Friday, February 22, 2008

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]

Conclusion
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.

4 comments:

Ken and Suzanne family said...

You certainly have a lot to say Rev dwight. It seems you have an ax to grind or perhaps you are rationalizing your own confused choices from this episode in your life by distorting the facts to make yourself feel better. It could be you were merely misinformed by those who were disillusioned around you at that time. Many of your "facts" are incorrect. I am the grandson of Mary Ann Van Hoof. She was born in Pennsylvania not Transylvania Hungary. There is no "multi-million dollar operation". The shrine community is not a cult as you describe, but a community of devout leity all working to promote our shared Catholic faith and to fight the evils of abortion, pornagraphy, euthenasia, etc... There are many messages given from the Blessed Mother telling us to live our catholic faith and to stay with Rome, to pray for the Holy Father etc.. I urge anyone who wishes to discern the truth, to visit and read the messages for themselves. Don't take my words, but find out for yourselves.
Rev Dwight, "brother Paul", I enjoyed your guitar play and song. Do you still play? God bless you and know I pray for you.

Greg said...

Listen to what he has written and repent; obedience to your bishop!! Disobedience is responsible for all the ills of our world, including abortion, pornography, etc., and your disobedience is contributing to it. Obedience!!!

Tim Cartier said...

Having direct contact with family and friends in Necedah I find most of what Rev. Dwight says to be complete garbage. My great grandmother and grandfather were not members of the shrine but only visitors on a couple of occasions.They also were not over zealot Catholics either. One of their visits to Necedah happen to be the day of the miracle of the son.Both of my great grand parents witnessed this. My great grandfather from what I know was a gruff old complacent "cradle Catholic", meaning he was not "looking" for a miracle. What this sounds like to me is a power struggle between secular bishops and devout Catholics for one, and also from possibly bad leadership by Rev. Dwight and the presiding bishop at the shine for not giving proper guidance to the laity of the shrine that were caught up in the fear of watching their beloved faith being turn over to the wolves due to pastoral abuses by the American bishops. Lastly: Communion in the hand was a provision given by the Pope ONLY for those countries that had all ready established this HERESY as the norm in the culture. As of that time this had NOT been the norm in America.Only after conjuring up false and invalid councils did the American bishops receive the dispensation to be able to perform this incredibly disrespectful practice. My confidence lay in the hands of Jesus through His mother and I have confidence in them alone! Good luck and God bless to all.

Todd said...

I think of Solanus Casey who had the humility of submitting to the authority of his superiors and was not allowed to celebrate mass for so many years, taking on the responsibility of porter. I think of Mother Theresa who also submitted to her superiors regarding her work for the poor. She knew her work was God's work, but she also had the humility to obey her superiors and know that God's work would come in God's time and that one must not sin (disobey one's legitimate authority) even so that good may come of it. It is apprently not so with the Necedah shrine. The Church of LaCrosse, their legitimate authority spoke clearly and they are butting heads with that authority. In the Screwtape Letters, the uncle mentions getting man to sin by thinking he is so pious, even to the point of disregarding authority and shedding all humility. There is a reason we regard Mother Theresa as a saint and Solanus Casey seems to also be on that track; even though Casey knew it was God's will for him to be a priest and Mother Theresa knew God was calling her to serve the poor in an extreme way, they knew proper order would bring the plans God had for them to fulfillment. My Bishop, David Ricken wrote a prayer called the Wyoming prayer. "Lord, help me to do your will. Nothing more, nothing less. Lord, help me do your will not a moment sooner, not a moment later than you will it."