TUMULT ERUPTS AS OMAHA BISHOP SHUTS DOWN ORDER AND EX-HEAD ALLEGES 'DRASTIC ACTION'
We live in interesting, topsy-turvy times.
They became more topsy-turvy last week, when word came that a new Catholic religious community was, in effect shut down and disbanded; sisters were released from their vows; and the founder was told to resign and soon after immediately vacate the premises.
The group, Intercessors of the Lamb, in Omaha, Nebraska -- which had the preliminary approval of two former bishops, and was at the stage of further canonical elevation as a formal order, after years of explosive growth -- was "suppressed" by Archbishop George Lucas after a canonical investigation unearthed what the archdiocese described as questionable practices and the group's board of directors refused to obey directives from the diocese to reform its practices and structure.
The Intercessors, a mixed group of lay men and women and clerics, are what the Catholic Church calls a “public association of the faithful.” Retired Archbishop Elden Curtiss granted them that status in 1998. The late Archbishop Daniel Sheehan had recognized the group as a private association of the faithful in 1992. From a community of half a dozen in the early 1990s, they had blossomed into more than fifty professed sisters and spawned more than half a dozen priestly vocations. Their seminars drew large crowds, both Marian and charismatic, and there were thousands of lay members.
In May, Archbishop Lucas retained the services of a canon lawyer, the Reverend James J. Conn, to act as his delegate in conducting a canonical visitation after Mother Brown requested approval of the next canonical step, which would have allowed the organization to expand internationally.
That approval was not only denied, but led to the group's complete disbanding -- to the surprise and dismay of many and the relief and anticipation of others. Several dozen of the nuns agreed to leave the group, with the remaining ones maintaining loyalty to the foundress.
The diocesan chancellor, Deacon Tim McNeil, told Spirit Daily that the reasons included "serious disunity, widespread dissatisfaction" among the group, questionable financial practices, violation of governing documents, reports of intimidation tactics to keep members in line, violation of vows, flawed understanding of prayer and discernment, inadequate safeguard of children in accordance with new strictures, violations of confidentiality in spiritual direction, irreverent custody of the Blessed Sacrament, and refusal of the Intercessors' civil board to accept the "pastoral role of the archbishop."
"You can't call yourself a Catholic organization and at the same time reject the teaching, governing, and sanctifying role of a bishop," said McNeil, who described the Intercessors leadership as "obstinately disobedient."
The uproar began after Father Conn, SJ, JD, JCD, a canon law professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, conducted the first phase of the canonical visitation last summer before returning to Rome. Conn examined the association’s governance structure, in addition to reviewing the doctrinal, spiritual, moral, and financial aspects of the association. The visitation was conducted in accord with the Intercessors’ statutes and in accord with the Code of Canon Law, says the archdiocese.
On Friday Nadine Brown -- who, stripped of her "mother" title, is now
Brown, who turns 81 next week and whose group specialized in deliverance, discernment, and "spiritual warfare" -- described the actions as "drastic" and asserts that "I've never, ever been disobedient to a bishop ever." She said that out of the fifty, forty sisters have gone with the archdiocese and are now being housed in a monastery just outside of Omaha while 11 others chose to return home or are staying with her in a motel. The former mother superior asserts that the canonical lawyer "was not interested in our charism," disapproved of receiving "words of knowledge," and that on Monday she was ordered to leave the premises by noon without being given any means of financial support. She also says she was threatened with excommunication if she left the diocese -- although that may now be allowed since the suppression has nullified vows.
The Intercessors have been developing a campus on about 75 acres in Omaha and have a history of trouble with neighbors, says the bishop. According to Deacon McNeil, the Blessed Sacrament had been allowed in cars and private rooms, against Church standards. Brown claims that the former bishop allowed certain religious to have the Blessed Sacrament in their rooms until they were assigned a formal hermitage. Detractors of the group say it had become insulated, eccentric, and cult-like, with charisms that strayed into strange territory, while defenders say the group was unusually reverent toward the Blessed Sacrament, prayerful, and that many have benefited from its unique "spirituality," especially spiritual protection.
“It was my hope from the beginning that the Intercessors and the archdiocese would move together on this path to the next step,” Archbishop Lucas said in a news release. “Unfortunately, the canonical visitation revealed a number of alarming issues. For reasons that they have refused to share with me, the board of directors does not want to work with the Church to implement the necessary reforms.” Lucas further stated the directors’ position was in stark contrast to the members living as a community at the Intercessors’ campus. He said the community was excited when he agreed to help the association chart a new course for the future."
A legal struggle has been engaged between the archdiocese and the Intercessors' civil organization, which claims ownership of the property and has changed locks on buildings at the premises. Brown says the remaining hermits are now seeking acceptance from a bishop elsewhere. The Intercessors, who were formed more than 25 years ago, also own land in foreign countries such as Lithuania, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Brown was once a cloistered Sister of the Cross (a branch of the Good Shepherds Congregation) in Minnesota.
Says the archdiocese: "Now that the association is suppressed, public worship and the celebration of the sacraments are prohibited on the Intercessors’ property; priests and deacons are forbidden from ministering at the property; donors are advised that their contributions will not go to support the mission of a Catholic organization; Intercessors of the Lamb, Inc, is no longer affiliated with the Catholic Church; and the chapel on the campus is no longer a Catholic chapel. Moreover, the vows of the members ceased at the moment of suppression. McNeil said Catholics worldwide are encouraged to refrain from participating in Intercessors-sponsored activity. McNeil said Lucas received the consent of the association’s internal governing council before suppressing the association. He further stated that Lucas’ decision was also influenced by Conn’s findings, which reflected negatively on Brown’s leadership."
"Public worship and the celebration of the sacraments are prohibited on land owned by the Intercessors of the Lamb, Inc., a Nebraska corporation. Priests and deacons are forbidden from ministering at the property. Donors are advised that contributions to the Intercessors of the Lamb, Inc., will not go to support a Catholic organization. Moreover, the vows of former association members ceased at the moment of suppression. Catholics worldwide are encouraged to refrain from participating in Intercessors-sponsored activity. Those who wish to support approximately fifty of the former members who are now being cared for by the Archdiocese of Omaha can send donations for this specific purpose to: Intercessor Relief, c/o Archdiocese of Omaha, 100 N. 62nd St., Omaha, NE 68132. Checks should be made payable to the “Archdiocese of Omaha” with a notation made in the memo field for 'Intercessor Relief.'"
The diocese has not issued any statements on Nadine's books and videos. In a development that had no apparent connection, it was also announced last week that a book by Father Thomas Euteneuer, the former head of the large pro-life group, Human Life International, will be discontinued. The book, Exorcism and the Church Militant, which ironically lauded the Intercessors, was in wide circulation. Weeks before, Father Euteneuer left the organization when he was recalled to his home diocese after a reported controversy. A spokesman for HLI toldSpirit Daily that the organization simply decided it was not its role to promote material on exorcism. "There was no problem fatal to the book," said the spokesman, Stephen Phelan, adding however that had it been reprinted, several changes would have been necessary. Limited copies remain available through Ignatius Press.
(Spirit Daily abides by all formal Church decrees, advisements, pastoral letters, and decisions.)