The leaders of a French Catholic “new community” who considered pensions to be contrary to the Gospel have been sentenced to pay damages to two former nun members left without money in their retirement.

Driving the news

Pascal and Marie-Annick Pingault, the founders of the Communauté Pain de Vie, or Bread of Life Community, were found guilty on appeal of not enrolling the sisters in the French Government’s social security scheme for religious (Cavimac), as La Croix reported.

The judgment, handed down by a court in Caen, in northwestern France, concerned in one case a woman who spent 24 years in the Community, from 1981 to 2005, but who did not earn any money towards her pension in that time.

The court noted that the Community had not paid any retirement funds to any its members over those years, despite the Church’s recommendation that Catholic groups do so.

The Pingaults had argued that contributing to employees’ pensions was a “non-evangelical principle, in contradiction with the spirit of abandonment to providence”.

The two founders did, however, contribute to their own retirement funds.

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One of the women affected by the Pingaults’ negligence, who entered the Bread of Life Community in her early twenties, lamented that she had been naive.

“The founders told me that the community would take care of me and I believed them. In 2005, when I started asking questions about my rights, they kicked me out of the community”, that complainant said.

The woman’s lawyer, Pierre Delannoy, said that the court’s finding is important “because it recognizes a personal fault of the leaders distinct from that of the community, but this has not always been the case in this kind of trial”.

Delannoy denounced, however, that despite having been sentenced to pay just over 72,000 euros in damages to his client, the Pingaults have only paid 10% of the amount to date, “and seem to be attempting to declare themselves insolvent”.

Why it matters

After being founded in Normandy in 1976, the Bread of Life Community spread quickly around the world.

Its some 200 members, families and singles – grouped together in several dozen houses in different countries – were committed to following Christ “radically”, which meant giving up their jobs and personal attachments and possessions, and trusting totally in the Community.

In 1990 the Community was officially recognised by the Bishop of Lisieux, but that recognition was rescinded in 2015 after the group was rent with internal tensions.

La Croix estimated that, just like the two women who were victims of the Pingaults, there are at least another hundred people in France who have been left out of pocket by the failure of the Catholic new communities that have sprung up since the 1970s.

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