Saturday, November 13, 2010

Contrasting Nadine Brown and Padre Pio

St. Pio of Pietrelcina (left) and former "Mother" Nadine Brown
of the now suppressed, Intercessors of the Lamb (right).

This post was promised over a week ago, but as you will see, it took considerable development. 

I wanted to include examples from the life of St. Pio. I know this post is long, but it was necessary due to the complexity of the point and the many quotes.  Those with no interest at all in the "Intercessors case" will probably enjoy the interesting things I was able to find on Pio of Pietrelicina and how he responded to some of the most difficult things which happened in his life. 

Since Archbishop George Lucas has suppressed the Intercessors of the Lamb, there have been various comments online which seem to be comparing what has befallen Nadine Brown to the persecution suffered by St. Pio of Pietrelcina.  Is there really a comparison, or more of a contrast? 

A commenter presents the argument

Someone going by the name of "Ariel" brings forth this argument in the comment box of my post, "Archbp Lucas; former "Intercessors" address former 'lay companions'" .  Ariel writes, in part:

All saintly souls are tried tested and crucified think about it. Every single one. Padre Pio - Bernadette of Lourdes - Sister Faustina and the list goes on and on.

"Tried and tested" is often used interchangeably with persecution, and we could really classify any form of persecution as a trial or test.

The Response to Persecution

The lives of the saints often reveal what I will describe as "ecclesial persecution".  We could also call them "ecclesial trials".  These would be trials and persecutions from people within the Church, such as superiors, or Church hierarchy, or those doing work in their names.

What sets the saints apart from others who do not pass muster, was how they responded to the circumstances which befell them. Years or decades later, we see their cooperation with grace in the form of heroic virtue.  Hence, what is most important to consider is not the persecution or trial itself, or the perception of persecution, but the response to those circumstances.  The saints show us how to respond, and their response is a great metric when looking at the behavior of others who are held in high esteem.

St. Pio of Pietrelcina's Response

All emphases in bold are mine in the quoted texts from here, forward.

First, let us look at what happened to Padre Pio:

As his spiritual influence increased, so did the voices of his detractors. Accusations against Padre Pio poured in to the Holy Office (today the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith). By June 1922, restrictions were placed on the public’s access to Padre Pio. His daily Mass time varied each day, without announcement to diminish the crowds, and he was ordered not to answer correspondence from people seeking spiritual direction. It was also rumored that plans were being developed to transfer Padre Pio. However, both local and Church authorities were afraid of public riots and decided that a more remote and isolated place than San Giovanni Rotondo could not be found.

Despite the restrictions and controversies, Padre Pio’s ministry continued. From 1924 – 1931 various statements were made by the Holy See that denied the supernaturality of Padre Pio’s phenomena. On June 9, 1931, the Feast of Corpus Christi, Padre Pio was ordered by the Holy See to desist from all activities except the celebration of the Mass, which was to be in private. By early 1933, Pope Pius XI ordered the Holy See to reverse its ban on Padre Pio’s public celebration of Mass, saying, "I have not been badly disposed toward Padre Pio, but I have been badly informed."

There we have it: Ane example of a true trial from within the Church.  Pope Pius admits that he was duped.  Now, if we stop here, we miss the most important part of the story: Padre Pio's response. 

The Response
Padre Pio's reaction is recounted Chapter 20 of Bernard Ruffin's book, "Padre Pio: The True Story".

After Vespers, Padre Raffaele summoned Pio to the friary parlor and read the decree received on June 11, 1931, without comment:

"Padre Pio is to be stripped of all faculties of his priestly ministry except the faculty to celebrate the Holy Mass, which he may continue to do provided it is done in private, within the walls of the friary, in the inner chapel, and not publicy in church".

To that, Ruffin explains St. Pio's initial reaction:

"God's will be done,"...then he covered his eyes with his hands, lowered his head, and murmured, "The will of the authorities is the will of God."

While this caused immense suffering for Pio, which was confided privately to his friend and former teacher, Padre Agostino, he did not complain or make objections, especially in a public way. Padre Agostino asked him how he spent his time and Pio replied, "I pray and I study as much as I can, and then I annoy my Brothers." Pio went on to elaborate that he jokes with his brothers.  With regards to study, he spent much time in Sacred Scripture, and he especially studied the Fathers of the Church.

