Thursday, June 12, 2008

Explanation and Background

There is less prayer than ever before, more sin than ever before, even worse, indìfference as if sin no longer exists, and so we have given much greater power to “the father of lies”, Satan (Jn 8:44). In particular Satan has more power to “disguise himself as an angel of light” (2Cor 11:14), to offer his very deadly beautiful lies as if they were the “truth that sets us free” (Jn 8:32)!
Thus it is very important in these times of great confusion, when even Catholic bishops are no longer in agreement about the fundamentals of our faith and morals, to not only pray much and to study the Catechism of the Catholic Church for adults, but to keep our eyes open so as not to fall into the beautiful lies of Satan presented as if they were the Truth!
For very important updates on some of these fundamental, hidden, and disguised deceptions of the ancient serpent, visit one of my index web sites to see the more important, latest articles:

Father Joseph Dwight

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The following was written in February 1987


The following is an explanation and a brief interconnecting history regarding my written works about the Shrine at Necedah so as to explain why and the conditions under which they were written.

Approximately in August 1975, my parents were given a book (about 600 pages long) entitled "Messages and Revelations to Mary Ann Van Hoof" (Note: In the late 70's, Mrs. Mary Ann Van Hoof married Mr. Ray Hirt.). After reading it at least five times, my Dad was convinced that the private revelations to Mrs. Van Hoof were true. I left college (Dec. 1975) one semester short of finishing my masters degree in mathematics in order to help my father prepare for the possible destruction of our country as predicted by these messages. I began to read and pray more although I had gone to daily Mass all my life since ten years of age. Finally in June of 1978, my younger sister and I joined the Legion of Mary. After having discovered how lax the Legion of Mary had become (compared to ten years earlier when my parents were active members), we began supplementing our negligible weekly assignment by going door to door an hour every day in our home town (about 20,000 population) asking people to pray an extra hour each week in their own way to help fight abortion. The impetus for this particular goal and motive for the extra prayer was inspired by the supposed messages from "heaven" given to Mary Ann Van Hoof as well as by a Necedah Shrine organization "The Constant Vigil of Prayer" which was part of the over all Shrine organization called "For My God and Country" Inc.

As the 10-page letter below ('My Personal Reasons Why I Left The Shrine At Necedah, Wisconsin') describes, I left California in May of 1980 to join a new religious congregation in Necedah called the "Franciscan Friars of the Sacred Heart" founded (1978) by Bishop (Old Roman Catholic) Francis DiBenedetto, FFSC and Father (Old Roman Catholic) Kevin Fitzgerald, FFSC, who is now a trapist monk in Ava, Missouri. At that time, I had no understanding of what the Old Roman Catholic Church was. I felt maybe it had something to do with an Eastern rite church; I knew very little about Eastern rite churches or even the difference between uniate and orthodox churches.

Only after about two years at Necedah as a religious in this new congregation (3rd order regular, Franciscan), which I feel was governed fairly well, did I begin to wake up to the possibility of the apparitions being false. During these two years I had also written a couple of pamphlets, one of which is entitled, "Behold Thy Mother, Motherhood" (see: In late December, 1982, my superior, Bishop Francis, had become mentally exhausted due to the constant, unnerving pressures from certain Shrine members to conform to what "heaven says" from the mouth of Mrs. Hirt. At that time Bishop Francis asked me to write a short book about private revelation to help explain to the people at the Shrine that private revelation falls under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church and not vise versa as well as other pertinent topics.

I finished the book (entitled `The Holy Catholic Church and Private Revelation' - 500 copies printed in April, 1983) in March of 1983 (see:; the same month I left this new religious congregation in Necedah to return to California with my parents who had come to haul back their belongings which they had moved to Necedah while waiting to sell their house in California which, fortunately, they never succeeded in doing. Finally Bishop Francis presented and explained the contents of the book on May 31, 1983 to over 600 Shrine members in the chapel of the Shrine-built 'Men's Home' which resulted in the return of about 70% of the Shrine families to the lawful Catholic parish in Necedah (St. Francis' Parish) during the month of June which I assertained by way of letters from friends who had left the Shrine or who were still affiliated with the Shrine; most of these letters I still have on file in California. I have also on file newspaper clippings reporting on the huge crowds (around 100,000 people) who came to Necedah, Wisconsin on August 15, 1950 and October 7, 1950 due to radio and newspaper promotion of these supposed apparitions to Mary Ann Van Hoof. For example: "Several women among the thousands of visitors jamming this village also said they saw the sun whirl. Newsmen saw nothing unusual" - Los Angeles Examiner, Sun., Oct. 8, 1950 Sec. l, Part B. Perhaps many other families across the nation also broke off affiliation, through news of these events (June 1983), with the Shrine organization which had a mailing list of over 16,000 from which substantial amounts of money from benefactors was apparently collected over the years since 1950. The local group of 70% which returned to the lawful church in Necedah had formerly (as myself) received the sacraments from Bishop Francis and several other Shrine-affiliated Old Roman Catholic priests ordained by Bishop Francis or by his predecessor, Bishop Edward Stelick, Old Roman Catholic.

I feel personally that this 125-page book that I wrote played only an indirect, instrumental part in the return of the 70% or about 100-150 families locally (perhaps many more nation wide) to the lawful Catholic Church. Bishop Francis, a four-year military veteran and afterwards a mailman, had won the hearts of most of the Shrine members due to his sincerity and hard generous work of offering the sacraments and sincere counsel and friendship while acting as their bishop at the Shrine from 1979 to 1983. I feel that the book certainly helped to consolidate and reinforce the evolving convictions of Bishop Francis (as well as mine) that something had to be done for the sake of the souls who had put their trust in him. Also there had been many good and generous people of good will who had moved their homes from around the country to live at the Shrine. These good people had maintained perpetual adoration for many months at the Shrine (initiated by Bishop Francis) and had worked hard trying to fulfill the requests of the supposed messages from heaven given to Mary Ann Van Hoof (Hirt) which included the construction of a 160-room 'Men's Home', a 2400-seat capacity church (not finished), over a dozen small shrines, printing press, etc. As the 10-page letter describes (below), these good people were more or less confused due to the influence of this seemingly natural-formed cult at the Shrine as well as a certain lack of understanding about their Catholic faith especially regarding the role of the Church in general and in particular regarding private revelation. Thus when Bishop Francis presented the book and explained the absolute necessity of following his lead of submitting to the lawful authority of the bishop of the La Crosse Diocese, 70% of the Shrine members proved themselves to be of good will by humbly returning to St. Francis' Church in Necedah pastored by Father Barney who was not well liked by most of the Shrine members.

During the fall of 1984, several friends still living at Necedah urged me to visit them the following summer. After deciding to visit Necedah in June of 1985, I felt it important to write a shorter and simpler explanation, better adapted for laymen (I feel the 125-page book was too long and difficult for most laymen), about the true, explicit and implicit problems within the Shrine at Necedah in order to be better prepared to explain to past, present, and possible future members of the Shrine cult the necessity of avoiding all affiliation with the Shrine at Necedah. I sent many copies of this 10-page letter entitled, 'My Personal Reasons Why I Left The Shrine At Necedah, Wisconsin' (see below), through the mail before June of 1985 and handed out 30-40 copies after the 8:00 A.M. Sunday Mass at St. Francis' Church in Necedah to former friends (mostly X-Shriners) as well as to the new pastor there (Fr. Mertens) who later commended the letter and thanked me personally for writing it while eating a lunch together with him and a handful of my friends later that day. Within a month after this letter was distributed, about 20% more families left the Shrine to return to St. Francis' Church. During my June 1985 visit to Necedah, I had also visited and telephoned many friends who were still affiliated with the Shrine urging them to break off all affiliation with the Shrine and to return to the lawful church in Necedah. Also in June of 1985, the new bishop of the La Crosse diocese, Bishop John Paul (whom I had met as Bishop Freking,'s auxilary as well as Bishop Freking himself during an appointment with them on March 18, 1983 after having left the Shrine) extended Bishop Freking's 1975 intradict, imposed on several key Shrine members, to all who publicly associated themselves with the Shrine.

I also sent a copy of the 10-page letter to Bishop Freking on November 1985 who later expressed his sincere gratitude to me in a subsequent letter (Jan. 29,1986) for having received a copy. He also wrote in this letter: "I should express to you my gratitude and appreciation for your acknowledgment of the fact that the local Bishop (myself) was really the person responsible for the interpretation of Mary Ann's supposed apparitions, or visions. I must tell you that that was not always easy to do because, apparently, some strange things did happen which might be called "preternatural". The commission which I established also acknowledged this, but then went on to indicate that in such cases, one must judge what preternatural "force" was responsible - whether the power of good or the power of evil. That, of course, makes it a bit scary at times. Because of so many odd occurences of misunderstanding or misinterpretation of things that I said or did, I often had to say that the devil himself had to be involved. Thank God, I believe the major influence is over."

Rev. Joseph Dwight

For additional background and historical information about Necedah, see also: Thomas A. Kselman and Steven Avella, 'Marian Piety and the Cold War in the United States', THE CATHOLIC HISTORICAL REVIEW; The Catholic University of America Press (Washington, D.C. 20064), July, 1986; Vol LXXII, No. 3, pp. 403-424.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Cult at Necedah, Wisconsin

The following article was written in March 1985 to help people not to fall into the trap that I and so many others fell into at the cult in Necedah, Wisconsin. Unless otherwise specified, all the direct quotations and references as well as further information can be found in the 125-page booklet, "The Holy Catholic Church and Private Revelation" (see: ) which was handed out by Bishop Francis DiBenedetto on May.31, 1983 in the Shrine Men's Home Chapel.

