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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Cult Come of Age?

When do we know if a cult has come of age and is no longer operating with some of the classic characteristics of a cult? This is a difficult question because it is hard for a group to overcome its history.

One of the defining characteristics of a cult is that it limits the intellectual or spiritual freedom of its members. This can be very subtle and hard to asses because in most cases it is not as blatant as in groups like the Branch Davidians. Another related characteristic is so-called "shepherding". This is where the leaders of the group control the lives of the members to such a degree that there is a lack of freedom. Most students of cults believe that this kind of activity actually stifles spiritual growth rather than promoting it.

Yesterday I paid a visit to the Community of Jesus in Orleans, Massachusetts. This group which came out of the Jesus Movement started off as a charismatic community under the leadership of two women, Kay and Judy. Very early it seemed to be showing the signs of being a cult. I had some people in my parish who were very strongly affected by them, and I once attended a meeting at which one of the leaders of the Community of Jesus spoke. She spoke of the necessity sometimes of putting people on a program of spiritual growth. A man attending the meeting raised his hand to ask a question. As it turned out, he only offered a supportive observation rather than asking a specific question. He was sharply rebuked for not asking a question and was told that he was attempting to teach. It was not his place to teach, it was the place of the person giving the teaching, and he was not being obedient. I came away from the meeting thinking that these Community of Jesus people are very bossy.

But yesterday I saw a community that more than thirty years later seems to have mellowed. Some of the original leaders are no longer in charge. The community has embarked on a Benedictine way of life, and although it is unusual in that it is a mixed community of men and women, some celibate and some not, and an ecumenical community, it seems to be thriving. They have built themselves a basilica style church which must have cost millions. It looks a bit incongruous next to the Cape Cod style buildings of the community. They have a humungus pipe organ, and it is clear that music is one of their primary foci. They have an orchestra, a band, a choir, a schola, and they have produced many very fine recordings. Gregorian chant is very much alive and well in this community, and I would say that their execution of chant is as good or better than anything you can hear in this country, certainly. The Divine Office is sung in Latin some days and in English on other days. I attended Vespers and Lessons and Carols. The former transported me in thought to the Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos, and the latter to King's College Cambridge.

While it certainly requires discipline to achieve such greatness in music, it does not seem to be stultifying or oppressive in the lives of the members of the community. In fact I came away feeling that in some respects they have the best of both worlds, the sacred and the secular. They get to sing with a world class choir in a liturgical space that is unrivaled in this country at least, and they get to live in a quaint village community on Cape Cod. They appeared to be very happy.

Another community I am acquainted with that started out with suspicions of being a cult is St. Benedict Abbey in Still River, Mass. This is now a Benedictine monastic community in the Catholic Church, but at one time their founder, Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J., was under interdict and excommunicated for his activities. It seemed that he had been all too successful in converting some of the sons of prominent Boston Brahmins to the Catholic Church, and he was doing it by saying that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church. The fathers of these fine young college students at Harvard complained to Cardinal Cushing because some of their sons were dropping out of college to follow Father Feeney. In a move that is still controversial, Cardinal Cushing excommunicated Feeney.

After this the community moved out of Cambridge and set up a community in Still River, Massachusetts. They grew, they published, they preached, and they continued to be staunch defenders of the doctrine that salvation is not to be found anywhere except in the Catholic Church. The people in that community, then isolated from the Catholic Church in many ways, became very much a large family. They set up their own school and even had for a while accreditation as a college. Of course the community was accused of being a cult. Certainly Fr. Feeney himself, although brilliant, was intensely bigoted, particularly against the Jews, and his soapbox preaching on Boston Common was memorable for anyone lucky enough to hear him.

Toward the end of his life, however, he was reconciled with the Church and the community he founded began to move toward regularization. Since they had quite a number of men who had prepared for the priesthood, they needed to be a part of a legitimate Roman Catholic institution for it to be possible for these men to move forward in their vocation. The decision was to become Benedictine. Not all of the community members were in favor of it, and indeed there were a number of splits. Stemming from those splits are groups who favor the traditional Latin Mass. After Fr. Feeney died, Fr. Gabriel Gibbs became the Superior, and he led the community through the nearly twenty years to become a Benedictine Abbey. He is now the Abbot. Some of the sisters moved out to Petersham and founded St. Scholastica Priory, and some of the monks from Still River followed the sisters to form a supportive men's monastery, St. Mary's. All in all, the community settled down and overcame its turbulent past. Others from the original group are still bitter about what happened to them and never accepted reconciliation with the Church. I don't know much about them, but they are still holding out for the no salvation outside of the Catholic Church teaching. They believe that the Catholic Church since Vatican II has sold out on this central doctrine.

