fragments of an attempted writing.

Berry my head at wounded prose. Me on Berry on JPII - elements of stylin, obscenely long tangents, some contra Rod strands of thought because in all things I seek to be his dialectical opposite, and other useless ephemera.

Those two half gallon growlers last night left me feeling a bit strange this morning.  Fortunately I have the gear needed to deal with that.  Well, OK, I had to borrow some items from my nephew and niece. 

The Nation came in the mail yesterday, with a cover story on JPII - The Shame of John Paul II: How the Sex Abuse Scandal Stained His Papacy by Jason Berry.

I'm writing this post not because I have any interest in religion, but only because a story in The Nation peaked my interest.

Being a mostly laid off worker, I stopped paying for the Nation ages ago and they still send me their magazine most of the time and still let me onto their website.  It's like you can't stop being a subscriber if you ever subscribed.  That might annoy some people but I think it better than the outrageous amount of money The Progressive charges customers for writing that is even worse than one finds in The Nation.  The Progressive cut me off the moment I thought of not renewing my subscription, and on that rare occasion I want to read an article of theirs online they want me to pay $45 and offer one of my children's organs.  One would think that the progressives at The Progressive would offer a discount for those unemployed workers they claim to care so much about, but, surprise, surprise, all 400 of their readers are locked into income via their tenure, and it never occurred to them that an unemployed factory rat might actually read their rag.  Bourgeois liberal filth.

OK sorry for that tangent.

Berry does not once mention the fact that JPII came from a country where one of the ways the state attacked its adversaries was to trump up charges against someone deemed an enemy of the state - and that one of the most routine character assassination ploys involved accusing the enemy of the state of being a homosexual.  The Nazis did the same with their Sittlichkeitsprozesse intended to bring the Catholic Church into disrepute.  Berry does not mention that persons close to JPII have said that as a rule he dismissed allegations of homosexual activity against bishops and other clerics because of his previous experience with the then communist Polish state.  I don't believe that this in any way justifies any particular "policy decision" on the part of JPII, and, yep, it seems like an argument custom made for a red baiting American Catholic conservative audience, but fair is fair folks and any writing concerning what JPII did and didn't do concerning the sex scandals might-should mention this fact.

I will also say this - Berry, perhaps unwittingly, paints something of a good picture of BenXVI.  He notes the efforts Ratzinger made trying to bring the hammer of Church justice to Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder and long time head of the Legion of Christ and notorious sex abuser.  As Berry puts the narrative, Ratzinger tried to administer justice but was twarted by Vatican politics, but BenXVI brought the hammer down almost immediately (by papal standards) after becoming pope.  Berry never draws this conclusion, but the narrative he paints leaves no other conclusion to be drawn.

On the first page of the article Berry quotes Richard McBrien, that master of understatement.  In the quote in question McBrien asserts that the Roman Catholic sex scandals are "the greatest crisis to confront the Catholic Church since the Reformation on the 16th century."   Whatever.  I would think that the fact that most Catholics in Europe stopped going to church a generation or two ago a slightly bigger crisis for the Catholic Church than the sex scandals.

This is my fundamental take on the sex scandals: there is an elephant in the room which Berry and critics akin to him always seem to ignore.  It is now well documented and indisputable that an alarming number of bishops at every level of Church bureaucracy protected sex-abuser clerics and actually facilitated the abusers by allowing them to continue to get into positions which made the abuse possible.  But for all that the institution of the Catholic Church nefariously protected sex-abusers, for all that the so-called lavender mafia ruled with its limp fist, the statistics on both pedophilia and clergy sexual abuse within the RCC are on par with what is seen in other Christian groups and in other organizations which have a lot of adults working with a lot of children.  Catholic priests do not and have not abused at higher rates than we see with males across the board.  It would seem to me that any depiction of the Catholic Church as a haven for abusers should have to make this point - that if there was some sort of despicable intent on a systemic level to maintain a haven for sex abusers - such an intent did not actually succeed at making the RCC any more a haven for such persons than the next large religious body happens to be.  If the Catholic bishops were incompetent at being good guys, which they were, they were also in this arena incompetent at being bad guys, as their bad guy numbers are not any higher than anyone else's.

So back to the article, we are told by Berry that JPII was a "staunch traditionalist on sexual issues and theology."  Yeah, the theology of the body Pope is a staunch traditionalist because anyone to the right of Matthew Fox is a staunch traditionalist.  Please.  Where is Berry getting this JPII as trad language?

And then Bry calls the Legion of Christ an "archconservative religious order."  Conservative in the nomenclature of most Catholics writing in English today is to the left of traditionalist.  That nomenclature can be learned by talking to Catholics with a knowledge of the spectrum of contemporary Catholic thought, but, you know, it could also be learned by using this vehicle of Catholic Church gnosis known as Google.  So Berry paints JPII a trad and the Legion as conservative.  Being a journalist must be so damn easy brereezy.   

