Where Peter Is: Right Again

There’s a very simple rule of thumb for dealing with abuse in the Church. Instead of asking “Are they liberal? Are they conservative?” as your metric for deciding who to go with, ask “Does the evidence point toward abuse?”

Relatedly, bear in mind that the issue is not and never has been gay vs. straight or liberal vs. conservative when it comes to abuse. The issue is abusers, gay and straight, and enablers, liberal and conservative.

Finally, when evaluating evidence, always be sure to ask yourself, “Should I automatically privilege the arguments and testimony of people who have been so wrong about so much so many times for so long that only a fool would trust their judgment, or should I trust honest people with a track record of honesty, like the Dawn Eden Goldstein and the good people at Where Peter Is who have repeatedly borne the malignant slander of awful liars for years? Anyway, here is the conclusion of recent piece that demonstrates all of the above, yet again:

Goldstein received much backlash in response to the final installment of her four-part analysis, but like Fr. Andersen she has been vindicated by subsequent revelations. Critics were angered by her assertion that the language of the book “set off alarm bells,” indicating the possibility of spiritual abuse:

For me as a theologian and as a member of the faithful who wants Catholic religious orders to avoid enabling the spiritual abuses that have happened under such charismatic, quasi-mystical priest-founders as Marcial Maciel, Thomas and Marie-Dominique Philippe, and Carlos Urrutiguoity, these un-nuanced words credited to Jesus set off alarm bells. If Father Kirby is in the place of Jesus to the monks under his authority, and “Jesus” is telling him to tell priests that they are to beg Jesus to be wounded, what does that mean for the spiritual life of Silverstream Monastery?

In her series of articles on “Combat for Contemplative Life,” Carmelite Sister Gabriela Hicks wrote about the dangers of spiritual abuse for Where Peter Is. She describes spiritual abuse as “a form of psychological abuse that uses the victim’s own conscience to ensnare” them. In the context of a cloistered religious community, it is when a superior controls a member of the religious community to the point of “an intrusion into the life of the person.” She explains:

In a religious institute, spiritual abuse usually uses that most revered of the three vows of religion, the vow of obedience, and it uses it in a way that totally distorts it, and at the same time distorts and destroys the person.

Of course, Sr. Gabriela writes her reflection in the context of a controversy brewing among Carmelite nuns, where several traditionalist communities are locked in a battle against the implementation of the Vatican’s instruction Cor Orans, a 2018 document detailing reforms for women’s contemplative life.

Sister Gabriela is a cloistered nun living in a Flemington, New Jersey community. She writes with the support of her prioress and association president, as well as many other communities of cloistered nuns (at least based on the notes I’ve received from sisters around the world). She has been trying to sound the alarm about two traditionalist Carmelite Monasteries—one in Fairfield, Pennsylvania and the other in Valparaiso, Nebraska—that have been trying to galvanize support for their resistance through various traditionalist publications and more mainstream media outlets like Catholic World Report and EWTN. This one-sided media blitz mirrors the lopsided coverage that once surrounded In Sinu Jesu.

The attacks on the Vatican and other Carmels have ranged from conspiratorial and apocalyptic interviews with the Fairfield hermit-priest chaplain and an open letter from Archbishop Viganò to more subtle content designed to appeal to the mainstream. This includes a recent article in the National Catholic Register and a brand-new one-hour documentary on the Fairfield community that quietly slips in their opposition to Cor Orans.

Despite repeated efforts by Sr. Gabriela, Where Peter Is is the only outlet to date that has given the nuns on the other side of the controversy the opportunity to let their voices be heard. For example, in the aforementioned National Catholic Register article, the journalist interviewed Sr. Gabriela for 30 minutes, but this was reduced to a handful of ancillary quotes in the final article.

Screenshot of a reply to a November 15, 2021 post on Peter Kwasniewski’s Facebook page.

Once again, much like our criticism of In Sinu Jesu and of the Amazon Synod “paganism” controversy, we’re among very few voices in the Church challenging an established reactionary narrative and that has made us targets. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the same traditionalist figures, including Peter Kwasniewski, have been at the forefront of advancing the reactionary narrative in each of these situations. As always, we’ve been attacked for this, but we’ve grown accustomed to it. Telling the truth is often not the road to popularity. It is important, however, that the voices of Catholics like Fr. Benedict Andersen, Sr. Gabriela Hicks, and the indigenous people of the Amazon are heard.

We won’t shy from being transparent and exposing the truth, even if doing so comes at a cost.

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4 Responses

  1. I’ve recently been studying the Catholic mystics in response to some various errors, and the thing that blows my mind is how frauds like the In Sinu Jesu guy are so bad at imitating actual mystics like Sts. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, that I’m stunned anyone falls for them.

    1. There is a market for unapproved apparitions in our Church, as well as for spiritual leaders who champion fringe ideologies. I don’t fully understand it and can’t explain the appeal of it, but usually I can smell it coming from a mile away. I don’t understand why so many people don’t.

      1. @ Mike Lewis

        The unapproved apparitions fall under the category ”folk Catholicism”, which is something that has been around for the better part of two millennia. By and large, it’s been tacitly tolerated by the Church, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. it’s not my cup of tea either, but then again, I’m also not keen on burning candles when venerating saints, let alone touching their statues.

      2. Christianity started out as one like that(unapproved/fringe sect of Judaism) and this tendency is ever present in it. The Church built up its structure and philosophy through the Fathers, beginning with the Council of Nicaea.

        And it is a marvelous intellectual edifice – for the few.

        Very few humans encounter ‘meaning’ in their daily living through dogma, philosophy and intellectual edifices. Most people find that meaning in raw in their raw lived experiences and encounters in society. Think of cathedrals vs marketplaces.

        People yearn for a “church” in their daily lives, where they find meaning, where they find community, where they find solace. This is what Apostolic Christianity was, to slaves and the disenchanted in Roman Empire.

        They will build their own “church”, when they think the “Church” does not understand their life nor lives that life with them. The outcome of this could be sects, fringe ideologies, leaving, etc etc. .. but the reason is more or less the same. The Church is a Cathedral which is a beautiful edifice, but is detached from the marketplace where life happens

        I think Pope Francis senses this disconnect between the Church and the people acutely than his predecessors.

        For the disconnected people, modern technology has helped them realize they are not alone or few. They now know there are many like them, and so organize and attempt to build their own churches. So expect more of this, unless Francis succeeds wildly in building a more pastoral Church.

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