My Personal Reasons Why I Left the Shrine At Necedah, Wisconsin

Reasons For Going To Necedah
After signing up over 2000 people door to door in my home town during a two-year period to pray an extra hour each week to help fight abortion in the "Constant Vigil of Prayer" while being a Legion of Mary member, I left California to go to Necedah with the intention of better serving God through His holy mother in the new religious order at Necedah, Wisconsin under Bishop Francis DiBenedetto, FFSC. Being somewhat repelled and disgusted with the behavior and fruits of some of the Catholic clergy, I went to Necedah with the desire to serve God feeling that I had found a good holy environment directed by heaven itself by which to more easily help save my soul and the souls of others. I thought I had found another Fatima or Lourdes in the midst of much confusion and problems in the world and in the Church herself.

I put my whole heart and soul into becoming a good religious. In the mean time I heard from time to time strange or at least non-coherent things about either the Shrine organization or Mary Ann Hirt (Van Hoof) or the Old Roman Catholic Church. But each time that I heard a strange or surprising fact or rumor such as disobedience to the lawfully seated local ordinary of the La Crosse diocese or a sign up list for a space ship guided by "Alex" before the chastisement or a schismatic church or ..., I tended to rationalize or explain away each one in turn in the context of the whole of seemingly good fruits or people at the Shrine or just human weakness, and then I would forget about it just as so many others around me at the Shrine were doing.

Blindness To Blatant Problems At The Shrine
What were some of the possible reasons or influences that caused me to slough off so easily or at least not to take a closer look at these inconsistencies and blatant problems? One reason was that I tended to compare and conclude that these problems at the Shrine were smaller than the problems of many clergymen outside of the Shrine. With the help of my fellow Shrine friends, I had slowly grown accustomed to hearing and speaking and even amplifying out of proportion and context the problems and faults of the lawful and valid clergy of the Catholic Church especially those priests and bishops who had supposedly not treated us Shrine members properly or at least the way we wanted or demanded to be treated. I usually received this calumnious or detracting or distorted information second, third, or fifth hand of which I readily accepted as true and in the given context due to my slanted frame of mind when I first came to Necedah. Looking back, I can see more clearly how our weak but prideful human natures would naturally prefer to point the finger at others, especially clergy, rather than at ourselves. As we continued to develop this critical habit and spirit toward others, we automatically increased our esteem of ourselves and our own opinions while becoming more blind to our own faults and sins as well as the reality of our personal situation at the Shrine.

Another reason helping to develop as well as cause this critical spirit toward others, especially the clergy, was the natural tendency to feel that I was special to be called or chosen by God to serve the Mother of God at her special Shrine while. judging the majority of men offending God and heading toward hell. I naively felt that the "apparitions" at Necedah were true, infallible, God-sent apparitions to straighten out a corrupting Church. But I failed to realize that as I was gaining confidence and complacency in myself, I was slowly undermining and loosing my confidence in my precious but delicate faith in my only infallible and indefectible authority on earth, the Holy Catholic Church. How easily one can loose his faith especially if one only listens to talk about the bad side, even if seemingly true, or listens to talk that is unsubstantiated rumors even from the mass media or speculations of idle gossip about so-called "traitorous" bishops and heretical cardinals or "Black Popes", or supposed "modernists" or "liberals". I later learned that there had been many heresies throughout the history of the Church which began with the seemingly good intention to reform the problems in the Church but ended up losing their precious faith and abandoning the indefectible Ship founded by Christ by gradually setting themselves above the Church and her lawful representatives. The heretical sect, the Waldensians, in the 13th century, began by over reacting to bad bishops and then ended up anti-clerical. The followers of Joachim de Fiore spoke of their age as the age of the Holy Spirit (1260 and on) and thus they felt they no longer needed to obey Church authority. The vast majority of the schismatic and protestant churches began with seemingly good intentions of reform during scandalous and rebellious times but ended up cutting themselves off from the one true Vine, the Holy Catholic Church.

As time went on, a third major reason that caused me to think that there was light at the end of the tunnel was the fact that many seemed to be sincerely seeking union or at least recognition from Rome as evidenced by the several trips to Rome from 1979 to 1983 by Bishop Francis DiBenedetto and accompanying clergy or Shrine members. But what I did-not fully recognize (or at least not understand the full significance of) was that during all these trips we were consciously or unconsciously avoiding or at least trying to conveniently circumvent obedience to the local ordinary of the diocese due to the fact that he (Bishop Freking) did not do and say what we wanted him to do and say concerning our petitions or even our mandates to him. Thus, since we felt we were absolutely right and directed by "heaven", considering ourselves as almost the "last remnant" or even the salvation of the Church, we circumvented the lawful authority of the La Crosse diocese, Bishop Frederick Freking.

Told By Rome To Obey - The All-Important Individual (Test) Decision
Finally, after Bishop Francis came back from Rome in February, 1983 after talking to Cardinal Oddi and other Church officials, we learned that Rome was telling us that we must work directly with the local ordinary of the La Crosse diocese. Now we were faced with a major decision! Was I, and each one of us individually affiliated with the Shrine, of good will and truly seeking the truth and the holy will of God no matter how much it hurt? or not? We were being told by Rome to humbly submit to the direction of the Bishop whom we had so often over the years undermined and degraded by our talk.

During the preceding visits to Rome, the Church officials tended to encourage Bishop Francis in his quest to establish a new religious order. But in reality, we should have eventually expected this mandate of obedience from Rome as soon as Rome received and put together all the necessary communication and correspondence from the lawful Bishop of La Crosse. Just as a prudent principle of a school will solve a problem working through his teachers under him rather than by-passing the teacher and going straight to the student, so too, the Pope will solve a problem working through his bishops under him rather than going straight to the priest or laymen or group of laymen who are under the lawful jurisdiction of the seated bishop.

When I fully realized the impact and consequences of the directives from Rome, I knew then that the light at the end of the tunnel was gone. I wanted sincerely to know and do God's holy will. Through the grace of God and the knowledge and study of my basic rudiments of my Catholic faith, I knew there was no hope for the Shrine or the new (unofficially Shrine-affiliated, to a certain degree) religious order if we were not attached to the one true indefectible Vine.

Also at this time I discovered that way back in 1955 the local ordinary of La Crosse, Bishop Tracy, had forbidden any public worship on the Shrine grounds; this order was later reaffirmed by Bishop Freking in the late sixties. I also had previously learned that the new order of sisters of the "Seven Sorrows of Our Holy Mother", who were operating the "Infants Home" at the Shrine, initially petitioned the bishop of La Crosse for canonical recognition, as a religious order, of the Church . But as soon as the bishop of La Crosse asked this new organization to move to another house offered by the diocese of La Crosse and to operate under the diocese of La Crosse rather than the Shrine organization, "For My God and Country", they refused to submit to the lawful representatives of Holy Mother Church, but even later went against the direct orders of the La Crosse diocese of proclaiming themselves and dressing themselves as a Catholic order of religious sisters. I had also previously learned that when Bishop Freking had ordered that the different individual shrines be covered up during the mid-70's, the Shrine members initially submitted to this order, but as time went on, the Shrine members became more impatient and began to put pressure on the unapproved "seer", Mary Ann Hirt (Van Hoof), until finally, less than a year or so later, "heaven" supposedly said to uncover the small individual shrines. This supposed revelation from "heaven" by an unapproved "seer" was in direct disobedience to the lawful authority of the Church which Christ Himself founded. Shortly after this forthright disobedience, Bishop-Friking imposed valid and signed official interdicts on Mary Ann Hirt and several other Shrine members. The Shrine organization, "For My God and Country", was asked at least once to submit to the jurisdiction of the La Crosse diocese but they refused. The organization, "Constant Vigil of Prayer", under the jurisdiction of "For My God and Country", was ordered out of the parishes of the La Crosse diocese. It is also interesting to note that the schismatic Old Roman Catholic Church itself was initiated and founded several hundred years ago in Holland on an act of disobedience by consecrating their own bishop without the permission or approval from Rome and thus remained schismatic with valid orders from that point on.

Thus, through God's grace and mercy, the scales were finally falling from my eyes. I could finally begin to see the overall picture from the prospective of Holy Mother Church. The Shrine organization was in disobedience, the group of women dressing and proclaiming themselves as religious were in disobedience, the "Constant ..Vigil of Prayer" organization was in disobedience, Mary Ann Hirt was in disobedience, (the Old Roman Catholic-Church was founded on disobedience 300 years ago in Holland); all under the banner of "heaven says" from an unapproved supposed seer.