Next we learn that Fr. Marcial Maciel, former leader of the Legion, was "the greatest fundraiser of the modern church."  OK, winning the world for Bourgeois Jeezus by winning the elite is straight up sick in my book.  And of course the Legion is flowing in cash.  [After reading this article I looked up the Legion website and found it as disturbing as I suspected - not least because of the whitewash over the sexploits of the Legion's founder and other troubling aspects of their past.  One has to go to the Our History page on their site to get any mention of it.  Funny that nothing is said of the Maciel debacle on the FAQ page.]  So, sure, I'm no fan of the Legion - but I couldn't help but chuckle when reading this line about Maciel being the greatest fundraiser of the modern church.  Why?  Not that I dispute the data, had there been any offered - though I think it somewhat ridiculous to think we can know who is doing the most fundraising in a group with 1.2 billion people in it.  No, the reason I had to laugh was that another Nation writer, Christopher Hitchens, asserted that his arch-nemesis Mother Teresa was the greatest fundraiser of the modern Church.  He asserts this in his book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, which started out as essays in The Nation, and Hitchens also ties his target to a vast network of Vatican corruption.  The people that The Nation dislikes are always top notch fundraisers.  Got it.

Moving along we encounter the ditty that Ratzinger is "a moral absolutist who had persecuted liberal theologians."   Because everyone knows that Ratzinger is a Kantian, as we see with his recent treatment of the moral nuances involved with the question of condom use on the part of male prostitutes.  

I wonder if we as a society could ever come to a common understanding of the term persecuted.  It seems that Berry is following the usage of the term persecuted one finds in academia, where getting assigned an office 4 feet further from the restroom than your colleague's office is considered persecution.  

I'm a few years shy of 40, but I vaguely remember when persecution required something that actually hurt another human being -- pulling someone's fingernails out and then dipping their raw fingers in battery acid is definitely persecution.  Waterboarding is persecution.  Placing a person in prison might be persecution.  Firing a person is surely sometimes persecution.  Excommunicating people after years of paperwork warnings and dialogging and bureaucratic hand-wringing doesn't seem so much like persecution.  Being asked for a clarification of positions is not persecution.  Being told that you can no longer call yourself a "Catholic theologian" when despite this you still keep your tenured teaching position in a Catholic institution and can one day get paid to write a memoir about your persecution is not persecution.  Those things might be annoying, but is every annoyance caused by someone in a power structure within an institution you belong to an instance of persecution?  

I say all this as someone with sympathies for Gustavo Gutiérrez, of course.  Despite his former "persecution," whatever that means, Gutiérrez remains a priest in the Catholic Church.  I just saw a picture of a baptism he did of the kid of some CW's in the most recent Houston CW paper.  He seems like a happy fellow.  I mention Fr. Gustavo because twice in the article Berry chides JPII and Ratzinger for going after liberation theology.

Now that liberation theology is as dead a horse as possible, it is safe to paint Gutiérrez a quaint old man with silly dated views on things, and BenXVI thus far seems like he will let that old dog lie.  If I were BenXVI I would have a hell of a lot more respect for Gutiérrez than a gobshite like Hans Küng, as Gutiérrez does not have the long record of stabbing former friends (or adversaries, for that matter) in the back in the manner that Küng does.

Anyway, if you can look past the sillinesses like those above, Berry does have a few gems.

For instance, when Berry is discussing his 1997 article done with Gerald Renner reporting on Maciel's sex abuse, he reports on the responses he got from Maciel's ideological allies in the RCC:

William Donohue of the Catholic League responded immediately with a letter to the Courant, scoffing at the allegations.  The order set up a website, LegionaryFacts, which charged the accusers - and us - with fomenting a conspiracy against Maciel.  Father Richard John Neuhaus, an influential Catholic conservative and editor of the journal First Things, called the accusations "scurrilous" and proclaimed Maciel's innocence "a moral certainty."  William Bennett, a national lecturer on ethics who later became a CNN analyst, also voiced support for the Legion.  Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, who lectured at the Legion university in Rome, derided the accusations and praised Maciel's "radiant holiness."  George Weigel, a biographer of John Paul, weighed in for the Legion, too.  

Berry follows this up later in the article with:

The LegionaryFacts website disappeared after Maciel's 2006 punishment; none of the conservative ideologues who had so staunchly defended him apologized to the victims, though George Weigel, who has a research chair at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, called for a Vatican investigation of the Legion in 2009. [This was long after large amounts of damning information concerning Maciel's decades of abusing young men under his authority had been made public and verified.]

Berry then notes that Weigel excuses JPII's neglect of dealing with the Legion's trouble by asserting that JPII was "ill served by associates and subordinates who ought to have been more alert to the implications of [Maciel's] cult of personality... Despite the negative implications of John Paul's reputation that some of [his] critics quickly drew, what was at work in this scandalous affair was deception in the service of the mysterium iniquitatis"  Berry continues:

- the mystery of evil.  That's it folks.  The pope who took on the Soviet empire was duped by the "mystery of evil."  Nothing about Sodano pressuring Ratzinger.   [Cardinal Sodano is the Vatican hack who got in Ratzinger's way of pursuing Maciel.]  Dziwisz, Weigel concludes, "was susceptible to misreading personalities."  [Dziwisz was JPII's secretary at the Vatican and the man who took bribes in return for getting the rich and powerful near the pope.  Dziwisz was given a lot of money by the Legion, which in turn got the 
Legion into good graces with JPII - or so the Berry narrative paints things.]

