are either videos with a few lines of text or rambling arguments by Bugnolo repeating the same themes.

Ordo Militaris has Questionable Economics

Ordo Militaris claims it hopes to be a military order to protect persecuted Christians, but it appears to be highly questionable. They only mention two members – Bugnolo and Andrew J. Baalman – at any point I found on the site or in any news or about it, despite claiming to have 300 ready to fight for them as noted above. They act like this big organization, but there is no clear information I could find for anything beyond a post office box and these two men.

They repeatedly ask for a lot of money ($7-10 million total) without giving many specifics like most large fundraising efforts would.

They are a for-profit company, despite appearing in a way many would assume you were a non-profit, such as asking for donations. He claims the reason is: “U.S. tax laws to [sic] not allow religious non-profits to engage in offering services other than strictly religious.” However, many US non-profits offer foreign aid legally. Some activities they want to do may not be allowed but definitely initial projects like sending aid money to persecuted Christians or teaching strategies to avoid danger in areas of persecution would clearly be allowed as a US non-profit.

Now let’s get into the legal structure. In 2016, they were listed as a Wyoming company when they did an offering of securities. Why is an organization presenting itself as a charity that is getting donations also offering stocks? I’m not sure. They are listed as Suite #5259 in a building Google maps shows as having only two stories. However, the same building but with an address on the other street (it’s on the corner) is the address for a company that registers corporations in Wyoming providing virtual offices such that the person incorporating would never have to go to Wyoming. Such filings are often done for tax avoidance.

In 2018. They switched to Montana, with a similar arrangement. The legal address of the Ordo Militaris corporation is the address of a registry company in Montana, with that company listed as their officer. That address is home to at least 1000 other companies (I didn’t want to pay the website to get an exact number and they stop around 1000 unless you subscribe). The main company at this address is Deer Creek Corporate services (AKA www.mtvehicles.com, llc-tlc, FREELLC.COM). This company is mainly used for registering expensive vehicles from out of state in Montana to avoid other states’ vehicle fees. Montana NPR and Atlanta ABC each did a story explaining this practice with specific reference to this company. Both stories note the questionable legality of this practice. When asked, Bugnlo simply stated Montana state law requiring a register, while avoiding the real question of why the company is registered in Montana when they have no real presence there or why they use a registry company that is mainly used for questionably legal tax avoidance.

Ordo Militaris collected money for Beirut after the explosion in August 2020. They got $15,000 but then when it was difficult to get the money to people in Beirut, the funds were “redirected to other charitable works sponsored by Ordo Militaris Inc.” without specifying which charitable works. This may just be an issue in reporting but when asked multiple times about which charities, no details were given. Bugnoolo claimed, “Those who participated in our Relief Effort for Beirut asked that their funds be used according to specific instructions, the knowledge of which pertains to their private wishes, and which according to U. S. law you have no right to know.” A for-profit corporation does legally have such privacy, but most non-profits disclose such things. It would be in his interest to inform people where the money was spent if it was spent on causes people who are considering supporting him likely support.

Nowhere on their website or the open internet could I find the financials for the corporation as most non-profits would provide. Legally, as a privately held for-profit company, they don’t have to, but when seeking donations, they should do so.

Stefan Jetchick runs a Canadian website called Let’s Adore Jesus in the Eucharist. He thinks that we could use a new military order but strongly says Ordo Militaris and Bugnolo are not the right group. He lists several normal questions he would have before donating or investing and notes Bugnolo was unable to answer them when he asked.

  • First, a little proof regarding qualifications (above I noted that Bugnolo claims to be a hermit with permission but definitely does not have the permission he claims and seems not to have any permission, plus his questionable academic credentials).
  • Second, financial track record (as noted above, they have not indicated where money that was donated was redirected and have no public info on financials).
  • Third, strategic plan in detail (which their website lacks, despite asking for a lot of money).
  • Fourth, honesty about bad news (the Beirut story at least indicated some bad news, but when you are asking for millions and hitting a few thousand it would be good to note that more honestly).
  • Fifth, honesty about turnover (as all I can ever see are Bugnolo and Baalman, there may not be turnover, but saying it’s just these two out loud might indicate how small they are).
  • Sixth, if it looks too good to be true it probably is.
  • I would add here the issues with incorporating as a for-profit corporation in a place and manner usually done for tax loopholes, then presenting yourself in a way that many would assume you are a charitable organization.

Scholasticum

Alexis Bugnolo also runs an online school called Scholasticum. Only one other person is on staff. The site claims she’s coming back for 2021 after maternity leave. However, this woman appears in none of the videos online and all I could find was her teaching one class in the 2016-17 school year. All the videos and all current courses and videos only show Bugnolo, who as noted above only claims a BA and “graduating” from a seminary that does not offer classes. This seems highly insufficient for university-level academics.

Conclusion

Alexis Bugnolo is not a “brother” in any even extended meaning of the term, lacks the credentials to run a university-level institute as he is attempting, makes claims that are completely unfounded on his news site, and runs an organization with questionable financial dealings. As such I would not trust Alexis Bugnolo and avoid him if possible. I compiled this all here as I have run into a few people confused by his misinformation. Please pray for him. Hopefully, this will help clear things up.

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Appendices

I provide screenshots here to indicate some of my research if people have further questions. Patheos has some background extension I can’t override that compresses images and it made these unreadable so I posted them to imgur. Here’s a link to an email from the congregation or religious and a letter from Don Antonio Panfilli, in charge of consecrated life for the diocese of Rome both on Alexis Bugnolo’s status.

Updates

AJ Baalman and Alexis Bugnolo both replied to this article and it is worth noting their replies. I invite you to read their replies and compare them to this article.

Someone also pointed out another site connected to Bugnolo, VeriCatholici.