We "Shriners" demanded the virtue of obedience to an unapproved "heaven says" but were disobedient to the lawful representatives (of God) of the One True Church that Jesus Christ the Son of God founded. We were disgusted with disobedient bishops and priests or liberal theologians telling bishops what to do but were we not doing the same thing in our own rationalized way? We naively felt that we were following true, infallible messages from heaven to straighten out a corrupting Church. But if we only obey the particular authority that we agree with and that we have chosen according to our own thoughts and personal criteria, we are only obeying ourselves even though we feel confident and comfortable in our personally-formed consciences that we are obeying God Whom we do not see and hear with our physical senses as we do a bishop or priest who directly and visibly represents God. King Henry VIII, Martin Luther and all the Protestant reformers felt they were called to straighten out the one true Church founded by Christ during scandalous and rebellious times. But is this not absurdity or blasphemous to directly insinuate and believe that the infinite Son of God does not have the power to keep His promise of founding His One Church that would last until the end of time? Some Protestant reformers and their initial followers of good will later, through the grace and mercy of God, returned to the One Fold, Holy Mother Church, before death after they saw the whole picture and situation that they had put themselves in. But many persisted in their self-righteous campaign feeling that they were called to "reform" the One True Church, the same Church that was promised to last to the end of time by the Son of God Himself with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Did these supposed reformers (as well as persistent Shrine members) feel that the Son of God was not good enough or powerful enough to found a Church, made up of sinners, that would last to the end of time? Did they not know that the divine attribute of the Church of perpetuity or indefectibility means that the Church, as Christ established it, will last until the end of time? Among other reasons and false motives, the deserters did not seem to know their faith well enough to realize that the divinely founded and guided Church on earth (the "Church Militant") is made up of sinners, not confirmed saints or angels. As history proves, the Church has always had weak sinners and traitors as well as great saints and defenders of the faith within her ranks. But the divine Ship on the stormy waters of life will continue to the end of time to sail to her appointed destiny, the "Church Triumphant" in Heaven, loaded with all those faithful and true followers of her divine Founder, Jesus Christ, loaded with those who have persevered steadfast despite the alluring attractions of seemingly prettier false ships or false groups on the sea of life.

The Tendency To Automatically Assume The Validity Of The "Visions"
Also during the early part of 1983, I was doing an in depth study of private revelation and the -criteria of discernment regarding private revelation. How many of us who were attracted to the Shrine at Necedah had previous experience with private revelation and had studied private revelation? I had not! But after I began to study, private revelation and its accompanying phenomena described and documented in authoritative Catholic texts, I was very surprised to discover that the supposed "heavenly” revelations and "Friday sufferings" of Mary Ann Hirt (which I had, witnessed many times while' at Necedah) were much more similar to the descriptions of hallucinations and hysteria (most likely provoked and developed, consciously and/or unconsciously over the years) than to the description of a genuine private revelation or supernaturally imposed sufferings from God. (See chapter IV, 'Criteria Of Discernment' (pp. 22-49) in the booklet "The Holy Catholic Church and Private Revelation" for exact paraphrased documentation and comparisons of these phenomena.). Even the supposed "miracle of the sun" of August 15, 1950 was not seen and reported by any of the newspaper reporters present at Necedah on that day as had been reported at Fatima in 1917 by the secular newspapers.

Before I came to Necedah, I had very little knowledge or experience of mystical phenomena. Thus when I was immersed in and exposed to the unusual phenomena that I heard about and personally witnessed during these supposed "apparitions" or "sufferings", I tended to accept these phenomena as genuine. Another important factor contributing to my acceptance of these unusual occurrences was the fact that I was surrounded by many others who accepted these phenomena as somehow coming from heaven; those who did not believe these phenomena as genuine had already left the Shrine and were not around to explain their reasons for leaving the Shrine. The remaining Shrine members, especially the leaders, having mutually supported and convinced each other of the evilness of the outside world and of the privilege of being called by God to serve His mother by following her heavenly "messages" through Mary Ann Hirt (Van Hoof), tended to control the environment and mental input of the Shrine members according to their own ideas and according to these supposed "messages" from "heaven" in order to avoid the contamination of an evil world and to avoid leaving the "holy cause" of the Shrine. Thus, this type of controlled totalistic environment made it even more difficult for myself and the other Shrine members to observe these unusual phenomena objectively or to observe them at least without a preconceived slant or point of view. In a more or less similar way, a young boy growing up in a Protestant family would find it difficult to know or even discover that he was not a part of the One True Visible Church founded by Jesus Christ, the One Whom the young boy was told to believe and follow. At the Shrine, one certainly felt the pressure to conform to the rules and norms of the Shrine leaders. To have even suggested openly that Mary Ann Hirt (Van Hoof) might not be a true mystic would have been met with scorn or at least implicit ridicule or avoidance.

If someone would have asked me when I first came to the Shrine something like: "What would you think of a supposed mystic who disobeys lawful superiors ( a seated bishop), who talks to dead relatives at his bidding, who says he suffers more than the martyrs (even St. Joan of Ark), who tells people to sign up for a space ship, who frequently contradicts himself, who demands to be believed and obeyed, who becomes irate and even enraged when told that every word that comes out of his mouth is not infallible and that he should be obedient, who follows the true Church and even her laws and canons only if he decides the laws are acceptable, who implicitly and explicitly puts himself above all clergy, bishops, and even the Pope himself, who says Friday will be the last vision but continues later with more visions, who portrays or exhibits on certain occasions unusual phenomena that resemble the documented and authoritative descriptions of psychoneurosis much more closely than supernatural phenomena -- I think, or rather I hope I would have left this mystic until (if ever) the Church, working through her lawful representatives, might sometime in the future give the "apparitions" of this mystic at least implicit approval.

The Prudent Manner Of Fighting For The Truth
I am very grateful to God for his grace and mercy to have guided me back to Holy Mother Church. I treasure the Church so much more now after my experience at Necedah (May 1980 to March 1983) despite the human frailties and faults of many of her laity and clergy. At times fraternal correction or standing up and fighting for the truth as given to us by the magisterium of the Church, especially through her visible head the Pope, is necessary, but always with prudence and patience using the legal means within the structure of the Church that Christ founded. By so doing, we constructively support our local bishops and priests rather than undermining or destroying their lawful authority.

Commenting on the laity fighting for the truth, Edouard Gagnon, Pro-President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, during an August 27, 1983 interview with 'The Wanderer' said, "For years, no problem was solved without having recourse to the Holy See every time. If there was a difficult situation, the people would just go and ask the Holy Father to intervene and settle the problem, because they didn't want to burn their fingers. Since Vatican II, this has changed.... Now, local fights have mainly to be fought at the local level, and I encourage associations of parents and other groups to fight and be ready to work at the parish and diocesan level. ... But you know that the Holy Father has repeatedly, for more than 20 years now, given orders, such as on general absolution, or children partaking of the Sacrament of Confession before receiving Communion, but these orders are disobeyed. And they will not be obeyed, in too many cases, until such time as the local people make their bishops understand that they have to be obeyed, that the bishops have to obey them. ... Oftentimes I think some would like to obey, except they are surrounded by people who implement things contrary to the will of the Church, and perhaps such bishops are afraid to discipline, or make the necessary changes. ... At one time a great number of bishops fell into Arianism and it was the lay people who brought them back, and through the centuries it has been like that. Two or three centuries ago, the bishops were quite involved in the life of the court in France and other countries and it was the lay people, working with some good priests, who had the courage and grace to change the situation. ... One has to suffer for the truth, but at the same time for the benefit of the truth, he must fight if he has to, using the legal means that exist. And one must use them." (see also Canon #212)

Thus we see that there are times that the laity should “fight for the truth" but "using the legal means that exist" and in a "prudent, discrete and non insolent" manner as St. Thomas Aquinas describes in his several sections on "Fraternal Correction" in the 'Summa Theologica'. St. Thomas tells us that one sinner cannot justly rebuke another in such a way that his own sin seems less to be condemned than that of the person he rebukes. Yet, if the thing be done humbly, one sinner may correct another, even though he condemns himself at the same time. The good thief at the Crucifixion humbly acknowledged his own sin as he rebuked the bad thief for upbraiding Christ.

Fraternal correction, to deserve the name, must be an act of charity, not of officiousness, or meddling or pride, or hypocrisy. It is to be given in the spirit of loving friendship in God. And when such correction is necessary, those bound to administer it, by reason either of justice or of charity, are not to refrain from it for fear that the person corrected may be angry or resentful, or may be worse in conduct because of what is said to him in correction.

