By Karna Swanson
OMAHA, Nebraska, OCT. 15, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha has suppressed a Catholic association of hermits after its lay directors impeded efforts to implement needed reforms that were identified during a recent canonical visitation.
A statement from Archbishop Lucas stated that, effective immediately, the Association of the Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb “is in no way associated with the Catholic Church,” and that “the vows of the former members have ceased.”
The archbishop added that the vowed members should refrain from wearing the white robe and teal scapular that constitutes the habit of the Intercessors of the Lamb, of using the titles “mother,” “brother,” and “sister,” and of considering themselves as consecrated members of the Church.
Forty-eight members of the community were transported off of the Ponca Hills campus Friday, located in a rural community north of Omaha, which housed the Intercessors, and referred to as “Bellwether.” Archbishop Lucas is providing all 48 — 36 women and 12 men — with temporary housing, in addition to food and clothing.
“My concern is for the welfare of the individuals who joined the Intercessors with the intention of doing the Lord’s work,” the archbishop said.
A statement from the archdiocese underlined that since the Intercessors of the Lamb is no longer a Catholic organization, “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; […] and the chapel on the campus is no longer a Catholic chapel.”
Deacon Timothy McNeil, director of communications for the Diocese of Omaha, added that Catholics worldwide are encouraged to refrain from participating in Intercessors-sponsored activities. He told ZENIT that there are a reported 3,000 lay companions scattered throughout the world.
Regarding the ordained priests, McNeil said they are incardinated in the archdiocese, and that Archbishop Lucas “will decide how to use their gifts after giving them some time to get acquainted with the separation.”
The Association of the Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb, a contemplative, intercessory, and mixed (lay men, women, and clerics) public association of hermits, was founded in 1980 by Mother Nadine Brown, who was formerly a member of the Sisters of the Cross of the Good Shepherd Congregation.
The association was recognized by Archbishop Daniel Sheehan as a private association of the Christian faithful in 1992. In 1998, it was erected as a public association of the Christian faithful by Archbishop Elden Curtiss. Last winter, Mother Brown asked the newly-installed Archbishop Lucas for help in advancing the group to the next canonical level.
To familiarize himself with the group, the archbishop initiated a canonical visitation of the association, conducted by Father James Conn, canon law professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University. During the visitation, Father Conn found several grave problems with the direction of the group, including concerns among the members of the leadership, the use of “intimidation tactics,” a lack of a clear understanding of the group’s charism, a faulty grasp of prayer and discernment, and problems with the treatment of the Blessed Sacrament.
At the end of the visitation, Mother Brown stepped down as general director of the association, and the archbishop appointed Father George Baxter as trustee for the governance of the association. Since then, a majority of the civil board of directors rejected the leadership and efforts of the archbishop to implement needed reforms.
“What began as a desire for pastoral solicitude and an effort at positive reform resulted in the refusal to accept the assistance and jurisdiction of the Church by a majority of the lay board members,” Archbishop Lucas said.
“It was my hope from the beginning that the Intercessors and the archdiocese would move together on this path to the next step,” he added. “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.”