Saint Benedict Abbey and the Community of Jesus are two examples of groups which started off as cults, but which are now are on fairly firm ground. If you go to St. Benedict's you will still find books by Fr. Feeney for sale, and some of them are very good. The members will speak of the importance of being in the Catholic Church and they still have a strong ministry to people converting to Catholicism. They were a great help and encouragement to me when I converted, but their doctrine is more nuanced now. You may hear them insist that were it not for the Church and its prayers, there would be no salvation for anyone, but unless you are invincibly ignorant not being a Roman Catholic is a risky thing to do. At the Community of Jesus you will also hear about the importance of conversion, but it is not conversion to an institution that they are promoting, it is conversion to Jesus, and the converted soul needs nurturing and a supportive community to keep it on track.

C. David Burt

18 Comments:

Blogger Hal said...

If the Community has, indeed, changed, then praise God. I lived there for seven years (1974-1981) and saw many terrible things. I also saw the leadership tell outright lies to a reporter who was investigating the cult. I have not been back to the Community since I left and have no knowledge of whether the Community has changed its stripes or whether this is but one more PR job.

1:27 AM  
Blogger Steve Cavanaugh said...

Hal,

I have visited the Community many times in the past 6 years, and have been very much edified by their liturgical prayer, their concern for worship and their appreciation for the heritage of the Christian Church. I have never been pressured about joining, which is one of the hallmarks of any cult.

The Community's ongoing relationship with the monks of Solesmes and other ecumenical outreach has not doubt contributed to the maturing of their communal life.

7:04 AM  
Blogger Magdalene said...

I also lived at the Community for 30 years! While they are very adept at showing the world what looks good, the real story is often untold. This is a PR job and a good one at that. There are alot of unhappy people who live there, who are very good at putting on the "happy face" for the outside world. I know, because I was one of them.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

This group is definently a destructive cult. I was born and raised there, and am still recovering from the abuse I suffered as a child. I find it difficult to beleive they would have done an about face. While there, the one of the primary objectives was to prove to outsiders how perfect the place was. People who came to visit were always given special treatment. As children, we were taught to lie if needed for the protection of the group.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Beyondfear said...

I, too, lived in the Community of Jesus for more than twenty years. The perfection of their music comes at an enormous cost, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. While the members appear content and fulfilled, most of them are exhausted, afraid, and miserable, just as I was during the years I lived there. It is absolutely a cult. Don't be fooled - just because they may not be attempting to recruit new members does not make this group benign.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Beyondfear said...

I, too, lived in the Community of Jesus for more than twenty years. The perfection of their music comes at an enormous cost, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. While the members appear content and fulfilled, most of them are exhausted, afraid, and miserable, just as I was during the years I lived there. It is absolutely a cult. Don't be fooled - just because they may not be attempting to recruit new members does not make this group benign.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Catholic Mission said...

Thursday, March 8, 2012
THAT EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE A VISIBLE MEMBER OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IS THE OFFICIAL TEACHING OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND NOT JUST THE VIEW OF FR.LEONARD FEENEY
So powerful is the secular liberal media that they have ‘catechized’ generations of Catholics over half a century. The leftist, mainstream media keeps repeating that Fr. Leonard Feeney was excommunicated for saying everyone needs to be a visible member of the Church. The media does not say that everybody needing to be a visible member of the Catholic Church, is the official teaching of the Church according to magisterial documents. It cannot state this. Since the lie is their leftist ideological position.


It is made to seem that Fr. Leonard Feeney held a different view from that of the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. The magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, it is made to appear, accepts ‘the mainstream teaching’ of the non-Catholic owners of the media.
continued

8:49 AM  
Blogger Catholic Mission said...

comment
They suggest that Fr. Leonard Feeney was wrong with a ‘minority view’. They imply that Catholics know of people saved in Heaven, in invincible ignorance and the baptism of desire. So these cases known in general, are explicit exceptions to the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus. They are allegedly exceptions to the Fr. Leonard Feeney’s interpretation. If there can be known exceptions to the dogma, example the baptism of desire, then it is assumed that Fr.Leonard Feeney was wrong. Also it is assumed that he was excomunicated for this error.


So the media indicates that the Catholic Church does not teach anymore the error of Fr. Leonard Feeney. Why? Since we know, it is assumed, of visible cases of the baptism of desire.


In other words: deny the dogma, deny the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Since we know of cases in Heaven in general, saved with the baptism of desire or in invincible ignorance.


The media is to never let out the secret that these cases are known only to God and are unknown to us humans.If they did reveal the secret, over 50 years of propaganda would come to an end.