But we must remember that the sole infallible interpreter and protector of Christian truths is not myself alone or a particular group or even one bishop but the Catholic Church. According to Catholic doctrine, the infallibility of the Church's Magisterium extends not only to the deposit of faith but also to those matters without which that deposit cannot be rightly preserved or expounded. "As numerous past popes have declared, Jesus Christ, when communicating to Peter, and to the Apostles His divine authority and sending them to teach all nations His commandments (Mt 28:18-19), constituted them as guardians and authentic interpreters of all the moral law, not only, that is, of the law of the Gospel, but also of the natural law, which is also an expression of the will of God, the faithful fulfillment of which is equally necessary for salvation (Mt 7:21)” (Humane Vitae). Thus our all-important job is to correctly follow the magisterium of the Church with the Pope as her 'visible head. (See also Canons 212, 747-755)

On the other hand a bishop, who seems to us to be not following the Church in certain areas or certain orders of the Pope "such as on general absolution, or children partaking of the Sacrament of Confession before receiving Communion", still has his full powers and full authority from God through the Church unless he is officially and legally removed or censored by the Church herself, not by a group of laymen or priests no matter how intelligent or perceptive they might be. Even if we personally feel that a particular bishop or priest is acting worse than Jesus Christ's description of the Pharisees and Scribes, we must, as Christ commanded, "observe and do" what they "say" (Mt 23:3) in all things but sin within their sphere of jurisdiction unless lawfully removed by the proper "leaders of the Church" who have the power from God to lawfully suspend or take away their authority. (see also Cannons 195, 193.3)

Archbishop Gagnon also pointed out in the August 1983 interview: Hoping that "the offender" would "eventually abandon- the errors and-return to the Church ... Pope Paul (VI) tolerated many things because he knew that many people would have_ followed the false teachers out of the Church, because of the fault of the pastors. ... He was afraid of (formal) schism and he did not want to deprive the faithful of the grace of the sacraments because of the shortcomings of their pastors. I think it was in a great measure a matter of charity. But this is a very prudential judgment and a very difficult one, which the leaders of the Church have to make and this is why we have to pray for them everyday." When asked by Wanderer editor, A. J. Matt, Jr., "Could one say that the Church is tolerating a material schism in the United States?", Archbishop Gagnon replied, "Yes". Thus we see that "the leaders of the Church have to make" these "very prudential judgments" and "this is why we have to pray for them everyday". It is not easy today to be and remain a good Catholic layman in our pursuit of doing God's will and arriving one day in heaven. It is even more difficult for a priest and still more difficult for a bishop. We should pray diligently and offer daily sacrifices for our religious pastors and leaders of the Church.

Just as the Church's attribute of infallibility is not a personal prerogative, nor a reward for virtue (but rather a result of the assistance of Holy Spirit as promised by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ), so too the God-given authority of a lawfully seated bishop within his diocese remains fully intact despite what we think of his personal virtue or apparent past mistakes.

Unlike all human creeds and sects, the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ and commissioned by Him to teach, to sanctify, and to rule all mankind unto the end of time in order to attain her purpose of giving honor and glory to God and thereby effecting the salvation of souls. This authority of the Church was centered in Peter, whom Christ appointed the chief of His Apostles and the visible head of His Church on earth. Every validly consecrated bishop (or priest) receives his authority and power through an apostolic succession of bishops that can be traced all the way back to the twelve Apostles who received their authority and power from Christ Himself. This is the Church's divine attribute of authority.

Thus, within a bishop's sphere of jurisdiction, it is important for us to imitate the saints by humbly submitting to his authority in all things but sin. It is certainly within the sphere of jurisdiction of a lawfully seated bishop within his diocese to investigate and judge a supposed apparition, to forbid any public worship on the Shrine grounds, to refuse canonical recognition to a disobedient group of women proclaiming themselves a Catholic religious order, to order the covering of the small, individual shrines, to impose interdicts and refuse Holy Communion or a Catholic burial to disobedient laity, to order the "Constant Vigil of Prayer" out of -the parishes of his diocese, to ask the Shrine organization to submit to the jurisdiction of his diocese (the La Crosse diocese), or to refuse to recognize a schismatic church. (See Canons 1374, 915, 610, 683, 751, 1215, 1230, 391, 397, 822)

What Modernism Is and Is Not
When we feel: it is our responsibility to standup and fight for the truth due to the circumstances and the gravity of the situation, it is important for us to diligently seek prudent and well-informed counsel and to study the related documents of the Church which include the encyclicals of the Popes. As the example of the Shrine at Necedah vividly shows us, it is all too easy to be misinformed and to be lacking in the fundamental rudiments of our faith while charging forward indiscreetly as a self-righteous ("traditional") crusader resulting in only bad fruits of tearing and shredding the flesh of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.

Quite frequently, the specific violations of the heresy "Modernism" are confused and misinterpreted. The heresy of Modernism deals with the evolution of the doctrines of faith and moral of our religion NOT the evolution or change of moral application laws, disciplinary laws, or rubrical laws of the Church; it is important to note and realize the difference between these two groups. The doctrines of faith and morals cannot change since they are the fundamental laws of the one immutable infinite God either from the laws of nature or His revealed laws. Thus, even the Church cannot change the laws of God themselves. The Church can never change them to make it all right, for example, to steal, or to lie. But all of God's laws and revealed truths have been turned over by Christ to His Church (that He left us) to guard and protect and infallibly interpret for us and all souls till the end of time. The Church is not only the guardian and teacher of the commandments, but also fulfilling her commission given by Christ, makes rules and precepts to guide its members, helping them to live this present life in such a way that it will best prepare them for the next.

Explicitly proclaimed dogmas are not new truths or new doctrines but rather they are the eternal truths proceeding from the one immutable infinite God which are formalized to facilitate general understanding, and to avoid misunderstandings and distortions of the ancient truths which were always believed, e.g., the Hypostatic Union, Transubstantiation, etc., are formulated in new, sharply defined concepts. Truths which formerly were only implicitly believed are expressly proposed for belief. Also questions formerly disputed are explained and decided, and heretical propositions are condemned (theological censures).

But the application of the doctrines of faith and morals can and should be changed by the Church due to the different circumstances of place and time. These applications of immutable doctrines are Church laws which the Church has the full right and power from Christ to change and bind under pain of sin. Jesus Christ said to the Apostles, the first bishops of His Church: "Whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven." (Mt 18:18). Examples of these changeable Church laws include the Canon laws, the six Precepts of the Church, etc.

Two other basic categories of the changeable Church laws are those concerning discipline and rubrics. Examples of these would-not only include many laws from canon law and the precepts of the Church but also laws regarding how the sacraments are to be administered etc. Thus, the Church has the full right, power, and obligation from Christ to change the external ceremonies which have been added by the Church in administering the sacraments when she sees fit due to changing times and circumstances. The Church also has the power to enforce all of these laws under pain of sin or even excommunication or theological censures as well as by using her hierarchical structure which includes the Episcopal conferences, bishops, priests, etc.

Thus it is most important to realize that changes by the Holy Catholic Church of her Church laws is not Modernism but rather the prudent use of her powers as Christ's visible Church on earth. Therefore it is not Modernism for the Church to change from the Tridentine Latin Mass to the Novis Ordo or to change the external ceremonies of the rites of Baptism, Reconciliation, Sacrament of the Sick, or any of the other external ceremonies of the other sacraments which have been added by the Church since these ceremonies are not essential to the sacrament but are for our edification. "Communion in the Hand". is not Modernism per se. In fact Pope Paul VI gave the power to the bishops to determine how they felt the prudent manner of distributing Holy Communion should be done for their specific needs and circumstance. The Pope cannot be everywhere at all times. For this reason Christ (as-well as His Church) chose more than one apostle (bishop) with Peter, the first Pope, as their visible Head. Thus when the Pope visits a diocese of another bishop, he will naturally follow the rubrics and rules which the local ordinary or Episcopal conference has lawfully established such as in regards to offering the option of receiving Holy Communion in the hand or on the tongue. This situation is similar to a superintendent of schools allowing each principle to establish the less general rules of order and discipline for each of their prospective schools, each having their own circumstances and needs.

It is important for us to be patient. For "in your patience you shall possess your souls" (Lk 21:19). The Church has always acted slowly and prudently. Each era in the history of the Mystical Body of Christ has its own needs for the salvation of souls. Holy Mother Church, the Ark of the New Testament, guided by the Dove, changes her disciplines when needed. Thus, our Heavenly Mother on earth takes care of us, her children. Sometimes we, her children, do not understand why she makes the changes that she does. But we can be-sure of one thing, no other organization of the face of the earth can boast of her three attributes and four marks identifying her as the true divine Ark on the sea of life. The Church can truly be compared to that wise scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven: "Therefore every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven, is like to a man that is a householder, who brings forth out of his treasure new things and old." (Mt 13:52).

What then is Modernism? Very briefly, Modernism is to believe or promote the idea that: religion or doctrine evolve to new truths. The clear teaching of Holy Writ and Tradition is that after Christ, and the Apostles who proclaimed the, message of Christ, no further Revelation containing new truths will be made. Christ was the fulfillment of the Law of the Old Testament (Mt 5:17,21), and the absolute teacher of humanity (Mt 23:101:"One is your master, Christ"; cf. Mt 28: 20). The Apostles saw in Christ: "the coming of the fullness of time" (Gal 4:4) and regarded as their task the preservation, integral and un-falsified, of the heritage of Faith entrusted to them by Christ (1Tim 6:14; 6:20; 2Tim 1:14; 2:2; 3:14). The Fathers indignantly repudiated the claims of the heretics to possess secret doctrines or new revelations of the Holy Spirit. St. Irenaeus and Tertullian stress, against the Gnostics, that the full truth of Revelation is contained in the doctrine of the Apostles which is preserved un-falsified through the uninterrupted succession of the bishops.

Pope St. Pius X was the great Pope among others who courageously and steadfastly fought against this subtle but very powerful satanic disease within the Church especially today in our modernistic rebellious age. He termed it as the basis and "synthesis of all heresies" (See the decree 'Lamentabili' (1907) and the encyclical 'Pascendi' (1907) as well as the 'Oath Against Modernism! (1910) for all clergy to be advanced to'major orders.)

