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CNA staff, Sep 24, 2020 / 6:30 p.m. (CNA).-

Legal experts have pushed back after a Catholic commentator said it was reasonable for the Senate to question potential Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s membership in People of Praise, a covenant community charismatic based in South Bend, Indiana.

Barrett, a federal judge and Notre Dame Law School professor, is widely considered a member of the People of Praise and has been criticized by the media for it, even though covenant communities have been an integral part of the American Catholic and Protestant churches ever since. the 1970s. .

Massimo Faggioli, Catholic historian and commentator, wrote a Sept. 24 op-ed for Politico Magazine to express suspicion about any vows or promises Barrett may have made to an entity which, in his opinion, appears not to be responsible to the official hierarchy of the Church.

Faggioli noted that “the dogmatic dimension of the Catholic intellectual tradition is, literally, an open book – the Catechism of the Catholic Church”.

However, Faggioli claimed: “[Barrett] made solemn promises that go far beyond the baptismal promises that any Catholic makes.

“To whom did Barrett take a vow of obedience? What is its nature and scope? What are the consequences of a violation? Faggioli asked.

The professor did not note that since 2018, people of praise have made their covenant publicly available on their website. The covenant requires members to pledge mutual support, common Christian discipleship, and common Christian witness. Members often move to the same disadvantaged neighborhoods, in order to foster community development and develop charitable programs.

Praise people said their covenant agreement differs from a vow – which is a promise made to God – and that members are free to leave at any time.

Nonetheless, the Senate’s selection process for Supreme Court nominees should, Faggioli said, examine “any oaths and pledges they may have made that could affect or supersede an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of United States”.

Faggioli did not mention that many Supreme Court justices were Freemasons, taking vows of loyalty that are generally understood to supersede other loyalties and obligations.

In a Catholic context, “vows” are specifically defined by the Code of Canon Law as promises made to God, while the group covenant speaks of “a unique relationship between them and between the individual and the community”. .

The group’s alliance, according to the People of Praise website, is “made freely and only after a period of discernment of many years.”

“Our alliance is neither an oath nor a vow, but it is an important personal commitment. We say People of Praise members should always follow their conscience, as formed by the light of reason, and by the experience and teachings of their churches,” the group’s website reads. .

The group’s website also states that “we have always understood that God can call a person to another way of life, in which case they would be released from the covenant.”

A former member of People of Praise told CNA that the alliance was taken seriously and as a result his family was encouraged to reconsider their decision to leave decades ago, but the group released them from the alliance. ‘alliance.

Even the vows of obedience, in themselves, are not new or uncommon among Catholics. As Faggioli himself notes, Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, and lay Catholics in “secular institutes” take them all.

“But at least in those communities, the vow of obedience that such a person made would be visible, formal and responsible. This is not the case with new Catholic charismatic communities, whose vows are not public and whose leaders are not accountable under Church law,” writes Faggioli.

The People of Praise agreement, which is publicly available, speaks primarily of the members’ commitments to each other and to the community, and does not explicitly include any provision for obedience to group leadership, although it states that the member “accepts the order of this community.

Part of the covenant includes the promise to “obey the leading of the Holy Spirit” “in full harmony with the Church.”

Covenant communities – Protestant and Catholic – emerged across the country in the 1970s, as part of the charismatic revival movement of American Christianity.

While most members of People of Praise are Catholic, the group is officially ecumenical; people of various Christian denominations can join. Group members are free to attend any church they choose, including various Catholic parishes.

The group began with 29 members who made an agreement to follow common principles, donate five percent of annual income to the group, and meet regularly for spiritual, social, and service projects.

Rick Garnett, professor at Notre Dame Law School, argued in a response to Faggioli’s editorial that while there may be legitimate reasons for a candidate’s faith to be discussed during their auditions, a deliberate misunderstanding or misrepresentation of a candidate’s beliefs is not acceptable, nor is the application greater skepticism to a candidate’s sworn testimony due to disagreements with that candidate’s religion beliefs or affiliations.

“Several Democratic senators did these things during Barrett’s appeals court nomination hearings, and too many commentators and activists are doing these things now,” Garnett argued.

Barrett testified under oath in 2017 in the Senate that she saw “no conflict between having sincere faith and duties as a judge” and that she “will never impose my own personal beliefs on the law.”

In a 2018 interview with the South Bend Tribune, People of Praise frontman Craig Lent said the band never tries to influence the way its members live their professional lives.

Faggioli in his editorial cited a 2014 warning from Pope Francis for ecclesial communities in which he advised them not to “usurp the individual freedom” of members.

But Garnett noted that Pope Francis has praised charismatic renewal movements as a “stream of grace” in the Catholic Church, and dismissed the idea that Pope Francis’ comments could be used to refer specifically to the people of praise.

Bishop Peter Smith, an auxiliary from Portland, Oregon and a member of the People of Praise, dismissed the idea that there was anything unusual or inappropriate about the group. If affiliation with the group was a concern, he said, Pope Francis would not have appointed him bishop.

Some former People of Praise members have alleged that executives exerted undue influence on family decision-making or pressured members’ children to commit to the group before they could make that decision maturely. .

One critic, philosopher Adrian Reimers, wrote that the group had made “serious errors” in its theological approach.

A former band member acknowledged the criticism the band has faced and said bands like People of Praise can develop an unhealthy dynamic without proper attention. But he told CNA that “the grassroots members of People of Praise are very, very good people, wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord,” he said.


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