So they will never state that Fr. Leonard Feeney’s interpretation of the salvation dogma outside the church no salvation, is the official teaching of the Catholic Church.
continued

8:51 AM  
Blogger Catholic Mission said...

continued
Those who can discern realize that Fr. Leonard Feeney held the same doctrinal teaching on salvation as Jesus, the Church Fathers, and the popes including Pope Pius XII, the Church Councils which defined the dogma, and the saints who were faithful to the dogma, the Catechisms, Vatican Councils and the Bible according to the Catholic Church. This was Jesus’ teaching. (Mk.16:16, Jn 3:5 etc)


For salvation every one with no exception needs to be a visible, formal member, i.e with Catholic Faith and the baptism of water, is the official Catholic teaching for all Catholics, including those who attend the Novus Ordo Mass in the different languages.-Lionel Andrades
continued

8:51 AM  
Blogger Catholic Mission said...

continued
Those who can discern realize that Fr. Leonard Feeney held the same doctrinal teaching on salvation as Jesus, the Church Fathers, and the popes including Pope Pius XII, the Church Councils which defined the dogma, and the saints who were faithful to the dogma, the Catechisms, Vatican Councils and the Bible according to the Catholic Church. This was Jesus’ teaching. (Mk.16:16, Jn 3:5 etc)


For salvation every one with no exception needs to be a visible, formal member, i.e with Catholic Faith and the baptism of water, is the official Catholic teaching for all Catholics, including those who attend the Novus Ordo Mass in the different languages.-Lionel Andrades
continued

8:52 AM  
Blogger Catholic Mission said...

continued
FR.LEONARD FEENEY HELD THE SAME DOCTRINE AS THE CHURCH FATHERS, POPES, COUNCILS,CATECHISMS, VATICAN COUNCILS I AND II AND MICHAEL VORIS AT REAL CATHOLIC TV.COM
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/03/frleonar-feeney-held-same-doctrine-as.html


IF THE LETTER OF THE HOLY OFFICE 1949 CONSIDERED THE BAPTISM OF DESIRE AS A DEFACTO EXCEPTION TO THE DOGMA IT WOULD BE AN OBJECTIVE ERROR: WE DON’T KNOW ANY SUCH CASE
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/03/if-letter-of-holy-office-1949.html


ALL THE CATECHISMS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAVE TAUGHT THE RIGORIST VIEW OF EXTRA ECCLESIAM NULLA SALUS
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/03/all-catechisms-of-catholic-church-have.html


The Vatican Councils of the Catholic Church have clearly taught that formal membership in the Catholic Church IS absolutely necessary for salvation
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/03/vatican-councils-of-catholic-


No pope has said that those saved in invincible ignorance are known to us and so are exceptions to the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/03/no-pope-has-said-that-those-saved-in.html


Being saved in invincible ignorance is not a defacto exception to the teaching of Cantate Domino Council of Florence
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/03/being-saved-in-invincible-ignorance-is.html


continued

8:53 AM  
Blogger Catholic Mission said...

continued
Vatican Council II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church is in agreement with the rigorist interpretation of outside the church no salvation
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/02/blog-post.html


Whether they know it or not non Catholics with the stain of Original Sin on their soul and mortal sins committed in that state and without the Sacraments outside of which there is no salvation, are all oriented to Hell
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/02/whether-they-know-it-or-not-non.html


When one is clear that all those saved are explicit only in Heaven it is not difficult to affirm ‘the formal necessity of belonging to the Church’
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/02/when-one-is-clear-that-all-those-saved.html


Ultra Traditonalists in accord with Vatican Council II on extra ecclesiam nulla salus
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/02/ultra-traditonalists-in-accord-with.html


DOES THE CATHOLIC CHURCH TEACH THAT MUSLIMS ARE SAVED ?
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/02/does-catholic-church-teach-that-muslims.html

continued

8:54 AM  
Blogger Catholic Mission said...

continued
CATHOLIC PRIESTS IN ROME AGREE WITH FR.LEONARD FEENEY: THERE IS NO BAPTISM OF DESIRE THAT WE CAN KNOW OF
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/search/label/Catholic%20priests


NON CATHOLICS CAN BE SAVED IN INVINCIBLE IGNORANCE, BAPTISM OF DESIRE AND IT DOES NOT CONTRADICT THE DOGMA EXTRA ECCLESIAM NULLA SALUS- Daphne McLeod, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, England
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2011/10/non-catholics-can-be-saved-in.html


RADICI CRISTIANE SAYS CLEARLY CHURCH HAS NOT CHANGED LITERAL MEANING OF DOGMA AND INVINCIBLE IGNORANCE AND BAPTISM OF DESIRE ARE NOT DEFACTO EXCEPTIONS.
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/02/radici-cristiane-says-clearly-church.html#links