The tenets and numerous followers of Modernism and Neo-Modernism promote the fallacy that the Church must conform to the norms of the world as they change with the whims of the masses of people through time. Whereas Christ and His divinely guided Church have always told us that the world must conform to the Church and be guided on faith and morals by the Church (Mt 16:17-19; 18:17; Mk 16:15-16; Lk 10:16; Acts 20:28; 2Cor 5:20).
Thus, in essence, before we stand up and fight for the truth for love of God and our beloved Holy Mother Church, we should know well our Catholic faith and know specifically what the Church teaches or requires regarding the specific violations of an offender whether it be in the area of the doctrines of faith and morals (such as publicly teaching that Christ is not divine or that His holy mother Mary was not a virgin) or in the area of moral application laws of the Church (such as improper sex education), disciplinary laws of the Church (such as illicit general absolution), or rubrical laws of the Church (such as not following the important rubrics of the-Mass or o the other sacraments).

The Greatest Criteria Of Validity - Sincere Humble Obedience
As the lives of the saints and mystics teach us, the first thought in regard to revelations of every kind should be to inform fully a representative of the Church. Actually the history of revelations teaches us that visionaries of every type and their associates have understood that the .were obliged to tell everything to the priests.

It goes without saying that one must in such cases follow the directives of the representatives of the Church. Even if these are opposed to the strongest convictions of the visionary, they must be obeyed. God will always arrange things for the best, and, if necessary, change the feelings of His representatives. We recall the case of St. Teresa - through obedience she was made to deride the visions of the Lord of which she had said that "when I saw Him before me, if I were cut to pieces, I could not believe it was Satan..." The Lord later told her that she had been perfectly right to act obediently. The Lord blessed all obedient people. To offer opposition to the obedience owed to the Church is to set oneself upon the wrong path. Disobedience-is a negative criterion of discernment and emphasized by theologians. And one of the reasons which bishops and other ecclesiastical authorities have given for condemning this or that apparition has been precisely the disobedience of the visionaries or even of members of the Church who believed in the apparitions in question and disobeyed the instructions given upon the matter, as happened at Exquioga and on other occasions.

No quality in the subject (visionary) of a revelation bears clearer testimony to his or her authenticity than does deep humility. All experts insist upon this virtue. Gerson puts it at the head of five criteria of discernment which he recommends in his treatise upon the distinction between true and false visions. It is not difficult to see why humility is so important for discernment. It is because the man who possesses it is not seeking his own glory; he seeks self-effacement. He is, as a consequence, excellently disposed to receive revelations without including therein anything of his own. Praising humility, our Lord Himself declared: "He that speaks of himself seeks his own glory: but he that seeks the glory of him that sent him, he is true, and there is no injustice in him" (Jn 7:18).

As explained by the Catholic Encyclopedia, the visionary should be perfectly calm and patient if his superiors do not allow him to carry out the enterprises that he deems inspired by Heaven or revealed. One who, when confronted with this opposition, becomes impatient or discouraged, shows that he has very little confidence in the power of God and is but little conformed to His will. If God wishes the project to succeed, He can make the obstacles suddenly disappear at the time appointed by Him. A very striking example of this divine delay is to be found in the life of St. Juliana, the Cistercian prioress of Montcormillon, near Liege (1192-1258). It is to her that the institution of the feast of the Blessed Sacrament is due. All her life was passed in awaiting the hour of God, which she was never to see, for it came only more than the century after the beginning of the revelations.

It is sad to think of the many Catholics and non-Catholics who have been scandalized by the Shrine at Necedah. Not only the Catholics who have been drawn away from their licit and valid parishes in the Catholic Church thinking that they had found a genuine Fatima or some type of a utopia, but also the non-Catholics have been scandalized hearing and reading in the newspapers about the turmoil and confusion and supposed miracles of the "cult" at Necedah with their "bead worship" and "gaudy statues" and "Black boxs" and ... It is sad that such holy devotions as the Rosary and the inspiring value of beautiful statues of Christ and the saints (God's exemplary creations) are drug down with the scandal of a rebellious schismatic group in opposition to their pastor, the lawful local ordinary of the La Crosse diocese.

Perhaps if I had known better the basic rudiments of my Catholic faith and the absolute requirement of being attached to the one, true, indefectible Vine, even if many of her ministers exhibit many faults and human failings and even promote false doctrines and scandalous practices, perhaps I would have discovered more quickly the real situation at the Shrine, despite the many alluring and reverent and devotional trimmings. It took me almost three years to discover that I had jumped from the frying pan of the environment of liberal and scandalous practices to the fire of being outside of the one true Church.

I have learned how important it is to see beyond the human shortcomings of a priest or a superior in order to see and respect their God-given dignity and authority and obey them in all things but sin within their sphere of jurisdiction, just as a child should toward his parents. But at the same time, I have also learned how important it is to struggle and even fight for the truth while striving to be ever more prudent and tactful in this important pursuit, otherwise the possible good fruits may not ripen or could easily spoil due to impure personal motives outside the holy will of God.

It is true that times are tremulous and confusing now, but do difficult and confusing times warrant any of us to become protestant and leave our divinely guided and indefectible Ark on the turbulent sea of life, our Holy Mother Church, as so many other thousands of souls have done in the past both through heresy and schism? Only in heaven will we find no confusion and perfect peace!

While living and working at the Shrine, there was a type of self-inflated thrill or enthusiasm to be specially called to serve the Mother of God even amid the frequent internal and external disagreements and divisions at the Shrine which were blamed on "the old boy" (the devil) rather than looking at ourselves or the real overall Shrine situation. I hope now that this self-complacent energy of being important and the chiefs of the "holy cause" at Necedah will be replaced by an ardent zeal to serve Jesus through Mary in the more normal daily routine of serving Holy Mother Church in my ordinary daily prayers and sacrifices as I strive to purify my intentions and love of God each day through a good morning offering, daily meditation and examination of conscience. This is the normal "little way" of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and all the saints of God.

I am very grateful to God to have been born and reared a Catholic and for the many faithful Catholic clergy who have given their whole lives to bring me the sacraments and the undiluted and undistorted truths of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I love my clergy very much and I realize their great God-given responsibility and power over the precious souls of Christ's flock. I diligently pray and offer sacrifices daily for our priests and bishops as was requested by our Heavenly Mother at Fatima.

I sincerely ask for your prayers that I may serve Holy Mother Church with all my heart, soul, mind and strength for the rest of my life and into eternity with the Immaculate Church Triumphant!!!

Sincerely in Christ through Mary,
Joseph J. Dwight, Jr., March 1985

A Psychological Analysis of a Cult

A Psychological Analysis of a Cult at Necedah, Wisconsin

This paper will analyze the dynamics of a particular cult at Necedah, Wisconsin. The analysis will follow closely a typical psychological analysis of the most basic system, the family. After a brief history and description of the cult, appropriate parallels and non-parallels will be drawn between the family system and this cultic system of people while reflecting on variations and possible explanations of the dynamics of such a system.[1]

History of the Cult
On August 15, 1950, approximately 100,000 Catholic pilgrims gathered at the farm of Fred and Mary Ann Van Hoof in Necedah, Wisconsin. They had come hoping to witness a miracle that would confirm reports that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had on several occasions during the past few months appeared to Mrs. Van Hoof and given her messages warning of dangers threatening America and the Catholic Church. Although no dramatic miracle occurred, the crowd was consoled and edified by the message from Mary Ann. Following the climatic events of August 15 a cult based on the apparitions formed around the Van Hoof shrine. But the support of Catholics wavered as a result of episcopal suspicion. The cult managed to survive official condemnations in 1955 and 1970 as well as interdicts imposed in 1975 and 1985. As many as 500 devotees moved to Necedah by the early 1980's where they formed a tightly knit sectarian community.
The apparitions at Necedah in 1950, despite their apparent oddity, were not unique events, but formed part of a Marian revival that included more than one hundred apparitions in Europe and the United States in the years following World War II.[2] During the transitional period after Vatican Council II, more Catholics continued to come to Necedah often due to observing what they felt were scandalous behavior and bad fruits of some of the Catholic clergy. Most came to Necedah with the desire to serve God feeling that they had found a good holy environment directed by heaven itself. They felt they had found another Fatima or Lourdes in the midst of much confusion and problems in the world and in the Church itself.

Although there were real inconsistencies and blatant problems at the shrine, most new-comers (and old-comers) tended to rationalize or explain away these problems in the context of the whole of seemingly good fruits or good people at the shrine, or just human weakness, and then they forgot about it as so many others at the shrine at Necedah did. Gossip and detraction against supposed scandalous Catholic clergy was very common among shrine members. There was also the natural tendency to feel special to be called or chosen by God to serve the Mother of God at her special shrine while judging the majority of men and clergy offending God and heading toward hell. Most naively felt that the "apparitions" at Necedah were true, infallible, God-sent apparitions to straighten out a corrupting Church.

The true background of Mrs. Van Hoof was dismissed as false rumors and ridiculous by her loyal followers.[3] But the facts were that Mrs. Van Hoof had been mixed up in "mysticism" from her childhood. As a young girl, she had worked in her mother's "spirit cabin" assisting Elizabeth Bieber's "medium show". Her family's ties to the Associated Spiritualist Church were so strong in 1950 that the commercial spiritualists and clairvoyants from around the country began to report that their "spirit guides" and "controls" were confirming Mary Ann's visions from the next life.[4]

During the Fridays of Lent, Mary Ann would go through convulsions as if suffering the "agonies of Christ on the Cross". The psychiatric report during a Church investigation of 1955 indicated that the seizures were the result of hysteria.[5]

From 1979 to 1983, some "Old Catholic" clergy established themselves at the shrine at Necedah; when they left in 1983, over half of the shrine affiliates left the shrine with them and returned to the lawful local Catholic parish in the town of Necedah. Although Mary Ann died on March 18, 1984, the multi-million dollar operation continues to operate being directed by "For My God and My Country, Inc.", a non-profit organization set up according to the directions of Mary Ann's "celestial" visitors to fulfill the Blessed Mother's requests and propagate her messages.