This really hit close to home because, uh, I have been guilty myself, in a former blog life, of betting really bad on the wrong bishop.  He was enemy to my enemy and friend to some of my friends, so I sang his praises like Rod Dreher waxing on about his latest religion.  Then he turned out to be a destructive controlfreakisiarch with the world's biggest martyr complex.  Maybe I should issue a public apology.  Naah, Berry is a bit of a prude.  And nothing written on blogs actually means anything, right?

Hypocrite that I may be, there is little more enjoyable than to see such an outlandishly self-confident pundit like RJN (Buckleyesque pomposity in Roman black and white) getting things so unbelievably wrong.  I suspect as years go on we will have more and more evidence of RJN's lack of discernment concerning his allies.  Not that anything will top some of the things he wrote concerning Dubya's supposedly good and Christian character back in the early days of Dubya's administration.    

The case of the Legion being a source of some of the worst abuse documented in the recent Church scandals perhaps undercuts the argument that liberal theology or lax praxis are related to increased incidents of sexual abuse.  Berry's reminders of the confidence Maciel's ideological allies had in their man should warn all of us of the danger in assuming that "one of ours" can't possibly be that sort of person.

These things can be tricky.  A friend just emailed me today and asked me if I thought that a repressed homosexual traditionalist pathology is a driving force in a small American religious group with which I am familiar.  Whew.  I think I'll end on that note.  


  1. GREAT post. Great, great, great.

    Years ago, when we lived in Charlotte, some Regnum Christi ladies tried to recruit me. More on that later when I have a chance (assuming anyone's remotely interested, which is a huge assumption). But, anyway, one of those ladies now runs an anti-Legionary site, Understandably, she's a bit bitter.


  2. The bald Mexican26 May, 2011 04:29

    I think you are being a bit soft on the RCC. Saying that the clergy has the same number of child molesters as the rest of the population is about the same as saying that they have the same number of thieves and murderers. Except even thieves and murderers often work for a living. Okay, that wasn't fair. But for the pampered lifestyle that many clergy live (not the ones baptizing babies in Bangladesh), to think that it doesn't draw overgrown man children in abnormal proportions is kidding yourself. Some of them are overworked, so is everyone else. Some of them are holy, so are many laity. I don't think that they should be given a pass, because they by definition hold themselves to higher standards.

    The "well, what do you expect?" argument doesn't really have legs. If you want to go that way, we can go that way. Contracepting couple? Well, what do you expect, the Church ain't gonna raise your kids for you. Young woman considering abortion? Well, what do you expect, the Church isn't going to provide free daycare while you slave away at your McJob? Homosexuals shacking up and wanting to get married? Well, what do you expect, the Church isn't going to keep their bed warm at night. If the Church wants to apply the balm of mercy to its own wayward clergy, maybe it needs to be more generous with the laity itself, and realize that people are for the most part doing the best they can, even if it looks like they are living like the rest of the world, instead of throwing culture war hissy fits left and right. Fancy that.

  3. Bourgeois liberal filth.

    OK sorry for that tangent.

    What tangent?

  4. OK, this is a good blog post, and I thank you for it. It's very sincere, and good on you for admitting your own "trust in princes" issues. Supposing that after my conversion to Catholicism in 1994 I had been recruited by the Legion or Regnum Christi, I can't claim that I wouldn't have become one of those bitter-enders in abject denial about Maciel.

    The continuing failure to acknowledge the point about similar percentages of abusers in other organizations is revealing. It's certainly not the only point to be made, but it is an important point, and the denying it the right to enter the discussion betrays at least as great a bias as the one held by those who clung to Maciel's innocence. If the primary goal of Berry, Dowd, Dreher et al is to pummel the Catholic Church then this omission makes perfect sense. If their goal is to protect children; not so much sense to my mind. I've stated it many times before. My personal belief that an evil priest will suffer greater torment in hell than an atheist deserves no representation in a secular court.

  5. Arturo,

    I think in some, perhaps many, of the places where the sex scandals have occurred (meaning where there has been public/media coverage of them and a public backlash), those "well, what did you expect" postures are embraced on most or all of the things you mention. One isn't going to get much flack for getting an abortion from your priest in Austria or the Netherlands right now, in all likelihood. One could right that off as "rampant liberalism" in those areas or somesuch, but surely part of it has to do with the loss of moral authority you suggest.

    I don't think priests should be given a pass either. The abusers are scumbags and the bishops who protected them even worse.

    But the data is what is it. In "industrialized Western countries" rates of abuse are consistent across the board. RC priests abuse as much as pampered priests in groups like ECUSA and the Anglican church, the Presbyterians, the Unitarians, and so forth. They also abuse as much as Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, the Foursquare Pentecostals, and Church of the Nazarene, not so famous for high on the hog living, at least in most of their congregations. They also abuse at approximately the same rate as non-religious organizations such as the Boy Scouts.

