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Who are Catholic charismatics and what’s a covenant community?

Pope Francis attends a meeting with the faithful at Rome's Olympic Stadium on June 1, 2014. Pope Francis led a pep rally at Rome's soccer stadium, packed with more than 50,000 Catholics who follow charismatic movements. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

The ’Splainer (as in “You’ve got some ’splaining to do”) is an occasional feature in which RNS staff give you everything you need to know about current events to hold your own at the water cooler.

(RNS) — Amy Coney Barrett’s faith has been under the white-hot glare of the media lights ever since President Trump suggested she is on his short list to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is retiring from the Supreme Court.

But it’s not because Barrett, 46, is Roman Catholic. So too is Kennedy, who she might replace, as well as justices Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas.

No, Barrett, a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is receiving scrutiny because she is part of the charismatic renewal movement within the Catholic Church and participates in a “covenant community” called People of Praise.

So what are these two groups all about? Let us ‘Splain.

First things first: What’s the Catholic charismatic renewal movement?

Some people are surprised to hear that Catholics, with their stately, formal worship, also include adherents who have taken up the more ecstatic worship practices typically associated with Pentecostals.

These are charismatic Catholics who see themselves as part of the historic Azusa Street Revival of 1906, when they believe the Holy Spirit showered thousands of Christians with supernatural gifts that had been held by Jesus’ apostles, such as the ability to heal, prophesy and speak in tongues.

The movement spread to the Catholic Church in 1967, when professors at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh held a retreat at which several people were baptized in the Spirit — that is, they believe they received those same gifts of the Holy Spirit.

After that retreat, prayer groups began forming across the country, and the charismatic renewal movement within the Catholic Church took off. Fifty years later, charismatic Catholics can be found across the globe. They often worship in traditional churches but have developed a network of charismatic prayer groups, retreats and conferences. The movement first gained a papal blessing in the 1980s. Last year, Pope Francis marked the 50th anniversary of Catholic charismatic renewal in Rome.

Though it is not embraced by everyone, the pope said, “it is true that it fully belongs in the biblical tradition.”

OK. And what’s a “covenant community”?

Judge Amy Coney Barrett in 2017. Barrett is on President Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court justice candidates to fill the spot vacated by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. (Photo courtesy of University of Notre Dame Law School)

Some Catholic charismatics express their faith by belonging to what’s called a “covenant community.” Barrett belongs to one such group, People of Praise Christian Community.

People of Praise is not strictly a Catholic organization, but about 90 percent of its 1,700 adult members are Catholic. Each one makes a covenant or promise that they will share their life together and agrees to donate 5 percent of their income to the group.

The group was begun in 1971 in South Bend, Ind., (where Barrett taught law at the University of Notre Dame) and now has “branches” in 25 locations, including Canada and the Caribbean islands. Each branch meets on Sunday afternoons for charismatic worship and prayer — usually in a building, sort of like a community center.

In addition, men and women meet separately in smaller groups of five or six once a week, typically Monday or Tuesday evenings, for a few hours of prayer and discussion.

“The appeal is Christians living close together with a certain commitment to stick it out together,” said Craig Lent, the group’s top coordinator and a professor of engineering and physics at the University of Notre Dame. “It’s a charismatic kind of life together with the gifts of the Spirit. We experience God’s presence in our brothers and sisters.”

To each his or her own. Where’s the controversy?

Most of it centers on one particular practice. Every member of People of Praise receives practical advice and spiritual direction from another member. This is often referred to as “headship.”

A married woman’s head is her husband. Heads for single women are women leaders. In the past, these leaders were called “handmaids,” a reference to the Virgin Mary who called herself “the Lord’s servant” or “handmaid of the Lord” in Luke’s Gospel.

These heads advise on all important life decisions: dating, courtship, marriage, jobs and financial issues. To some people, that suggests a kind of subjugation.

That’s not how People of Praise see it.

“Its purpose is to help the growth of the individual in the Lord and the building up of the body of Christ,” Lent said. “No member of the People of Praise should be either domineering or servile in their relationships with other people.”

Still, the controversy persists.

Notre Dame professor Adrian J. Reimers, a former member, wrote a critique of People of Praise (and another covenant group called Sword of the Spirit) about what he called “the abuse of authority” among leaders.

Does the Vatican approve?

People of Praise is not a formal Catholic organization. It has no canonical standing.

But there is a group of about 10 men who make up the Brotherhood of the People of Praise, and the Brotherhood has standing in the Catholic Church as a private association of the faithful. Among those 10 is Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon. He lives with a group of men in Portland. Another group lives in a home in St. Paul, Minn.

Is membership in People of Praise the reason Barrett got grilled from senators, and what’s this “the dogma lives loudly within you” business?