What Is A Cult?
A cult certainly falls under the category of a system.[6] A cultic system also interacts within the larger system of the society. This paper will concentrate on the intra-dynamics of the cult at Necedah while occasionally referring to the inter-dynamics within the larger proximate system of the local society interacting with this cult. To delineate and describe this cultic system more adequately and easily, parallels will be drawn between the family system and the cult at Necedah. Beyond these parallels, the analysis of the cult will be less systematic but related to family psychology or psychology in general.

How a Cult Is Like a Family
In a sense, a cult is like a merged or re-combined family. But the individuals or individual families joining the cult align themselves rather strongly with the goals and purposes of the cult or cult leader. Whereas in a typical family merger, both the man and woman and their corresponding family members merge on a more equal basis and thus tend to mutually influence each other and establish the goals of the newly merged family.[7] With respect to a cult, especially in an established cult, a new member or family comes with expectations about this cult, but tends to surrender the mind and will to the influence of the cult having many members already.[8]

By and large, people came to the shrine due to disappointment in their local parishes of their origin and/or seeking to at least feel or believe they were serving the Mother of God. In a sense they felt their original parish family (system) failed them. Thus many brought their expectations, probably received from their parents, to the shrine. The high expectations of this sort of re-combined family at Necedah were more or less fulfilled once it was accepted and believed that Mary Ann was truly a chosen soul by God. Thus whatever she did or said was the source and criteria of truth and morals and good. What more could be expected![9] In this situation, the only other alternative in the minds of the shriners was that Mary Ann had to be possessed by the devil or at least very sick psychologically. But this was out of the question once one accepted the cult doctrine and belief.[10] This fulfillment of expectations was more at the unconscious level than at the conscious and spoken level or conscious and unspoken level.

Purpose of the Cultic System
A general and typical purpose of a family is to prepare members for society so as to live autonomously and yet contribute to society. The cult at Necedah tended to the contrary of this purpose. One came to Necedah to flee the adverse influences of the mainstream society or Church but ended up surrendering a rather substantial amount of ones mind and will to the collective mind and will of the cult with its norms and dictates.

One of the purposes of the cult at Necedah, at least at the subconscious level, was to maintain a type of emotional high. This enthusiasm was prompted and sustained by a feeling of being special at the shrine of Necedah and being close to a supposed chosen soul and saint of God, Mary Ann. This enthusiasm was also aided by the important projects the shriners busily worked on which were mandated by "heaven". This typical type of emotional high among shrine members also helped to hold them together despite inner cult tensions and stresses.

An implicit purpose of the Necedah cult was to render a type of adoration to Mary Ann who in a sense implicitly substituted herself for God. She explicitly was held as a great living saint[11] who was chosen by God as a victim soul and communicator ("voice box") with "celestial" visitors who supposedly appeared to Mary Ann.[12]

Most of the shrine members had a deep craving for security[13] offered in a firm way which the cult and the "chosen one", Mary Ann, provided. Mary Ann was pleased with adoration given her but in a sense, her adorers needed someone to adore also. Mary Ann was certainly the "pursued" and her followers were the "pursuers". Since many of the shrine members had lost touch, in a certain sense, with a more balanced Catholicism which directs people to the proper knowledge and object to be adored (and the appropriate and true mediator of this knowledge and object),[14] Mary Ann tended to fill the void that human nature needed. She played her role well speaking with authority backed up by “heaven.” It does not seem, though, that the majority of the individuals and families who moved to Necedah were unusually abnormal.[15]

There are other needs and aspirations of people which at least seem to be offered within a cult. Certainly Necedah helped offer a place where one could express ones Marian piety.[16]

Psychological Fusion?
In the same line of thought, it would not seem reasonable to conjecture that most of the individuals who came to Necedah had not matured beyond the "rapprochement" or "object constancy" level of development[17] or were seeking to re-fuse with a substitute "mother". It seems this conclusion would be over simplifying the matter within intra-psychological analysis.[18]

On a perhaps more mature level, though, it seems reasonable to posit a certain fusion of individuals, even abnormal, with the cult which also resulted in a rather rigid cultic boundary between the group and the outside society. There was also at Necedah a very strong implicit and explicit allegiance (or type of fusion) to Mary Ann.[19] There was a constant preoccupation with hearing the latest word (gossip) often originating from the mouth of Mary Ann no matter how trivial. Mary Ann was considered to be a direct pipe line to heaven and thus virtually infallible and impeccable.[20]

Besides this positive allurement toward Mary Ann, there was also great pressure to conform in mind and heart with the mind and heart of the cult. A rather full and busy schedule was maintained at the shrine including a heavy work and prayer[21] schedule as well as social events exclusively for shrine members. Thus there was little time to think and reflect about the overall situation or to individuate from the group flow of attitudes and aspirations.[22] Thus the shrine members were not free to be autonomous and independent.[23] There was a cult-wide symbiosis inhibiting the individuality of every member. The cult members wanted and needed the cult and Mary Ann wanted adoration.[24] Thus each fell into or was psychologically forced[25] into rigid patterns to preserve the cult at the expense of their individuality.[26] A shrine member may want to whimper a complaint or consider certain discrepancies or inconsistencies within the cult or about Mary Ann, but he or she is afraid to verbalize or even think of such a possibility. Individual spontaneity and creativity are compromised in the interest of keeping unity[27] or personal motives or fears.

By not individually dealing with the stress within the Church at large and within society, hundreds of people came to the shrine to surrender to a cultic system with its own rules which ruled the members with an iron hand. This cultic togetherness produced a stress of its own because it deprived the cult members of normal and healthy individuality and autonomy.[28] This type of fear of loss of self was somewhat placated by the attitude of being very special at the Mother of God's special shrine.[29] Also it seems that this abnormal surrender of the mind and will to the cult[30] often seeped out[31] in the form of the critical spirit toward non-cult members but also toward each other within the cult in a more subtle but intimidating way. Shrine members almost habitually looked into their neighbors business to see if others were following what "heaven says" as propagated by the shrine organizations and hierarchy.

Cultic Thermostat?
In a sense, this prying into other peoples affairs was a type of constant thermostat to maintain some of the basic purposes of the cult, i.e., to satisfy the human need for security (especially about salvation) and adoration.[32] Thus if Mary Ann was not being adored and followed properly or if the enthusiasm of being in a secure[33] special place fluctuated, something had to be done at least at the subconscious level. One way that this enthusiasm or high was rejuvenated and maintained was by creating or re-presenting the enemies of the "holy cause" of the cult, i.e., the devil,[34] communists, liberal bishops, pornography, etc. Sporadic persecution from the outside, especially from the mass media,[35] especially helped to nurture his martyrdom complex. Maintaining enemies helped the cult.[36] The lack of enemies tended to disrupt the homeostasis[37] of the cult.[38] These enemies served the function or played the role of a type of "scapegoat" triangulated in between Mary Ann and her followers. A common enemy is generally a great help for unity.[39]

Cultic Boundaries
From this discussion, we see clearly that the boundaries of the cultic system at Necedah are very rigid. Anyone who did not agree with the norms of the cult were considered enemies. There was no toleration of divergent opinions.[40] These boundaries were not only rigid but virtually non-permeable and non-flexible. The only permeability allowed or at least possible was entrance into the cult and total conformity to the cult standards and expectations or, exit from the cult which included total excommunication from the cult.[41]

There was no flexibility or permeability by way of mercy or even an attitude of mercy toward deserters or scandalous outside clergy or laymen.[42] No "sinners" were allowed[43] unless total surrender to the shrine was offered by the apostate(s).[44] Also, there was virtually no dialogue through the rigid boundary of the cult.[45]

There is also a great preoccupation at the shrine to filter all incoming information in any form to make sure no detrimental influences contaminated the pure and holy environment of the shriners.[46]

The rapid proliferation of cults and sects in the last 20-30 years has alerted the attention of many people and experts in many fields of expertise. Mainline Churches throughout the world are loosing tens of thousands of members to the cults and fundamentalist groups every month. Well-intentioned people are being swept up into these groups.

I feel the recent emphasis and development of family psychology will help greatly to shed light on this phenomenon. Certainly there are many parallels as well as differences. Both the family and the cult are systems of people. Thus, just as a basic system reacts to hostile intruders to protect the integrity of its own particular life system, or makes changes based on information about the environment, so too the cult.

I feel that greater information about the modern cultic phenomenon may not be able to be utilized to draw people away from a cult. But such information will be able to give needed knowledge and understanding to numerous concerned Christian pastors so that they might offer and attempt to fulfill the needs and desires of those in their flock that they might be tempted to seek these longings in a cult. This is precisely the tact taken by the 1986 Vatican document on 'New Religious Movements'.