Two years later, on March 14, 1933, Pope Pius XI, sent personal representatives to see Padre Pio, who had been "imprisoned" without the ability to celebrate Mass publicly since June of 1931. Monsignor Luca Pasetto and Monisgnor Felice Bevilaqua. Bernard Ruffin continues in his book:

"They found no wild-eyed fanatic, no crazed neurotic, no embittered rebel, but a pleasant, humorous man. According to [Padre] Raffaele, Pasetto was very much impressed with Pio's humility, his docility, and the whole of his conduct. He recognized Pio as a man of prayer and entirely godly."

Docility is a word that comes into play here.  The great master catechist and theologian, John A. Hardon, SJ, speaking on docility, wrote:
It means therefore to be willing to learn from God and here’s the hard one: the willingness to learn from God not of course as though God will, though of course He might, send us His own divine angelic messenger, normally not. Normally God teaches us through the circumstances of our daily lives. Especially those most painful circumstances called other people. That’s where we tend to be less than docile. Openness then to God’s teaching us especially through all whom He places into our lives. It is great, great wisdom to be so disposed as to be ready to learn from and I mean it, everyone from the youngest child to the oldest speaking to religious golden or diamond jubilarian .

This applies especially to those put over us by God Himself - our parents, our pastors, and our bishops.  Of course, this does not apply when they want us to do something which is contrary to faith or morals. 

Catholic News Agency, in June of 2009, discussed an interview that appeared in L'Osservatore Romano with the Capuchin Franciscan postulator, Father Florio Tessari:

Padre Pio was “a friar, a religious priest who profoundly observed the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience) in his life. He suffered difficulties in silence like an authentic Cyrenean and at the same time was crucified without a cross..."

He went on to point to two fundamental elements that led to Padre Pio’s canonization: “Faith to the bitter end and obedience also to the bitter end, despite the difficulties he encountered in his life..."
Of course, that faith and obedience to the bitter end was within the Institution of the Church, in communion with his superiors, bishops, and other authorities working in the name of the Holy Father. 

We should reflect, given this information, had there had been an internet service back in those days, would Padre Pio have sent out messages to supporters on some website owned by a supportive corporation at odds with the competent authority?  Would he have bothered to point to past support in a public way? Would he encourage people, in a public way, to persist in things that the competent authority discourages?

To the contrary. Padre Pio learned that some supporters were going so far as to expose scandalous information about high-ranking members of the hierarchy in a book. The effort was aimed at freeing him from his "imprisonment" during those years.  Ruffin explains Pio's response:

When Padre Pio, however, learned of the forthcoming book, he seized Morcaldi by the throat.  "You devil, you!" he roared.  "Go, throw yourself at the foot of the Church instead of writing this garbage! Don't you set yourself up against your Mother!"
Even after he learned later from Bevilacqua during that visitation that the allegations were true, St. Pio continued trying to dissuade efforts to end his "imprisonment" through the use of what amounted to blackmail.  He did not want scandals exposed, even if they were true, because of the harm that would come to Holy Mother Church.  Pio knew that even bishops are not immune to the effects of Original Sin, but that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church.  He accepted what befell him through imperfect men, by imperfect means, and he made the best of the situation.  In fact, those efforts to free him backfired at one point, bringing even greater trials for St. Pio.  He was a man whose virtues were refined like a pencil put into a sharpener, and like steel which is hardened in fire.

Is Nadine Brown a victim of persecution?

Before we can even look at Nadine Brown's response, we have to ask: Is she a victim of ecclesial persecution?