Not in so many words. During Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearings last year for the appellate court seat, Democratic senators questioned whether she could set aside her religious convictions on the bench, especially in light of a 1998 law review article in which she and her co-author suggested Catholic judges should recuse themselves in cases involving the death penalty.

“The Catholic Church’s opposition to the death penalty places Catholic judges in a moral and legal bind,” the article said. “While these judges are obliged by oath, professional commitment, and the demands of citizenship to enforce the death penalty, they are also obliged to adhere to their church’s teaching on moral matters.”

That led Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California to tell Barrett that dogma and law are two different things and that she was concerned that “the dogma lives loudly within you.”

Barrett was eventually confirmed. But if Trump chooses her for the Supreme Court, expect more questioning.

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

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  • “Covenant community” sounds rather cult-like to me and I am deeply suspicious of cults.

  • Amy Coney Barrett is receiving scrutiny because she is Catholic.

    The U.S. Senate confirmed Barrett to the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on October 31, by a 55-43 vote. Three Democrats voted for her and two did not vote. It would not be easy to justify changing their votes now, as she has served with distinction.

    At her confirmation hearings, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee’s aged ranking Democrat, asked Barrett about her religious views, and the nominee responded that no judge should allow personal views, whether based on faith or anything else, to influence the imposition of the law. “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that is a concern,” Feinstein said infamously. This was an outrageous comment; Feinstein doesn’t know anything about the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, and she has no idea what privately motivates Judge Barrett.

    Yonat Shimron has even less insight into charistmatics, Catholic or not, when she is reduced to citing Adrian J. Reimers’ critique of People of Praise as a private person with a bad experience, not as a Notre Dame professor.

    So, the article should be entitled “A Preemptive Hatchet Job on Amy Coney Barrett” rather than “Who are Catholic charismatics and what’s a covenant community?”, which it actually does not answer.

  • “Where’s the controversy?” – especially where “the controversy persists”? Here it is:

    “The Catholic Church’s opposition to the death penalty … [is] ‘the dogma [that] lives loudly within’ … Amy Coney Barrett … the Catholic charismatic [with] People of Praise … if [and only if, mind] Trump chooses her for the Supreme Court”!

    And I go, “Where’s the controversy [again]?” – especially where “the controversy persists”?

  • So it’s working, then. The article’s juicy juice is starting to kick in. Are all atheists & liberals THIS easy?

  • I hear you, brother. But haven’t you heard? RNS has pro-Catholic biases of their own, though. You should feel kinda at home, knowing that.

  • For some insight into cults and cult-like groups, I recomend With respect to such groups, I share your suspicion. With respect to one of the SCOTUS candidates, the term “crap shoot” comes to mind in more ways than one.

  • There seems to be an impression among some that I am a Catholic spokesman.

    I am an advocate, an aficionado, of natural law.

    The sole remaining proponents of classical natural law are the Catholic Church, particularly in its Western rite, elements of the Anglican Communion, some Orthodox Jews under a somewhat different name, a portion of the Continuing Anglican movement, and that may be about it.

    The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

    Since it is the very largest single body supporting and teaching natural law, I support the Catholic Church against its lilliputian opponents here and elsewhere.

    They have much more right than wrong.

  • Your freedom of religion is freedom from other people’s religion which may be different from yours. As a practical matter, your freedom of religion peaked in the latter half of the 20th century—–when separation of church and state peaked. There is no difference between Christian judges making legal decisions in courts in accordance with their own personal “covenants” and Islamic judges doing likewise in a Muslim country. Seriously, from a legal standpoint for a population of people, there is no difference. Your kids will figure it out in time.

  • “Classical natural law”, right, right. Not to be cheeky, but if I recall:

    (1) “The Catholic Church holds the view of natural law introduced by Albertus Magnus and elaborated by Thomas Aquinas, particularly in his Summa Theologiae, and often as filtered through the School of Salamanca. This view is also shared by some Protestants, and was delineated by Anglican writer C. S. Lewis in his works Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man.”

    (2) “Three very influential evangelical theologians who embraced Thomism are Norman Geisler, and the late John Gerstner and R.C. Sproul. … This infatuation with Thomas Aquinas and Thomism among some evangelicals is a spiritual blind spot that I believe is rooted in intellectual pride.”

    Source: (1) Wikipedia. (2) ExCatholic4Christ, February 27, 2018, “The idolatry of ‘Thomism’ among some evangelical intellectuals”.

  • “…. they believe the Holy Spirit showered thousands of Christians with
    supernatural gifts that had been held by Jesus’ apostles, such as the
    ability to heal, prophesy and speak in tongues. ” (article above)

    “…. the gifts of healing, the gift of miracles, prophecy, the discernment of spirits, diverse kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues. ”

    “….Glossolalia is practiced in Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity as well as in other religions.[2][3] ”

    Self admittedly – Barrett is a whacked-out-psycho !