Joseph Dwight

[1] The author spent three years in the cult at Necedah from May 1980 to May 1983 at the end of which time he wrote a 125 page booklet, “The Holy Catholic Church and Private Revelation” to help the “shriners” come back to the Church in the diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Parallels and similarities of the cult system will often be referenced to the family system and analysis described in: Napier, Augustus and Whitaker, Carl, ‘The Family Crucible’; Haper & Row, Publishers, N.Y., 1988.
[2] Kselman, Thomas A., Avella, Steven, 'Marian Piety and the Cold War in the United States', The Catholic Historical Review; The Catholic University of America Press (Washington, D.C. 20064), July, 1986; Vol. LXXII, No. 3, p.405.
[3] The criteria of truth and basis of all judgment for the shriners tended to be Mary Ann and her messages. Thus all was judged according to this criteria. Thus, accusations against Mary Ann and against the shrine had to be false; the bishops of the La Crosse Diocese were seen as instruments of the devil since they did not approve of "heaven's" work.
[4] Peregrinus, 'The Strange Story of the Necedah Cult', The Roman Catholic (I only had a xerox copy without the date but the article must have been written in 1979 or 1980); p. 11.
[5] Ibid., p. 12.
[6] "A family theorist, Lynn Hoffman, comments: 'The question of what a system is is a vexing one. The most common definition seems to be: any entity the parts of which co-vary interdependently with one another, and which maintains equilibrium in an error-activated way'", Napier, p. 47.
[7] The new husband and wife of the second marriage may tend to be more unrealistic about their expectations due to reacting or responding to unfulfilled expectations of the first marriage. But they are more likely (compared to one individual joining an established cult) to mutually blend and establish the goals of a family.
[8] This also somewhat occurs naturally as with a family within the larger system, the society at large. But in a cult, the environment is more totalistic and influential on the individual units in the cult. At Necedah, in particular as members of the main shrine organization, 'For My God and My Country', one was expected to complete and turn in weekly reports of required shrine oriented work as well as even notify certain higher authorities of the shrine when leaving the shrine grounds for an extended period. Certain shrine authorities also censored just about all the various types of incoming written, audio, and visual material entering the shrine grounds which might influence and possibly contaminate shrine members with the "evil" outside would.
[9] A new human spouse in a re-combined family generally does not live up to the expectations of the other new spouse. But human spouses are human, whereas Mary Ann was a "saint"!
[10] Things were viewed and explained in a very black and white fashion at the shrine: "You're either with us or against us". There was little room for mercy or understanding or human opinion or interpretation in between.
[11] After Mary Ann's death and before she was buried, the top ranking shrine authority called a canon lawyer to find out if it would be better not to embalm Mary Ann's body so that her body could be examined more quickly to conclude her body was incorrupt!
[12] A similar phenomena sometimes happens within a family in which the father or mother expect the total allegiance or even adoration from the children even for the entire lives of the children (cf. Napier, pp. 72-73). In this system, in a sense, the child's purpose is to give glory to the father or mother rather than to God. God made all things and creatures for the glory of God and all of creation must be used in its own proper priority as well explained and emphasized by St. Ignatious in his 'Spiritual Exercises'.
One could also perhaps extend this parallel in degrees to more typical occurrences in society such as unhealthy group (or even societal) peer pressure to conform to the group or group leader among adolescents, or adults etc.
Who establishes, or rather who does each individual let establish for himself or herself the priorities or hierarchy of allegiance? Himself or herself? The society? A religious group or church? God? But Who is God or how is God defined and known by each (humanly subjective) individual? Obviously these questions are important but are beyond the scope of this paper.
Authority and parents were more unquestioned in the past. Now the subjects under authority tend to question the actions and guidance of authority.
[13] See 'stress', Napier, p. 89.
This craving for security seems very similar to the same craving for security and justification and salvation that is typically found in fundamentalist groups.
[14] A cult directs the main focus of attention to a human personality rather than the divine Personality properly defined and known.
[15] Most of the individuals at Nededah seemed by and large normal and were generally older and predominantly of German origin (although there were many young and generally large families from second generation shrine children in the early 1980's).
It should be noted that when shown in a rather clear and yet gentle way the folly and falseness of the cult (and the necessity of submitting to the local ordinary) in May of 1983 by the "Old Catholic" clergy which had won the trust of most of the shrine members, over 50% returned to the lawful local Catholic Church within one or two months despite the animosities that had grown over the years toward the lawful local pastor, Fr. Barney.
[16] Also the cold war and anti-communism sentiments in the United States after World War II were strong especially at the shrine of Necedah (cf. Kselman, pp. 403-424).
[17] Margaret Mahler's theory (cf. St. Clair, Michael, Object Relations and Self Psychology - An Introduction; Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, Monterey, California, 1986; pp. 113-116.
[18] The study of the cultic phenomena as well as the German temperament and tendencies would certainly shed further light on this attraction to go to or be affiliated with Necedah. Our cultural and historical as well as religious crisis of our day certainly contribute to the very proliferous increase of the cults today (cf. Sects or New Religious Movements: Pastoral Challenge, L'Osservatore Roman, N. 20, 19 May 1986, (1.1) p. 5).
[19] There was also a great degree of allegiance to Mary Ann by several of the seven Van Hoof children. A couple of these children lived in the same house complex as Mary Ann or nearby so as to protect and serve Mary Ann in her slightest needs. These blood related adherents to Mary Ann were at least as much in awe about Mary Ann as the most loyal shrine members. Mary Ann had a rather strong, gruff, German character. Even without the apparitions etc., she would have probably had a strong influence over her children.
[20] It seems to me that only God or His Word can command such allegiance and trust. And yet God always respects the free will and individuality of each person even at an advanced degree of union with God. It seems that only with God can one achieve a great degree of union (fusion?) without loosing healthy autonomous independence. But even for the mystics, high degrees of mystical union with God was not habitual but rather an occasional or rare peak experience similar to a peak experience of sexual intercourse but without the two persons remaining habitually fused (Also cf. Napier, pp. 92-93).
[21] Usually formula prayer was used, not meditation except perhaps meditating on how privileged one was to be called by God to the shrine. The cult offered and maintained a rather totalistic environment.
[22] This seemed to be precisely what was needed for the Brice family in "The Family Crucible" (cf. Napier, pp. 87-88).
[23] There was a certain implicit anxiety and pressure to be totally in conformity with the dictates of Mary Ann and her "chosen 33", the highest echelon of the cult hierarchy.
Our American culture is also rather tense; there is a certain constraint or exigency to conform to social norms or peer pressure. It is interesting that Dr. Whitaker in "The Family Crucible" points out the need to be able to be crazy voluntarily and enjoy it so as to break out of the dreary reasonableness and pressures within a family (cf. Napier, pp. 76-77, 112).
[24] The saints who drew a crowd and even caused a certain amount of imprudent adoration (such as St. Francis, etc.) did their best to divert this homage to God. Mary Ann would sometimes verbally divert the homage but only to play the part that she was expected to play, i.e., a "saint". Mary Ann had even expressed a new name by which she was to be invoked after her death (as a saint).
[25] For the most part, outside of a certain amount of lying (conscious or unconscious or rationalized), I feel this cult at Necedah was more of a naturally formed cult (compared with the Moonies or Scientology) in that Mary Ann fulfilled the needs of the shriners. The shriners often put pressure on Mary Ann for answers from heaven and usually the "celestials" would respond through Mary Ann with an answer at the next scheduled apparition (over 50 each year) at the "Sacred Spot".
This interplay between Mary Ann and her followers would also very likely be a source of Mary Ann's personal psychological problems. Obviously Mary Ann's family roots, especially her mother, would account for the greater portion of Mary Ann's psychological development.
Mary Ann's "Friday sufferings" certainly fit the description of hysteria better than a supernatural phenomenon. The shriners naturally felt and concluded, without study or familiarity in these matters, that these unusual occurrences were allowed by God or were from God directly. Perhaps these "Friday sufferings" could be considered or caused by a type of self induced but subconscious and habitual (developed) hysterical schizophrenia. I feel Mary Ann believed she saw "celestials" in her mind which were real to her. This is why she was so convincing. Similarly, I feel these (subconscious or habitual?) auto-induced fits of hysteria had become second nature to Mary Ann and she believed they were real as did her amazed audience.
[26] How often does this happen also between husband and wife with the wife surrendering her individuality to a dominant husband or vice versa? Is this not an unhealthy "fusion of identity"? (cf. Napier, pp. 87-88, 117).
[27] This force was greatly enhanced by the strong religious overtones of supposed infallible direction from heaven. The prevailing feeling was one of gratitude for being called specially and individually from among the multitudes (a remnant) to come and serve the Mother of God at such a special (utopian) place. Thus a static type of conformity in all things was the rule and model of virtue to aspire for. This type of secure, "virtuous", blind obedience was not too uncommon before the Second Vatican Council; it is still common among many groups similar to Archbishop Lefebvre's group.
Even the supposed miracles and supposed "supernatural sufferings" of Mary Ann were quickly accepted especially since virtually no one had experience and knowledge in these things. Also the ones who felt that these strange occurrences were false were quickly ostracized (like a diseased member of the body) from the cult and thus left the cult and were not around to offer their reasons and discernment or even a model for individuation (cf. Napier, p. 90). Hence, there was no desire or feed back to learn and progress in the understanding of truth or at least a progressive understanding into serious underlying problems. The natural "growth process" had been blocked but most cult members clung to their static imaginary utopia (cf., Napier, pp. 62, 56-57).