    I find the consistency of the data an interesting sociological phenomenon. One also notes that all of these groups adopted policies meant to counter abuse within a period of about 15 years. Each group had abuse rates higher before the new policies, and lower after - but what is of interest is that each group's high and low numbers run very close. So something can be done about abuse, but the data suggests that what is known to be effective has been initiated by every group of any size and the result seen is statistically predictable, given a large enough organization.

    While the point of view of piety or the point of view of the laity might expect more from the RCC because of reasons of piety or reasons having to do with the hierarchical hypocrisy you suggest - my point was simply from an outside point of view - from the point of view of one looking at the numbers of RCC abuse and comparing them to numbers elsewhere for social scientific or journalistic reasons - the haven created for abusers in the RCC didn't result in anything statistically different than one sees elsewhere. Surely for a reporter analyzing the abuse in the RCC this should beg some questions.

    For instance, perhaps had there not been that haven, there would have been a significantly less number of abusers in the RCC than in other groups. That is an interesting question to consider. Was everybody else also creating havens for abusers? Why, with the systemic protection of abusers in the RCC (a fact which no one denies), did levels of abuse remain consistent with everyone elses?

    I'm not saying such questions should provide any solace to Catholics. They have learned, again, that their bishops are spoiled arrogant incompetent dipshits. But anyone, whether Catholic or not, when considering the data as data, and the sociological phenomenon of sexual abuse as a sociological phenomena should be looking at the numbers closely, and be up front about what the numbers reveal - they reveal a uniformity that is quite interesting, and also disturbing, and one which would seem to suggest that singling any one religious group out is silly. The RCC has more abusers than other groups because it is bigger than other groups. The RCC is useful to study in terms of abuse because of its size. Because of its size it is going to get most of the media flack. But when considering the matter as a public sociological phenomenon, it seems to me the data should be at the heart of the discussion.

  6. Diane, i'm interested, do tell, please

  7. Wait? The Bald Mexican is Arturo?

  8. Gawrsh, Parker, thanks. [blush] Will try to tell the tale late just on the web for a few minutes now before heading outdoors with the kids. After all this buildup, the actual story will be pretty anti-climactic, I fear, LOL.


  9. OK, here goes. I was working at a now-defunct direct-response ad agency in Charlotte. (Weirdly enough, while I was there, the building where the agency was located was bought by the Diocese of Charlotte and became the diocesan headquarters. We [Cadmus Direct] were on the first floor. The diocese was on the second and third floors. I used to go upstairs at lunch-time for daily Mass with the then-bishop, apple-cheeked elderly Bishop Curlin. Whenever work got crazy, I would sneak upstairs and spend a few minutes in front of the Tabernacle. It was muy cool.)

    But actually, that's all irrelevant to my tale. Before the diocese bought my workplace, I used to go to lunch-time daily Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. That's where I met the Regnum Christi gals. At least I think that's where I met them. I might have met them at Saint Gabriel's, but I don't think so. (It's been about 14 years now; memory getting rusty.)

    They were very nice and devout and all that, and they invited me to an Evening of Reflection or some such thing led by Legionary priests. They told me that Bishop Curlin would not allow the Legionary to set up shop in the Charlotte Diocese. (I later found this very telling. It shows that, even back in 1997, some bishops had well-founded suspicions WRT the Legionaries. I know that a lot of people back then were iffy about their recruiting methods. Maybe that was Bishop Curlin's only concern...but who knows.) Anyway, even though they weren't allowed to establish a Legionary "base" in the Charlotte diocese, they were allowed to give spiritual direction to Regnum Christi gals in Charlotte. So, that was what this evening was to be all about. Two LC priests from South Carolina (I think) were giving this spiritual evening of something or other. So, I accepted the invitation.

    At the time my kids were little, and I didn't go out much at night. But I was curious, and I guess I thought I might get a spiritual boost in the arm, which I certainly needed.

    Before the meeting, I ate dinner in the apartment of one of the Regnum ladies. There were several other women there, including one Genevieve Kinecke, who was something of a minor celebrity in Devout Catholic Women circles: She edited a magazine about True Femininity; I believe she also wrote a book on the subject. All the women there were very intelligent and cultured, and I was favorably impressed. They were also very friendly, which I now realize was "love-bombing" to a certain extent. (They were nice ladies, and I do not mean to question their sincerity; but, at that time, Regnum Christi women were being pressured heavily to recuit, so....)

    Anyway, we went on to the meeting, which was held in one of the classrooms at a local parochial school.

    I don't know what I was expecting, but let's just say I was underwhelmed. We sat at the desks in the classroom, and the two Legionary priests stood up at the front and lectured at us. It was dry beyond belief. Hey, I'd been involved in the charismatic renewal and the Marian movement, and I wasn't used to "dry." :) The two priests were clean-shaven to the bone, fairly youngish, and about as appealing as accountants. I can't say that my spiritual antennae picked up anything "off," but one thing did strike me: They kept saying, "Nuestro Padre says this," and "Nuestro Padre says that." If I'd been more discerning, I would have found this rather creepy. As it was, it did seem a little weird.

    I can't remember what they talked about. I was pretty bored, truth to tell.

    My Regnum friends later invited me to other things, but I really wasn't interested, and my family would not have taken kindly to my heavy involvement in after-work meetings. (Like all cults, the Legion demands an infinite time commitment, and a working mom with small kids does not enjoy the luxury of infinite time!)

