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FUMARE

Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Canon Lawyers Describe How to Spot Trouble in Upstart Religious Groups

This is a great article of general interest. There is some good wisdom in these guidelines.

See the full article here (thanks to Free Rupublic for having it available online). Somebody sent this link at Catholic Exchange as well here.

Some excerpts include:

1. “Total” obedience to the pope

Many will find this first warning sign surprising. As Catholics, are we not all called to obey the Holy Father? Indeed, we are. When a new association sincerely seeks to obey and follow the teachings of the Holy Father, canonists are for the most part satisfied the group is doing what Catholic groups ought to do.

Nevertheless, some new associations abuse Catholic sensibility in this regard. These groups cite “total obedience to the Holy Father” when what they really mean is partial obedience to selected teachings of the Holy Father, without embracing the entire papal message. Additionally, when challenged over their partial obedience, these groups will appeal to their “total” reliance upon the Holy Father in an attempt to bypass the authority of the diocesan bishop. This brings us to Fr. Morrisey’s second warning sign.

2. No sense of belonging to the local church

As Catholics, we belong to the universal Church. Yet we also belong to the local church community, meaning a local parish and a local diocese. Even the Holy Father is not exempt in this regard; he is, after all, the Bishop of Rome and thus belongs to local Roman Church. Thus the ministry and apostolate of any association should focus on the local church. If a new association or religious order has no sense of belonging to the local church, then this becomes cause for concern.

3. Lack of true cooperation with diocesan authorities

To belong to the local church, one must cooperate with local diocesan authorities. After all, Christ instituted His Church as a hierarchy. Within this hierarchy, our Lord instituted the office of bishop to oversee a portion of Christ’s faithful. Thus the local bishop, and not a particular religious group or association, bears ultimate responsibility for the care of souls within a particular geographical location. If a new association refuses or impedes cooperation between itself and the local diocesan authorities, then its fidelity to the Church is questionable.

4. Making use of lies and falsehoods to obtain approval

As Catholics, we concern ourselves with speaking the truth. After all, our Lord denounces Satan as the “Father of Lies.” So any new association should be truthful in how it presents itself to its members, Church authorities, and the outside world. This is not just a matter of basic honesty; any group or association that resorts to falsehoods to gain approval is likely concealing a deeper problem.

The Church understands that every association, particularly when the association is new, makes mistakes when engaging in ministry or apostolate. When an association is honest, however, these problems are easily identified and quickly corrected. This in turn increases the likelihood of the new association succeeding within the Church.

...

7. Special status of the founder, or foundress

Of course, the founder or foundress will always enjoy a special role in the founding of a new association or community. Nevertheless, in all other respects he or she should be a member just like everyone else. This means that he or she is similarly bound to the customs, disciplines and constitutions of the community. If the founder or foundress demands special meals, special living quarters, special dispensations from the rules imposed upon other members of the community, or any other special treatment, then this is a clear warning sign. It is of special concern if the founder or foundress claims exemption from the requirements of Christian morality due to his or her status (see point 15 below).

...

12. Absolute secrecy imposed on members

While some discretion and privacy is necessary within any Church community or association, secrecy should never be absolute unless one is a confessor preserving the seal of confession. Therefore, any association or organization that imposes absolute secrecy upon its members should be approached with the utmost caution. Members should always be free to approach diocesan officials and the Holy See if certain problems arise within the community that are not dealt with in an adequate fashion. Similarly, since these associations exist to serve the Church, all members should be allowed to converse freely and honestly with members of the Church hierarchy when requested.

...

2. The group is preoccupied with making money
[!!!!]

Like the previous criterion, there is nothing wrong per se with raising money for one’s association or apostolate. After all, even Christ and the Apostles used money. Nevertheless, money should be a means of carrying out legitimate ministry and apostolic work. Raising money should never be an end in itself. Additionally, the means employed in raising money should be honest and transparent.

3. Elitism
...

4. The leadership induces feeling of guilt in members to control them

One’s vocation within the Church should be freely chosen. Similarly, obedience is something a superior should inspire among those under his or her charge. While it sometimes happens that a superior must impose his or her will upon a particular member, obedience should never be coerced through illicit or improper means. Additionally, if a superior must constantly impose his will upon the majority of the membership through coercive means, then this proves problematical to the long-term health of the specific association or religious group.

5. The group completely severs its members from the outside world

Granted, one must be careful here. After all, the Church has a long and honored tradition of cloistered and contemplative orders that sever themselves from the day-to-day activities of the outside world. Nevertheless, even those orders of the most strict observance encourage some forms of outside communication with friends, family and the world. Therefore, it is cause for concern when an association, particularly if the association is lay-based, encourages its members to completely sever ties with friends, family, and the outside world. Additionally, one should beware those associations that encourage or require their members to live and/or socialize only with other members of the same group or association. One should also beware if association or friendships with people outside of the group are encouraged only when they are used to further the goals of the group.


I really enjoyed reading the rest of the article. I am in no way making specific application of the principles in it, but I thought some of the guidance highlighted above was rather telling and quite entertaining.

Enjoy!

Here's another little snippet from an article that was applying these ideas to some group or another for which they were concluding that the group was a cult. They said, "Indeed, blind obedience seems to be prized above all else. To question is to be 'negative,' un-Christian. Charity and unity are used as a weapon against anyone who questions behavior or motives." Sounds like the people who complain about FUMARE.

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