The Vatican document of 1986 points out the difficulty of dialogue with the cults.
[28] From my observations of many people at the shrine, it seems that children who pulled away from their parents at the shrine, also ended up leaving and breaking away from the shrine when they were old enough. There were other children who often ended up remaining at the shrine. Older adults who left the shrine, generally totally split with the shrine and felt betrayed but often sought another cultic (security) group or environment to join or establish (if not their own home) (cf. Napier, pp. 88, 127).
[29] But there were still plenty of subtle exterior signs of a deeper tension.
[30] As noted above, it seems that only God can give true freedom after one surrenders his mind and will to Him; a creature only imprisons one after surrendering mind and will.
[31] Cf. Napier, p. 89.
[32] Direct conflict and argumentation among cult members was avoided though (cf. Napier. 84 ("triangulation"), 89).
[33] It is a natural tendency of creatures to seek and be drawn to the Creator especially in tumultuous and confusing times. We feel our limitations and helplessness in such times and we seek one outside of us and more powerful to help us. Stable patterns are needed and sought after (cf. Napier, pp. 83, 99). A cult offers a human who is supposedly endowed with these sought after divine qualities. A cult also often magnifies supposed difficult times by predicting a great immanent catastrophe or the end of the world (apocalyptic) etc. This was certainly the case at Necedah also.
Many people seek a certain routine and security such as what the Church seemed to maintain before the Second Vatican Council: e.g., calendar of saints, the same Mass, rules, rigorism, juridicalism, casuistic moral and disciplinary laws, etc.
But pastors should seek to satisfy and help the people who have these needs which they find in a cult (Rm 15:1); for they are God's people. As evidenced at Necedah, a great number of the shriners were of good will as shown by their return to the lawful local pastor in 1983. They needed only some help to lift the veil and confusion to see the reality of the situation. Only God can judge the heart and interior intentions. But a cult certainly can cause lasting damage to people and society at large in many ways.
[34] The devil was referred to as the "old boy".
[35] E.g., channel 12 out of Milwaukee did a big expose of the cult in the early 80's.
[36] This phenomenon can be found among certain protestant sects founded on a negative reaction from the Catholic Church or other religious or state bodies.
Rather than cope with problems or seeking to love neighbor as self, we make war ("polarization and escalation", cf. Napier. pp. 82-83).
[37] In a sense one can describe the circular, homeostatic system of the cult as follows: make enemies, feel good, pull together, adore Mary Ann, boast mutually, condemn enemies, etc.
Just as a commitment(s) to a value higher than a family helps to keep a family together, so too it would seem that Mary Ann offered this higher value (heavenly contact) to her followers. But this higher value was not based solidly on the true Gospel of love of God and (all) neighbor(s) and thus was closed to itself in one group. This reverence toward Mary Ann did help to maintain a type of unity though. The proper Christian tradition follows the true Gospel of a healthy outreach in charity and service to all men without compromising the Christian faith or putting oneself unnecessarily in the occasion of sin or scandal. This is not an easy balance to achieve; this balance will take continual effort in every age of mankind in the variation of circumstances without yielding to the temptation of falling back to static, comfortable and secure roles or positions or walls among and between each other.
[38] This is very similar to removing the scapegoat in a family which sometimes even causes divorce. (cf., Napier, pp. 53, 93).
It is certainly possible to relish or entertain the developed imagination or attitude that all hate "us" and we are the elite (with our imagined god-substitute such as Mary Ann, the cult, an imaginary perfect Church (Lefebvre's group), etc.). These feelings would seem to me to be closely related to pride and/or self pity. This prideful and uncharitable attitude is contrary to proper ecumenism which entails humble service and outgoing charity even toward outsiders of the group (e.g., a Samaritan?).
[39] A leading shrine member once boastfully equated the revenge expressed by God's people in the Psalms with the rightful revenge of the shriners over those who persecuted the shrine.
The shriners blamed all problems and conflicts on outsiders and thus were blind to the real source of the problem inside. How could an infallibly directed cult be the main source of their own problems?
[40] There were few neutral opinions also. Many neutral topics of discussion were categorized into religion or politics (de-neutralized?). The truths about these two categories were established by Mary Ann and the cult, thus severely limiting the boundaries of discussion.
[41] The former bishop of the La Crosse diocese, Bishop Fredrick Freking stated: "Ex-shriners had been harassed and even threatened. There had even been some actual incidents of violence, the most serious involving a woman who was run off the road into a lake. But for the most part, retribution is made mostly through psychological torment", cf. Maloney, Marlene, 'Necedah Revisited: Anatomy of a Phony Apparition', Fidelity; Feb., 1989.
[42] In a marriage situation, both partners have to learn to give and take; they must learn to be flexible and adapt to each other or else separation comes quickly. A member of a cult must go beyond flexibility to total commitment with no questions asked. After all heaven spoke through Mary Ann. There was no give and take on the part of the cult or cult leader. Their followers must give all and the cult leader can give what he or she wishes. It seems that Mary Ann did adapt to her followers with messages, hysteria, etc., but seemingly only for her own personal motives.
[43] There was a strong effort to recruit others though. This was due in part to a triumphalistic attitude of "no salvation outside the _______" cult. The cult was seen by the shriners as the salvation of the Church in North America and even the world. Also recruitment brought in financial support and wealthy benefactors. The shrine still maintains a mailing list of about 10,000.
"Mary Ann's legacy lives on and in recent months seems to have been gaining strength. All across the country mystics are reporting Mary Ann has told them she will appear at the shrine in April when the Little Pebble comes to unite all the world's seers and their followers into one giant body of believers. Bishop Freking did not take the news lightly" (cf. Maloney, p 34).
[44] It seems to me that one of the major goals of the Second Vatican Council was to rid the Church of as many non-healthy cultic tendencies as possible. I feel Bishop de Smedt of Bruges epitomized this effort in the first session of the Council when he boldly criticized triumphalism, clericalism, and juridicalism within the Church.
[45] When a new bishop was installed in the La Crosse diocese, the designated shrine leader would send their terms to the bishop for approval. The attitude of the shrine members was that the shrine leaders were infallibly directed by heaven and thus the new bishop must totally submit to their terms or be rejected. Discussion or arguments provoked by the cult were not calculated at learning or producing fruit but to expose the enemy and condemn and ostracize he or she (cf., Napier, pp. 79, 88, 128). The enemy was seen as a threat and blamed for all problems (cf., Napier, p. 87). Perhaps this mode of conduct was really a matter of maintaining certain modes of conduct from previous generations in individual families (cf., Napier, pp. 82, 89) and cultures and in the Church.
All three bishops at La Crosse in the course of the history of the shrine, beginning in 1950, have likewise imposed various types of interdicts or excommunications on the shrine and/or certain shrine members.
[46] Certainly there is a legitimacy for a family or a Church organization to screen input to the children or Church members. But where should this line for this screening or selection be drawn and under what criteria? What are the pro's and con's with respect to the fruits or repercussions of too rigidly created boundaries versus too diffuse boundaries? I suppose it depends a lot on what the goal or purpose of the group is and the particular situation and circumstances at hand.
To what point and in what manner does the Church proceed in its ecumenical work? To what extent should parents protect their children from the negative influences of our society and the children's peers? What criteria and outside (themselves) advise do the parents use to determine these decisions?
Certainly, parents must be more protective and are more influential when their children are young and need their parents help to make many of their decisions. But the parent’s job is to help the children to slowly mature to autonomy and the ability to make decisions for one self and thus deal with the real world.
A Church which holds itself to be the one true Church also has a similar role to lead new converts to the point of understanding and applying properly for themselves God's will in their lives. But in the case of a disagreement between an individual and the 'believed-to-be' true Church regarding pertinent or proclaimed (by this Church) fields of competency, how does a sincere person determine God's will? As Catholics we believe that the Church is gifted with the attribute of infallibility from the Holy Spirit within a particular field of competency under certain conditions. Thus a sincere Catholic will seek to form his conscience likewise trustfully believing that true security and freedom are found in following God's will.
A cult of Catholic origin such as at Necedah or the Pius X group under Archbishop Lefebvre have the notion of Catholic infallibility and authority but substitute their group for the Catholic Church and maintain this notion of infallibility and authority for their group. The Protestant fundamentalists attempt to acquire and hold a type of infallibility and authority (and thus security) by way of a literal translation of Sacred Scripture.
Certainly there is a tendency for some parents to do the same even though there is no source of infallibility. The extension of divine authority (as well as a type of infallibility) is often invoked or extended beyond the child's age of 18 so as to include all truth about important matters that are deemed such by such parents (cf., Napier pp. 72-73).
But parents do receive their authority from God as does any other lawful authority (cf. Napier, 104). But when one goes beyond his or her rightful limits of authority or when one does not attribute properly (consciously or unconsciously) to the true source of their authority, then bad fruits often follow especially in the long run.
It is ironic that the very groups or cults or parents who demand obedience (blind) often are very critical toward lawful Church authority. It seems there is a general and fundamental lack of trust in the way God set things up especially in regards to salvation and His Church made up of humans. God determines the type and amount of security we will get, not mortal men. God chose to save mortal men by using mortal men as mediators.
It is ironic that an overly closed system as the cult at Necedah had to be closed off also by the system of the La Crosse diocese (interdicts etc.) to protect or at least warn Catholics from falling into the web of the cult at Necedah.