    I told you it was anti-climactic. :)


  10. Well thanks for sharing Diane, interesting even if anti-climactic

  11. LOL, thanks. Much more interesting is my goddaughter's tale of 23 years in the Allelulia Community in Augusta, Georgia. The Allelulia Community is a "charismatic covenant community," ecumenical but about 60% Catholic. It got VERY weird and cult-like and controlling, and it did a lot of damage to my goddaughter and her family. This was apparently a common pattern among Catholic charismatic covenant communities. Perhaps the most infamous case was the Mother of God Community in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Some years ago the washington Post did an excellent series of eye-opening stories about the MOG Community. You can still find this series on the Internet. Let;s just say that virtually everything you'll read about MOG also applies to the Allelulia Community, but on a smaller scale. Allelulia did not have the multimillion-dollar publishing empire, but it had the extreme control freakery, the hierarchical system of self-appointed "heads" and "elders," the spy network, the evil, manipulative use of "deliverance" sessions, the insistence on unreasonable time commitments from members, the shunning and badmouthing of ex-members, and on and on. Oh, not to mention the misuse of community funds by the leadership. And did I mention the mandatory tithing and double-tithing?

    BTW--from what I understand, Alelluia Community was one of the "crunchy" alternatives Rod Dreher celebrated in his book Crunchy Cons. Have never read said tome, but I do recall hearing that he featured -- and fawned over -- Allelulia. Trust Dreher to pick a manipulative, destructive, controlling cult to extol.

    Maybe Alelluia has changed in recent years. Have not kept up with it since Syl, my goddaughter, left. I know a lot of bishops cracked down on these communities. Some bishops even shut the communities down. (The communities usually did not get into trouble with the bishops until they applied for some sort of official canonical recognition. Before that, since they were ecumenical and para-church, they weren't under anyone's oversight. As soon as they wanted to become official, the dioceses had to step in, and it's then that all the unsavory details came out. Not saying all the "charismatic covenant communities" were like this, but I think most were...they'd been influenced by a Protestant communitarian movement called Sword of the Spirit, and they got all their cult-like-ness from this source, apparently.)

    Sorry to go into all that, but I think it's way more interesting than my Legionary experience, actually. While Syl was in the process of leaving Allelulia, she shared a lot of info with me about these communities, and it was quite fascinating, in a sick kinda way.

  12. As someone with a close family member who has been involved with a cult for too many years, I was surprised to discover that there are cults within the Catholic Church (not to mention the OC as well). I think this is something that Catholics should take seriously: Catholic cults do exist, often with the papal stamp of approval.

    Sophisticated modern cults are about more than charismatic leaders. To fail to recognize this is to underestimate them. They are about control, power, and marketing more generally. I learned this from my relative's cult, which makes talk about control quite explicit. All of this cult's techniques, even the "spiritual" ones, are actually aimed at learning how to control others and, conversely (and perversely), how to make yourself malleable to cult leaders. It is from this cult that I learned that all forms of marketing and advertising are evil.

    Cults are also about parasitic consumption of their members. My relative's cult is about consuming your money and your time. Diane's comment about the requirement of "infinite time commitment" is quite insightful. When the priest at my former church (continuing Anglican) began pulling this b.s. on me, I started looking elsewhere. If nothing else, I know cultish activity when I see it. (For the record, I've since left religion altogether.)

    Cults are parasites through and through. They pretend that you exist for the cult rather than the other way around. Catholic cults are, perhaps, parasitic on positive aspects of the Catholic faith, such as injunctions to love thy neighbor, and neutral aspects, such as respect for authority.

    Anyway, I'm commenting because lately I have been thinking about the growth of cult-like behavior in the RCC and OC in general. What is disturbing (and Owen used to talk about this on his old blog in the context of "consumerism") is how larger segments of the RCC and OC have begun to take on cultish techniques from evangelical Christianity. Once you begin hearing talk about "relevance," about "reaching out" -- once the question becomes of how to increase our share in the religious marketplace -- then, it seems to me, you have entered cult territory. You don't have all the trappings of a cult there, not yet, but market forces will force you to distort your religion.

  13. Great points, Anthony. Because of my goddaughter's experiences, I find this whole topic fascinating.

    I will say that the "charismatic covenant communities" were allowed to flourish, unchecked, for so long largely because they operated outside of official church structures. They were (in a sense) rivals to the local parishes, not official parts of them. The local ordinaries were happy to have on-fire Catholics in their midst, so they didn't think to investigate. Then, too, the communities were technically ecumenical, so there was only so much the bishop felt he could do; he had no jurisdiction over the Protestant members.

    However, as soon as any given community petitioned the bishop for some sort of official status within the diocese, the sh*t invariably hit the fan. That's when everything would come out. Several of these communities were shut down as a result. I believe that both People of Praise (South Bend, Indiana) and People of Hope (Rutherford, NJ) were shut down. Several others were reorganized: Word of God (Ann Arbor) and Mother of God (Gaithersburg), among them.

    As the popularity of the charismatic renewal wanes (and it has been waning for years now), these groups have less and less influence, thankfully.

