It’s Not Anti-Catholic to Ask Amy Coney Barrett About Her Religious Group “People of Praise”

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But according to accounts of former members, People of Praise involves much more than studying the Bible. Indeed, some are deeply troubled by the possibility of one of the group winning a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Two years ago, when Barrett’s name was floated as a potential candidate to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, a post appeared in a Facebook group of ex-members of charismatic Christian communities. “I don’t want a current member of this cult to be sitting on the Supreme Court,” the onetime People of Praise member wrote. “And it was not very many years ago that I admired them very much and was almost seduced into thinking they had something spiritually real and rich going for them.” More recently, another ex-member wrote, “I think we better start now fighting her nomination. I can’t quite imagine People of Praise on the Supreme Court.”

People of Praise emerged in 1971 after the Second Vatican Council efforts initiated by Pope John XXIII to bring the church into the 20th century. The council, which took place from 1962 until 1965, led to a loosening of the rules: Latin mass became optional, nuns could toss the habit, and the Vatican encouraged Catholics to engage with other faiths. Encouraged by Vatican II, the founders of People of Praise embraced the idea of creating a new faith community that drew on practices more common in Protestant evangelical churches. But after a few years, the group’s focus evolved in much the same way as those of other American evangelical churches, and leaders grew to emphasize the community as a bulwark against sin and the social upheaval in the rest of the country.

Most of its members are Catholic, but People of Praise is ecumenical, and any Christian can join. But joining the group requires a major commitment and a willingness to submit to a lay spiritual adviser known as a “head,” who has an outsized role in one’s life and relationships. After several years of exploration, prospective members must agree to a formal covenant and pledge to attend to each other’s spiritual, material, and financial needs—as well as attend many meetings, even as they still go to Mass or otherwise remain active in their regular churches. Members are supposed to consult their head on nearly every aspect of their lives—from raising children to buying a car. A woman’s personal head is her husband, and women aren’t allowed into serve in top leadership roles in the community.

People of Praise often live close together and unmarried people sometimes live with a married couple. There are specific courtship rituals—dating isn’t allowed until a member has been thoroughly counseled by a head. It’s positively socialist in many ways, as members are required to tithe at least 5 percent of their earnings, share property, and submit their family budgets to their head.

Former members have described it as oppressive to women, and one woman has suggested that it creates a hospitable environment for controlling and abusive men. Coral Anika Theill, who wrote a memoir called BONSHEA: Making Light of the Dark, discusses her time with People of Praise and her sense that it had a role in facilitating the domestic violence she says she suffered. Her story highlights another feature of the community: Once in, it’s tough to exit. “When I left the community in 1984,” she writes, “I was threatened and told that they would put me in a mental institution if I did not submit to the ‘authorities God had placed over me.’”

Perhaps the most prominent voice regarding the problems with People of Praise is Adrian Reimers, a longtime Notre Dame university professor who was one of the group’s original founders in 1971. In an article published in the Cultic Studies Journal in 1986, he said the tight psychological and social controls over it maintains over its members led his family to leave the community, which he believed had strayed from its Catholic roots. At one point, he writes, other leaders even discouraged him from seeking spiritual advice from priests, suggesting that the church was secondary to the covenant community.

Read entire article at Mother Jones

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