Baalman Replies

Baalman made several claims. I will address a few:

  1. He says I am “publicly calumniating” against Bugnolo. Yet Fr. Hardon begins his definition of calumny with “Injuring another person’s good name by lying.” I do not find any lies above and I openly invite them to provide evidence to the contrary, and will gladly correct any errors.
  2. He claims, “no other Catholic Organization raising money to help those in the Beirut Blast, The Relief Of The Armenian Soldiers, The Catholics In Mosul, The Catholic Refugees in El Kaa Lebanon the first days of the ISIS.” Yet a simple search found Aid to the Church in Need and Catholic Relief Services helping in several of these cases.
  3. He misquotes this article, claiming I said things I never did.
  4. He claims, “I seen one of your nasty messages, it was neither polite, nor kind or an honest ask for more information.” So, I provided a screenshot for you to judge it.
Bugnolo Replies

Alexis Bugnolo replied on his blog.

  1. He claims, “The author claims I am not a brother.” The term “brother” can be used in different senses and there is no legal prohibition on anyone using it. I stated that based on the usual definitions in the Church, he should not use the term. You can read my actual conclusion above: “Bugnolo does not seem to qualify under any normal category of the Church as a ‘brother,’ so should not use the term so as to not confuse Catholics.”
  2. He claims, Vaccines are “made from tissues of human babies torn to pieces, alive, by the abortion industry for the sake of the vaccine industry.” This is false on multiple counts (HEK293 was not taken alive, the cells used are descendants of fetal tissues not fetal tissues, etc.). I refer you to my prior articles on vaccines.
  3. He admits indirectly that his highest formal education is Bachelor’s level and thus he lacks the normal qualification to teach university-level classes such as in the Scholasticum. He states, “he also fails to mention that my minor seminary, Our Lady of Grace in Boston, did teach courses in the years I attended (1986-88).” I cannot find clear evidence either way on the claim it then taught minor seminary classes. However, minor seminary is only Bachelor’s level; and a Master’s or Licentiate level is almost always needed to teach at a university level.
  4. He thinks that I “think it [Ordo Militaris] is a religious Order.” I never said a religious order or religious community. I stated, “it hopes to be a military order.” Its homepage says it is “a international [sic] defense and security initiative” then refers to itself as “The Order” thrice and “our order” twice on its home page, so I think that is a reasonable summary. the word “order” here could be understood in various senses.
  5. Bugnolo notes, “Father fails to mention that I am also president of an Italian political party, known as ‘L’Italia per gli Italiani.'” I had noticed he was involved with this but not the president. However, I don’t see why I needed to mention it. If anything, this is all the more reason not to use brother as those usually called “brother” within the Church are forbidden from taking such roles.
  6. Whether FromRome is technically a blog or “electronic journal” is of minor import. It does not fit the usual meaning of “electronic journal” referring to a scholarly journal.
  7. Bugnolo claims, “He claims that I have lived in Rome as a hermit since 2006. He claims that I have lived in Rome as a hermit since 2006. I have not. He seems to think that the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, has jurisdiction over the Diocese of Rome, which it does not. Which is why they would have no knowledge of me.” Actually, I based myself on the claim that he made in his bio on the same site. The biography claims he is “a Franciscan hermit who observes the Rule of St Francis by private vows with tacit permission of Pope Benedict XVI and written permission of the Congregation for Religious in 2006,” and then I note he had permission to be a hermit from the diocese of Noto from 2010-2013, which is obviously not Rome. I made the assumption that the 2006 permission was to live as a hermit in Rome, as such permission is given within a diocese so were he to have permission since 2006 to live as a hermit elsewhere, the permission should have been from the local bishop, instead of the Pope or a Vatican congregation. I think this is a reasonable assumption unless proven otherwise. Nonetheless, I made a small edit above to say he claimed to have permission “from Rome to live as a hermit” rather than the prior line stating the claimed permission was “to live as a hermit in Rome.” I don’t think this makes a substantial difference. Further, his claim for why the congregation of religious would have no knowledge of him contradicts his claim in his bio that they gave him written permission. If he posts the actual 2006 written permission he claims from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, I will gladly correct anything contrary to it.
  8. Bugnolo claims, “He thinks hermits are religious, or that prior to taking canonical vows in the hands of their local ordinary, they fall under the jurisdiction of the Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated life.” Nope. I was basing the reference to the Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated life is based on his own biography where he claimed he has such permission. I also clearly distinguish between religious and hermits.
  9. Bugnolo claims, “He also seems to think that because I head so many organizations, there is something suspicious about me.” Nope. I take no issue with having multiple organizations for different ends headed by the same person. I take issues with particular claims he makes and particular actions of the organizations.
  10. Bugnolo makes a claim that is odd: “He noteworthily does not cite any criminal record or civil lawsuit on my personal record or that of any of these organizations. Because there are none, to my knowledge.” I never claimed he did anything illegal or was sued, so why make such a claim against me? There are many things that are problematic but not illegal.
  11. Bugnolo states, “Unlike him, I will not ask you money at the bottom of my article.” No, the Paypal link on his site is on the side instead. Both of us are asking for donations on our sites.

If Bugnolo or Baalman post actual evidence, not just claims, I might follow up, but I will likely not post about them otherwise.

VeriCatholici and Bugnolo

It seems likely that Bugnolo also runs VeriCatholici, although I cannot prove it definitively. FromRome, VeriCatholici, Scholasticum, and The Bonaventure Challenge all have PayPal donation buttons. When you click to donate, the organization to donate to for all these sites is “Save Old St. Mary’s Inc.” If you go to its site, it indicates several projects Bugnolo is involved in as Save Old St. Mary’s projects. You can view the non-profit info of this organization from the IRS site.


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