    The Legionaries are another kettle of fish altogether. They did indeed, as you say, enjoy official status and papal approval. And they were extremely cult-like. The website life_after_rc brims with personal anecdotes about the cultish control exercised by the Legion. It's all so familiar -- lay members of Regtnum Christi being told that the Legion came first, their families second; people being manipulated during spiritual direction; people being required to attend endless meetings; people being taken advantage of and required to do free or poorly paid manual labor; etc. etc. etc.

    I used to know a young medical student who was very devout and rather trad (although not ultra-trad). He was convinced he had a religious vocation (although the fact that he was saddled with med-school debt seemed to rather put a crimp in his vocational prospects). Anyway, one day I semi-jokingly suggested the Legionaries. This was back during the '90s. My friend said their recruiting methods creeped him out. He also said he was "too old." He was just 24 or 25. I said, "Too old?" He said, "They like to get you when you're really young, so they can mold you to their way of thinking." So here, again, way back then, there were people who were wise to the Legionaries! (He didn't know about all the sex-abuse stuff, though.)


  14. Getting back to my goddaughter's community... (sorry for skipping around, but one thing reminds me of another)...I mentnioned their manipulative use of "deliverance" sessions. It operated like this. Say there was something the leaders were doing that bothered you. Maybe they were taking all these European jaunts with community funds (from tithes). Or maybe they were demanding too much of a time commitment from your spouse, and it was affecting your family life. Well, if you brought this up, however deferentially, you were told that you had a "spirit of rebellion," and you were subjected to a "deliverance" session to drive the "spirit" out. I cannot believe any sane person would put up with this, but I guess, after so many years, you were brainwashed...afraid to trust your own instincts.

    Once, when Syl and her husband were consulting the local parish priest about the weird stuff going on at Alleluia, they described the elaborate system of control there: Each person had a "head," and he had a "head," and he had a "head," on up to the ruling "elders" who led the whole shebang. (Yes, just as un-Catholic as it sounds!) They shared some of the things their "heads" had told them to do and to not do. Shocked, the priest exclaimed, "Even the bishop would never tell you stuff like that!" Something tells me that was an understatement.

    That's why I'm happy to just stick with my parish. I have no desire to get involved with this or that Special Group. My parish may be the Great Unwashed (of whom I am chief), but at least we are more or less normal and ordinary. Not stark raving mad, at any rate.

    Even the most dysfunctional parish is healthy compared with the cults!


  15. Oh, forgot to mention: The Alelluia "elders" were self-appointed. For life. Of course.

    Can't get much more "crunchy' than that. ;)


  16. Diane, good stuff. For people like you and me, who have had friends or relatives who are or were members of cults, this topic is more interesting because we have seen smart, capable people taken in by them. There is more that could be said, but I don't think anyone will be reading this if this comment gets any longer.

    In any case, I have little patience for people who claim that Catholicism is itself a cult. Cults, as I said before, are parasites: they feed off the goodness of people and society. The most successful ones keep their host alive as long as possible, but they are still parasites. They don't build up cultures and people. The Catholic Church has clearly done that (despite all the evil done in its name). Yes, a lot of people are psychologically scarred by their experiences in the RCC -- but the same goes for public schools or the boy scouts.

    By the way, I was also thinking of Opus Dei when I brought up papal-approved cults. I know all zero members of OD who read this blog will get on my case about this, but from what I have read, that organization, if not itself a cult, at least fosters an atmosphere where isolated cult-like behavior can occur.

    The problem is that people think cults are an all-or-nothing affair, but most members of most cults will live ordinary lives and be blissfully unaware of the less savory aspects of their organization. Perhaps this is the case with Opus Dei. On the other hand, Alleluia, from your description at least, is clearly on the more destructive end of the spectrum.

  17. LOL, yes, we are just carrying on a dialogue here, which probably interests no one but ourselves. :) As you say, so much more can be said; it's an endless topic. But we'd better not bore the others to tears.

    I don't know anyone in Opus Dei, either. I confess I am chary of all of these newer movements. The Benedictines and Franciscans and other venerable religious orders have been around forever; they've stood the test of time. Which is not to say that they attract no kooks or completely lack cultish aspects; but I think much of the nonsense has been knocked out of them over the centuries. Not so with the newer movements. Maybe they will stand the test of time; maybe not. In the meantime, I'm not betting my soul on any of them, thank you very much.

    I one met a gentleman from a group called Tradition, Faith, and Family. He was immaculately dapper in an old-worldish way and as eccentric as all get-out. From some literature he gave me I gathered that Tradition, Faith, and Family has a preferential option for the rich. Owen would love 'em. :)


    P.S. Off to Alabama for a week tomorrow so will not be able to respond to any further comments (if any) till next weekend.

