Charges of 'cult-like' behavior against NJ charismatics resolved, Myers says

Livingston, New Jersey

Ironically, the New Jersey charismatic community in which the Preacher of the Papal Household says he experienced “baptism in the Spirit” was, for the better part of a decade, officially regarded as not “Catholic” by the Archdiocese of Newark, in part on the basis of complaints of “abuse, mind control, elitist behavior and cult-like controls,” according to a web site operated by former members.

At one point, then-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick issued a public letter declaring that a school operated by the People of Hope, Koinonia Academy, “is not an approved Catholic school and it is not recommended for Catholic parents as a place where their children can receive Catholic education as supervised by the Church.”

Today, however, Archbishop John Myers said he’s satisfied that those concerns have been addressed, and he recently bestowed official recognition on both the People of Hope and upon Koinonia Academy. In part, Myers credits Cantalamessa’s influence for the reconciliation.

Myers spoke to NCR during a session Cantalamessa led for area priests on Feb. 22.

“At one point there were concerns of cult-like practices, and I think former archbishops had appropriate reservations about that,” Myers said.

Given the intense style of charismatic spirituality, which often focuses on the personal leadership of a founder with little formal supervision, many charismatic communities have faced similar concerns in various parts of the world.

Myers said that when he came to Newark in 2001, he began conversations with the new leadership of the People of Hope, and was “very impressed with their sincerity and goodness.” He decided to take it slow, however, in part because “I didn’t want to embarrass previous archbishops.”

“They’ve done what we asked and what we hoped for,” he said.

Myers said the fact that the Preacher of the Papal Household has ties to the group helped provide motivation to resolve its status.

“There were people who were hurt and alienated, and we encouraged them to reach out to anyone who was seeking reconciliation,” Myers said. “They did it.”

Last spring, Myers said, he celebrated Mass at Koinonia Academy, an event which more or less marked the community’s formal reintegration into the archdiocese.

“My policy is to welcome, to the extent possible, all the gifts the Holy Spirit is offering to the church,” Myers said. “I see that as the role of the bishop.”

Some ex-members still have doubts. One web site charges that “the Church failed to address or even consider the concerns of physical, psychological and emotional abuse on fellow Catholics who were a part of this group before they left.”

Myers, however, said he values the “enthusiasm” of the charismatic movement, which he first met as a priest in Illinois.

“It seems to move toward a more radical living of the gospel, which is something this Holy Father and the previous Holy Father have asked us to do,” he said.”People are excited about living the gospel more deeply.”

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here