The Catholic Legate - John Pacecho, Art Sippo,Peter Vere contradict each other ?
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/03/catholic-legate-john-pacecho-art.html


VATICAN RECOGNIZES DOGMA EXTRA ECCLESIAM NULLA SALUS WITH RIGORIST INTERPRETATION : INVINCIBLE IGNORANCE (LG 16) AND BAPTISM OF DESIRE ARE NOT DEFACTO EXCEPTIONS
http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/02/vatican-recognizes-dogma-extra.html

http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2012/03/that-everyone-needs-to-be-visible.html#links

8:55 AM  
Blogger C. David Burt said...

I would like to comment on the comment. I had the interesting experience of meeting Father Feeney toward the end of his life. When I was introduced to him, he asked, "What order are you, Father?" I told him I was an Anglican priest. Then he began to shake his finger at me, which must have cost him some effort since he was at that point in life too weak even to lift the monstrance at benediction. He said, "Son, you are making a terrible mistake." I knew right then and there that I was meeting the try and legendary Father Feeney. The members of St. Benedict Abbey still laugh about this encounter. I only regret that Father Feeney did not live to see me received in the Catholic Church.

I have to say, however, that the strict and blunt expression of this doctrine seems not to make enough room for the teaching that all baptized Christians belong to the Church, albeit in many cases in a state of imperfect communion. That does not mean that they have no need to seek to come into full communion with the Holy See. As a convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism, I believe what I have done is a testimony to the importance of being in full communion with the Pope. Although I have consistently taught the same doctrine because I too believe it to be the fundamental teaching of the Church from the beginning, I have not taught it in the manner that Father Feeney taught it. I believe that God's grace is always available to those who call upon Him, not that Father Feeney would deny this, but mainly to show that we are called to unity in Christ primarily, and those non-Catholic Christians who are believers and sincere and who themselves feel some solidarity with us are truly our brothers in Christ by virtue of their baptism. They are not outside the Church and they are not automatically condemned to Hell simply because they are not Catholics. But we and they must make the effort that is needed to restore them to full communion simply because we know that is our Lord's will. My understanding of the Second Vatican Council has led me to believe this is true.

Anglicans who are returning to full communion in the Catholic Church through the Pastoral Provision or through the Ordinariates are not turning their backs on their heritage which comes from the Protestant Reformation. Instead, they view much of their Anglican culture as a precious patrimony to be brought with them as they come into full communion with the Catholic Church. This is the kind of witness to unity that makes sense to me, rather than some triumphalist teaching that says something like, "You are all wrong and will go to Hell, while we are right and will go to Heaven", as if mere membership in the Catholic Church was all that was needed for salvation. I do not buy that doctrine any more than I buy the evangelical doctrine that all you have to do is confess faith in Jesus to be saved.

C. David Burt

11:37 AM  
Blogger CB said...

This is an old blog, I see, but I am just now finding it. I left just 3 years ago, and it has NOT mellowed. The psychological pressure, the fear factor, the sin hunting are all alive and painfully well. We were told to not greet visitors if we could not smile and put on a good face. We were told many things to hide the hardness of our life. The art work and beautiful buildings hide the pain of the everyday life. Don't be fooled. It has MANY of the signs of a cult.

12:07 PM  
Blogger C. David Burt said...

Thank you for your comment on this old blog. It just goes to say that the issue is still a lively one. In thinking and praying about the Community of Jesus in Orleans, I am sad to hear that it still has some of the marks of a cult, especially sad since it obviously presents great gifts to the Church through art and music.

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but I have a strong feeling that the Community of Jesus will end up in the Catholic Church. They are ecumenical in spirit, but their spirituality is catholic. Their music certainly is. I think it was Fr. Paul, OSF once told me that it was impossible to pray the Divine Office on a regular basis without becoming a catholic. He of course meant catholic in the sense of Anglo-Catholic, but one thing leads to another on our pilgrimage through life and I ended up coming to full communion with the Holy See.

As we share each other's stories, especially during this octave of prayer for Christian Unity, let us pray for conversion for all of us to the mind of Christ, and we will see the walls of separation between Christians begin to crumble.

C. David Burt

8:29 AM  
Blogger Free said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:47 PM  
Blogger MaryAlberta said...

Hello everyone, I am a student interested in exploring different aspects of the Community of Jesus, including monastic life, religious artistry, communal living, and the allegations of cult-like characteristics. I would like to represent all sides of the religion in my research, and welcome any inside information from current or former members. Please get in touch with me at maryalbertad at gmail dot com

12:41 PM  

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