  18. I have followed this conversation with interest. During my trek in Orthodoxy I spent time in two parishes that came into Orthodoxy by way of a cult - one from the HOOMies/CSBs and one from the EOC. In both cases the Orthodox jurisdiction in question took them in without in any way addressing the cult background, and in both cases the cult ethos maintained itself, though began to subside with time. Though even in the subsiding you see the usual crises associated with people coming out of cults. A considerable number of the kids dropped out of Orthodoxy and religion altogether, and a considerable number of folks did not handle their new found moral freedoms so well (by that I mean finding themselves in a situation where some spiritual leader was not micromanaging their lives). But I have written about all this so much before, and I am done with Orthodoxy, the American manifestations of which I view as having a cult-like spirit(s) pervasive in most of the jurisdictions, so best not to dwell on it. It is a conversation which is never effective anyway - the people who see the cult "writing on the wall" see it already, and those who are drinking the cult kool-aide just become more convinced you are a kook and dyspeptic grump if you try to explain to them how it is that their appropriation of their religion follows a cult-like psychology and cult-like patterns of behavior.

    I did sort of hang out with an Evangelical church when I was chasing my now wife that had an interesting background. It was part of a church association started by the guy who broke off from the EOC when he saw they were going Orthodox. You can read in Gilquist's Becoming Orthodox that the founder, who had been EOC leadership, was made to sign an agreement not to speak or have any contact with the EOC for two years after breaking away, because he was violating the pact they had all made to stay together. I first read about this from Gilquists book when a 19 year old student in Bible college, and then when I met Ray (the breakaway guy) he filled in more of the details. And I'm still so much of a dipshit I ended up a member of a former EOC Antiochian parish. My wife once mentioned Ray's name to a priest's wife there and the priest's wife turned white with horror at the mere mention of Ray's name. Wackyville, I know. Anyway, this Evangelical church had been part of a charismatic ecumenical group of Evangelicals and Catholics that broke up before it joined Ray's group, and they had some stories of their own weirdnesses similar to what Diane mentions here.

    On the one hand, not being one who has ever faired well in small community life, especially when it has a leadership that expects obedience and my awe, it is hard for me to understand how people get sucked into this craziness. On the other hand, I myself have wasted a lot of my adult like trying to find some magical religious fix that took all the problems of modernity and made them go away for me. I have some understanding of that desire to find a religious expression which with purity and precision transcends modernity and its particular pathologies. I hope I'm all over that now.

  19. A friend of mine was invited to an Opus Dei meeting once and dragged me along. My experience was akin to what Diane describes of the LoC above - it was very boring, but with this air like everyone there especially the speakers thought it utterly profound. No thanks.

    Diane, I hope your kid realizes what a fine thing you are doing for them by providing an alma mater with a good football program.

  20. Dude, you need to link up Wendell Berry's Guenonian Traditionalism every time you mention him. EVERY TIME. HAMMER IT HOME, COMMIE, THAT IS WHAT COMMIES ARE GOOD FOR.

  21. Mercyorbe,

    The Berry mentioned in this post is Jason Berry who writes for The Nation, not Wendell Berry. But thanks for the advice.

  22. Owen:

    On the one hand, not being one who has ever faired well in small community life, especially when it has a leadership that expects obedience and my awe, it is hard for me to understand how people get sucked into this craziness.

    As a fiercely independent and skeptical person, I too have trouble understanding the mindset of cult members. I hesitated these past couple days whether to make the following suggestion, since it does not appear to be a universal feature of cults, but maybe someone will find it interesting:

    Many cults have rituals that foster euphoric or ecstatic experiences. These rituals are so designed that this euphoria can be generated with some consistency. For a short time after the ritual the cult member feels wonderful, feels that his or her life has been dramatically changed for the better. Once the “high” wears off, however, the cult member must go back for the next “fix.” Since cult members believe this euphoria is a reflection of an objective, permanent change in their life, they believe that their cult has gotten things right, and that any deficiencies in the organization are ephemera, lies, or even the way things ought to be.

    I know that probably all sounds rather vague. In Christianity I think one sees this best among Pentacostals and perhaps charismatic groups in general. That doesn’t mean that all Pentacostals are cultists, but there is definitely a lot of give-and-take there.

    A good friend of mine was a member of a Christian cult while in college (before I met him) – I’m pretty sure it was the International Church of Christ. They controlled every aspect of his life; they even chose his future bride for him. I never asked him too much about what life was like in the cult, but at one point he had a picture on Facebook of his “baptism” in a big metal tub, with long Jeebuz hair, surrounded by his fellow believers.

    Eventually his family staged an intervention and got him to wise up. Immediately after he left the cult his life fell apart. He became quite depressed for a couple years, dropping out of college and basically wandering around doing nothing. Some time later he got things together again, but he tells me that he was happiest as a cult member when there was an answer to everything. He still seems to struggle with depression a lot, and I believe him when he says that it is at least partially because he no longer has that anchor the cult gave him.

    At one point he was reading a lot of Ayn Rand and Objectivism (he’s an engineer – that explains it, right?), but I think he has gotten over that now too.

    My inlaw’s cult once tried to recruit me when I was a teenager, breaking into the house and using high-pressure sales tactics to persuade me to drop out of high school and join their elite force for changing the world. Lucky for me, even then I was a stubborn sumbitch. Such naked aggression is usually carefully hidden, of course, so you and Diane only experience boredom, or at worst a vague feeling of creepiness.

    Anyway, rambling now.

