by Therese Ivers, JCL
One of the purposes of this website is to give tools to those discerning their vocation to help enable them to make an informed decision. I have not been posting on this site too often lately because I have been focusing on writing a book for those thinking about the religious life. This book is about the nuts and bolts of evaluating a prospective convent/abbey/monastery as a possible “fit” for oneself. While I have drafted what I think is a catchy title for this book, I think about it in terms of “the good, the bad, and the ugly of religious life”. Why? Because in looking at a community, one must often use a similar technique that one would use in being prudent about a potential spouse. By knowing the good, the bad, and the ugly about many marriages, one can learn to evaluate the possible compatibility of another human being as a prospective spouse. Now, my book has (at the moment) nothing to do directly with the Intercessors of the Lamb. However, part of what I am trying to do is alert people to important aspects of community life which may be disruptive or injurious to one’s own well-being because certain “red flags” were ignored, and I think that while these things will be covered in great detail in my upcoming guide, some of the problems which were highlighted before the suppression of the Intercessors of the Lamb can furnish some food for thought for those discerning religious life in the meantime.
The lay association called the Intercessors of the Lamb (IOL) had contacted the Archdiocese of Omaha to see if they could take the next step in reaching a more serious level of canonical standing within the Church. As a Public Association of the Faithful, the Intercessors of the Lamb in the Church were like a civil corporation within the US- they were a group with a common identity, written statutes, a board, etc. They wanted to go beyond simple “incorporation” in the Church and become a recognized institute or society that lived a consecrated lifestyle in the Church. However, the canon lawyer who was hired by the Archbishop to evaluate the community’s readiness to take the next step found that there were serious problems within the community. Shortly after an attempt was made to begin addressing these problems by putting in place a new “superior”, the group was officially disbanded because the lay board of the community refused to cooperate with the Archbishop of Omaha. Of course, hindsight is often 20/20, but I would like to point out some of the things an informed discerner could have looked out for if he or she had been seriously considering joining the Intercessors of the Lamb.
Reasons Why Knowing the Canonical Status of a Community is Important
1. Only members of Diocesan-right or Pontifical-Right Religious Institutes are religious and enjoy the rights of religious and the obligations of religious. Vowed members of such Religious Institutes are in the consecrated state. The Intercessors of the Lamb, contrary to popular opinion, were NEVER a religious institute and its members were not in the consecrated state. “Consecrated” or vowed Members had some of the trappings of religious life: a habit, vows, chapel, statutes, etc., but they were not recognized in the Church as true religious. Why? Because they were in the more risky (to discerners) stage of being a Public Association of the Faithful. While they had the intention and hope of eventually following some kind of consecrated lifestyle in a form approved by the Church, the Intercessors of the Lamb had the same status as any other Public Association of the Faithful (think Legion of Mary, Worldwide Marriage Encounter, etc.). A good percentage of Public Associations of the Faithful who wish to become a Religious Institute or evolve into a Secular Institute or a Society of Apostolic Life simply fold, fizzle out, are suppressed, or disintegrate for a variety of reasons. Oftentimes, it is because there are unhealthy practices within the community, shady financial practices, personality struggles, etc. The bottom line is that even people with vows in a Public Association of the Faithful remain lay (if non-ordained) because they are not in a Religious Institute.
2. A good percentage of Public Associations of the Faithful who desire to evolve into a recognized form of consecrated life fold. This can have a detrimental effect to your livelihood and future if you were to join one and it was disbanded or the leaders ran off with the money or the superior kicks you out because you have a personality clash. Please understand that the Archdiocese of Omaha is being extraordinarily helpful to the former members of the now suppressed IOL. Since the members were NOT religious, the Archdiocese was not obligated in law to provide for the material needs of the ex-members any more than a diocese would be obligated to support (for a time) an ex-member of the Legion of Mary or Knights of Columbus. (As a side note, I find it quite interesting and perhaps not entirely coincidental that it was the “lay” branch that controlled the finances (all of the group was lay, but the “lay” branch indicated by the news probably refers to the associated members who did not take the private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience) that was the portion of the IOL that refused to cooperate with the Archbishop. It was those members who had donated their money before entering with their private vows who suffered from their private vow of poverty as a result.) The moral of the story for discerners who are thinking about joining a community that wants to be a religious institute or live a consecrated lifestyle eventually is that the aid given to the ex-members of the IOL by the Archdiocese is extraordinary. Finances are usually tight for start-up groups, and if you leave or it disintegrates or is suppressed, you can usually count on being practically on the street with little or no money to restart your life. Let me say this again. Even with established religious Orders, ex-members have been known to have been given a plane ticket and $250-$500 to begin anew. I suppose that’d buy you a tent and a suit for job interviews but little else. Have no family? That’s just your tough luck. Perhaps a homeless shelter will take care of you until you get on your feet.
Coming Next: Why Canonist Pete Vere’s signs could have been helpful for the person who was discerning the IOL. As I am planning a series on the Intercessors, if you have any questions or comments about Public Associations of the Faithful or the suppressed Intercessors of the Lamb, please feel free to comment on these posts or use the contact us form.
(C) 2010 by Therese Ivers, JCL