    SCOTUS will have to hire an interpreter for her when the ” holy spirit ” (barf) infuses her with the gift of glossolalia !

    Jimmy Swaggart comes to mind….


  • The classical Catholic natural law is generally considered Thomistic and, yes, C. S. Lewis would be the classical Anglican proponent.

    However, it is important to understand that it is not static nor solely religious.

    For example “We hold these truths to be self-evident …” is from natural law.

    International law is primarily based on natural law modified by treaties.

    It might be described as “right reason”:

    “True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions…It is a sin to try to alter this law, nor is it allowable to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely. We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and at all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator and its enforcing judge. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst punishment.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

  • There is no difference between Christian judges making legal decisions in accordance with their beliefs and secular humanist judges making legal decisions in accordance with their beliefs.

    The correct approach is for judges to make legal decisions based on the written laws applied to facts duly ascertained in a legal process.

    The perfect example would be Antonin Gregory Scalia, a Catholic, father of a Catholic priest, who resolutely refused to join the fray on abortion, despite his own church’s opposition to it.

    As he wrote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey:

    “The States may, if they wish, permit abortion on demand, but the Constitution does not require them to do so. The permissibility of abortion, and the limitations upon it, are to be resolved like most important questions in our democracy: by citizens trying to persuade one another and then voting.”

    He wrote this because that happens to be how the Constitution was written.

    The extreme “knickers in a twist” upset of the losing side in the last presidential election over potential Supreme Court justices, then, is not any well-founded fear they’ll muck with the results of the last couple of decades of judicial activism.

    No, the upset is that they won’t keep rewriting the Constitution to suit partisans who’ve enjoyed doing so on key issues, bypassing the democratic process.

  • I’d agree, rather, with this truth-claim:

    “Natural law may seem to suffice for those who have no higher vision than the restoration of ‘family values’ or ‘traditional values’ to our culture. But for those who understand the rebellious autonomy inherent in natural law theory; for those who … long to see the crown rights of Jesus Christ acknowledged by all — including presidents, governors, senators, representatives, judges, and ‘we the people’ — natural law theory must be firmly rejected. … [And that’s because] natural law [is] an imperfect and unreliable standard for the moral law. … [And God & Jesus never tell a person or society] to seek a knowledge of the moral law in natural law. … [And besides, people] do not know nor can they agree on the content of natural law. … Natural law theories (even Christian versions) surrender the absolute authority of [God & Jesus ‘in Person’, face to face] to interpret the moral dimension of life.”

    Source: My edited version of William O. Einwechter, “Natural Law: A Summary and Critique”, Darash Press.

  • The insertion of Jesus Christ into it moves the discussion into a pure religious argument.

    While a great many people, Jefferson included, would be willing to grant Jesus Christ at least some philosophical or moral teaching role, doing this pretty much reduces the discussion to talking with other Christians.

    As Cicero, a pagan, describes it a universal natural law needs to speak to everyone.

    Eugene N. Smith, the source of your quote, misses a key issue when he writes “natural law [is] an imperfect and unreliable standard for the moral law”.

    Oddly, revelation is an imperfect and unreliable standard for moral law as well for the very same reason natural law is: human beings have to interpret it.

    And that’s where the problems occur.

  • More accurately he was fan of the Constitution as it was written, and in particular the Bill of Rights.

    The unamended Constitution of 1788 contained very few specific restrictions on the ways in which the power of the national government could be exercised against the people. As a result, as a condition of ratification, the states demanded a Bill of Rights as the first amendments.

    The Tenth Amendment’s language is simple: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    Since the New Deal the Supreme Court has been increasingly emulating Houdini in devising new and clever ways to unlock the cuffs of those simple words with unusual gyrations, gymnastics, and non sequiturs to make every thing it believes it can judge better than the people and the legislatures a Federal case.

  • As are an increasing number of Dems, since they lost control of the federal government and now do not wish to follow certain federal mandates. Stay current! ?

  • Magic! magic! Magic! God gives me magic powers! Lookeeee me! god gives me magic powers! Good loves me!!! Im like the Prophet Harry Potter! Magic! magic! magic!

  • That is an absolutely wonderful impersonation of Justice Anthony McLeod Kennedy.

    Spot on.

  • Trust me, I am quite current. How else would I be acutely aware of the regressive tactics of dogma driven sectarians?

  • RNS lets homophobes like Bob Arnzen spam this forum all day with gay-bashing propaganda. This lets them know that there are consequences for their negligence.

  • Very sad. His long time partner said that it was an unexpected death rising from issues with a blood clot in his leg.

    RIP & RIG Tab Hunter
    May flights of angels sing you to your rest rest and lead you to Paradise.
    May the martyrs come to welcome you and lead you to the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem.
    Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Arthur. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.

  • How is he gay bashing? I know he disapproves of it but I don’t recall any bashing.