  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. I misspoke: in the 2nd-to-last-para, "My relative's cult,..." etc.

  25. LOL, Owen. One and only reason #1 son has ended up at Bama: They gave him a big fat scholarship. UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Asheville, and Appalachian State gave him a big fat NOTHING (except unsubsidized Stafford Loans). And all three are raising their tuitions next year. The heck with that. Staying in-state ain't the be-all and end-all.

    DH and I are pretty cynical about contemporary higher education: It all sucks, including Harvard. But the kids need that piece of paper to get a job. So, our philosophy is: Go where they give you the most merit $$$. And that turned out to be Bama. It won't be 100% free, but pretty close. In this economy, that's hard to beat.

    #1 son knows nothing about football and cares even less, but I'm thinking he'll inevitably get sucked into the Roll Tide Thing. Student-discounted tickets for fall 2011 went on sale online the other night, but we missed it (weren't interested / too busy and exhausted). Maybe he can tag along to a home game or two with his roommates.

    Despite his obliviousness to football, frats, and the infamous Alabama "Machine," #1 son really enjoyed orientation, and he's psyched for fall.

    We're gonna miss him. Waaaah.

    Sorry for going so far off-topic. :)


  26. Anothony: Your relative's cult sounds beyond bizarre. Whew. Alleluia was bad but not THAT bad.

    I've heard of the International Church of Christ, although I've never had any personal contact with it. If you google "cults" and "spiritual abuse," the ICC shows up a lot.

    For the past 11.5 years, I have direct-reported to the Micromanaging Control Freak Boss from Hell, so I've become very sensitive and attuned to the tell-tale signs of control freakery. When my next-door neighbor (Pentecostal) set up a pulpit in her living room and started standing behind it to expound her interpretation of the Bible as Gospel Truth to us ladies in her weekly Bible Study, I knew it was time to decamp. That was shortly before she told me that I had a demon and that the Holy Spirit had told her that my husband and I were having difficulties related to our "love life." Ummm, OK, whatever. Even my BFF at work, who loves TD Jakes, thought that was REALLY weird.

  27. oops, anon above was moi, Diane. :)

  28. Diane,

    DH and I are pretty cynical about contemporary higher education: It all sucks, including Harvard.

    My oldest goes off to a state university in the fall and I've become very cynical about higher ed this past year as well. We should be encouraging kids NOT to do the things it takes to get into schools like Harvard, so that they don't turn into automatons.

    Plus when I consider how tuition has increased far more dramatically than wages, how the average student loan debt is $24K, how the unemployment rate early 20somethings is twice that of the regular population, etc. I get all the more cynical.

    For the past 11.5 years, I have direct-reported to the Micromanaging Control Freak Boss from Hell

    Thanks for another reminder that Dilbert hell isn't the way to go. I almost applied for a copywriter job a month or so ago at a local catalog company that sells clothing to plumbers and other working class people. They make jeans called "Ballroom Jeans" that are designed to have more room in the crotch, so how could I not be tempted to apply to work at a company with that kind of sense of humor? But then I noted they require proficiency in InDesign, which I decidedly lack, so I didn't apply.

  29. Anita, I know exactly the company you mean. Their copy is hilarious!! I love the testimonial by the guy who was gored by the wild boar, but his jeans protected him from serious harm. I wish we were allowed to have one-umpteenth that much creativity at my workplace. Sometimes I feel as if my entire job consists of proofing catalog SKUs. It doesn't, not quite, but it sure feels that way.

    InDesign's easy. If I can learn it, anyone can, honest. Not that I know it the way the designers do, but I don't have to, so that's OK.

    Re the whole college thing: Could not agree mroe. Have you read Andrew ferguson's Crazy U? It's a hoot. Must reading for parents of college-bound kids. Very funny (yet thoughtful) look at the insanity of the college-app process. I love the part where Ferguson's discussing the whole extracurriculars craze. He talks about kids feeling they need to put in hundreds of hours pretending to give a cr@p about the little old ladies in the nursing home, just to impress college admissions committees. He concludes that the college-app process is turning our kids into Eddie Haskell. LOL!

    He's also very good about the out-of-whack costs -- it really is a bubble, I think, just like the housing bubble -- and about the schools' newfound focus on mega-marketing. Man, did we ever see the latter at the Bama Bound presentations. Madison Avenue Meets Academia -- a very strange meeting indeed. Sometimes I felt as if I was at an all-marketing meeting back at work, getting ready to play BS Bingo.


  30. BTW, Anita, if I were truly cynical, I'd say all the schools suck, especially Harvard. because at Harvard you're paying $200K-plus for the suckiness. Plus freezing your butt off in Cambridge, Mass.


    P.S. There is so much more I could tell you about my boss and workplace, but I don't want to get fired...yet!

  31. Diane,

    Thanks, I'll check out Crazy U. The student loan debt is five times what it was only ten years ago so you're right about the bubble. Those pricey degrees are more about branding than education.

    Feel free to email me via my profile or find me on Facebook. It'd be fun to talk shop, rant about education, etc. with you in more detail.

  32. Anita, I agree...I would love to talk shop and rant about education, LOLO. Will email soon. :) Thanks!



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