Some have already assumed she is being persecuted by Archbishop Lucas, yet all they have to go on is personal experience (i.e., "she seemed nice", or "she brought me closer to God", etc.).  What they do not have is access to other testimonies which are likely in the possession of the Archdiocese of Omaha of a negative nature.  One can find positive and negative testimonies online in very little google-time.  While the archdiocese provided a rather extensive list of problems found in the canonical visit by Rev. James J. Conn, SJ, JD, JCD, these things were essentially titles of subject areas.  Here is that list which spans across pages 2 and 3 of the AoO's October 15, 2010 News Release:
Conn's findings included: errors in governing documents; serious disunity within the community; widespread dissatisfaction with leadership; lack of safe environment policies; questionable financial practices; violation of its own proper law; use of intimidation tactics to secure obedience from members; inability of members to articulate the Intercessors’ charism; lack of financial transparency; violating norms governing alienation and acts of extraordinary administration; a flawed understanding of prayer and spiritual discernment; absence of good human resources; confusion and violation of internal forum and external forum in formation and governance; absence of adequate economic stewardship; illegitimate and irreverent custody of the Blessed Sacrament; and confusion over the administration of Mass offerings.
My point here, is that the public has only the tip of the iceberg.  Each of these areas can be broken down much deeper.  That which is provided is like a category.  It is adequately sufficient to see that there were very serious problems revealed in the canonical visit.  We know from Archdiocesan communications that these things were not the cause of the suppression, rather, it was the unwillingness of a majority of the lay board to work with the Archbishop.  It seems that they disagreed with his findings. 

Can you imagine Padre Pio continuing all that he was doing on the basis that he did not agree with the findings of the Holy See which forced him into his "imprisonment", as he called it?  He did the right thing - though innocent, he accepted the decision of Church authorities, and he did so in silence.

Given that list, I am inclined to think that any persecution of Nadine Brown is perceived.  I would not give her the benefit of the doubt over that of Archbishop Lucas.  I don't see her as a victim of some sinister plot by the Archdiocese of Omaha.  In fact, based on what little has been revealed to us, I believe the greatest victims in this affair are the former members themselves, and the former lay companions.  In fact, if Archbishop Lucas had not acted in light of what was revealed in that canonical visitation, he risked being guilty of an omission, which is very serious.

We could go back and ask why these things weren't known and dealt with sooner, but that is not the subject of this post.  (Hint: If you want your comment posted, you will not go down that rabbit hole).  In this regard, we can only engage in speculation, and that I prefer not to get into here.  We can peacefully accept the fact that there is a Just Judge who knows those answers and also knows what was in the hearts and minds of those who did not see or act on these things earlier.

As for her response?  It speaks for itself.  It seems to me that if she were like St. Pio, she would have gone off quietly, but not before encouraging her followers to cooperate with the Archbishop.  She would have encouraged the lay board to cooperate with him.  Perhaps she did and we are unaware of it.  There is nothing that I am aware of, publicly, which suggests that she did this.  In fact, the "message from our foundress" on the corporate website shows that she voluntarily associated herself with the very lay board of directors who balked at working with Archbp Lucas. 

I regret that there is nothing impressive, nor "Pio-like" in this behavior.

Final Note

Speaking in genreal about any situation like this, a small percentage of ardent supporters will follow their own discernment, right into an anti-ecclesial black-hole. Becoming manifest are behaviors ranging from subtle undermining of the bishop and disregarding his admonitions and directives, on up to venomous attacks against his authority, often involving calumnies. This is not just an attack against a bishop, but against the institution of the Church (LG 20, 23, 24).

When a community or group of people is uncooperative with the bishop, whose role is to teach, govern, and sanctify (Christus Dominus 11), God ensures that the purity of the Church is maintained through a suppression, leaving the pridefully disobedient to their own devices where they choose to operate outside of the Church.

In the case of the former Intercessors, we have over 50 people who boldly chose to cooperate with Archbishop Lucas.  There are a handful of former members, which now includes Nadine Brown, who are chosing to work against the bishop by encouraging people to use resources the Archbishop has asked people to refrain from using.  It's not so much a matter of being obedient to what he asks, but a matter of prudence. 

As I wrote elsewhere:
There has been much discussion here about whether it is an act of disobedience to continue using materials produced by Nadine Brown after Archbishop Lucas explicitly asked that all refrain from using them.
It is God-pleasing when we give up our will, for the will of another. Next to giving up our very lives, nothing is more pleasing to God than to give a “fiat”, even to pastoral guidance offered by a bishop that is not contrary to faith or morals.
It’s not enough for people to ask if it is disobedient to continue using Nadine Brown’s materials at this time. It’s a matter of whether it is prudent or imprudent, in light ot the exhortation by Archbishop Lucas to refrain from using it.

For much more info, visit the Archdiocese of Omaha page for this case

Also, there are some very good posts on this subject by Sr. Laurel M. O'Neal, Er. Dio.

Further reading added in (watch for updates)

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!
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