The Personalist Project

Comments (21)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Aug 1, 2014 3:20pm

This list reinforces impressions I have gathered elsewhere that even with the reforms, the covenant communities haven't yet managed to fully overcome some of their problems. I'm thinking specifically of the problem of externalism and conformism.

I've also heard, anecdotally, stories that make me think their teaching on marriage and on authority stills leaves a lot to be desired.

I have no doubt that they do much good, though. I can understand why people join and why people stay, even with all the imperfections.

Like Abby said under my post: people are starving, and modern parish life doesn't satisfy.

I hope they keep working at those problems!

Sam Roeble

#2, Aug 1, 2014 3:42pm

The Archdiocesesan director of Marriage and Family life is in my community and he is very much on board with Dr. John Grabowski's work on Ephesians 5.  Not all of the communities are in complete accord, as Man and Woman in Christ by Stephen B Clark tends to have a greater influence--it's a great work, by the way, but I'm sure, Katie, that you would have tremendous qualms about it.

It is a work that lays out a compelling argument and practical means for community, but is not necessarily personalistic.  But, it is merely a blueprint, and covenant community has come a long way since it's publication in the 70s.  I would argue, frankly, that covenant community has become much more sensible to personalism--but in varying degrees per community.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Aug 2, 2014 8:42am

Steve Clark's book is not just "not necessarily personalisitic"; it is profoundly de-personalizing. I find it grotesque. 

He bears a lot of responsibility, personally, imo, for the terrible abuses of the pre-reform communities. That he still has leadership and is still held in admiration I find disturbing—it's a strong indication that the current covenant communities are still deep in denial.

I heard him speak once in Steubenville. I was a college undergrad, who had only just begun to study philosophy, but I was so appalled by him I could hardly sit still in my chair.

It also bothers me to get the idea that communities speak of themselves as having "matured" rather than having been reformed. It indicates a lack of due awareness of what went wrong and why, and of how serious the systemic flaws were.

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Aug 2, 2014 8:50am

Now to some of your specifics and their relation to task I've set for myself and the personalist project in the months ahead, viz. of articulating principles for sound communal life:

That some people love cov. com. and some people hate it is not really to the point.  People in cults love their cult and deny it's a cult. And people who oppose cults are opposing them not because they hate them (like my son hates onions), but because they abuse persons.

The question is whether or to what extent a given group embodies bad dynamics.

1) Behaviors, fashions, ways of living can become standard for members of community with little room for variation on a local level.

A lack of variation is (from the perspective of personalism) is not a problem, but conformism and externalism are. 


Katie van Schaijik

#5, Aug 2, 2014 8:55am

3)  Pack mentality or majority always rules and minority has no say (most often this is just an irrational fear in the mind of minority, but in a number of cases people have been marginalized)

You don't provide evidence, so how are we to know whether to agree that this fear is irrational?

In my own experience, I have encountered many, many cases of people's concerns being dismissed as irrational on no better grounds than that those in power doesn't agree with them or on the grounds that the person bringing them forward is crying.

It is definitely the case that, as in the Legion, in the covenant communities of the 80s, the governance was deeply disordered—lacking protection for the rights of individuals and minorities.

Has right governance been established since? No doubt it's improved, but with Steve Clark still in influence, I have doubts.


Katie van Schaijik

#6, Aug 2, 2014 9:05am

4)  Assignment of authority to irresponsible/ unqualified individuals

This is vague and worrying. How is authority "assigned"? What kind of authority?

A perverse and abusive notion of authority was at the very center of the disorder of both the Legion and the Cov. Coms of the 80's.

It wasn't just that "unqualified people" misunderstood or misused authority; it's that those groups developed, taught, and inculcated in their members false ideas about authority and terrible habits of abuse.

Has that been seen and corrected? Again, my guess is that things have improved (thanks to the suffering and courageous effort of many individuals and the intervention of the bishops), but only incompletely, so that the same dynamics are still present.

Sam Roeble

#7, Aug 4, 2014 11:03am

The list above is my own composition--that is, my verbiage.  You have to understand that communities are international entities: different languages (Phillipines, Mexico, etc.) and cultures.  I am limited to my exposure to six communities in the USA--all of which were different and rich in their expressions of life together.  I want to stress the Catholic understanding of subsidiarity that I've encountered in community: individual, family, parish, community, employer, city government.

I have a feeling that you're trying to pigeon-hole the whole thing with "modesty talks" and "cult behavior" when in reality, people assimilate community into their own culture and not vice versa: example, the community in Miami Florida has a different understanding of modesty than Michigan.

Sam Roeble

#8, Aug 4, 2014 11:53am

As for the architects of covenant community and its initial "cult"ure, I have met many of them and I respect all of them.  I see their response as a special grace of the Vatican II council.  I agree with Wojtyla that they made mistakes, but I see them as being architects of a culture of life in an era (60s, 70s, 80s) that was culture of death.  What they constructed can and is being improved upon daily.  They left ample room for such improvement, and personalism can/is doing a lot of good to help the community culture.

I tend to analyze things historically (in a sequence of events), and my list above reflects the origination of community and its ongoing evolution towards the good, true, and beautiful.   "All things were out to the good for those who love God..."

Katie van Schaijik

#9, Aug 4, 2014 12:11pm

"Mistakes" is, in my opinion, far too mild a term for the systemic abuses of the covenant communities. 

Also, isn't it misleading to suggest that Wojtyla was familiar with those communities and their inner workings? Even the bishops in their respective dioceses didn't know what was going on.

Here is part of a letter by Bishop Ottenweller to the community leadership, dated 1991:

1. There has not been an honest communication between the Servant leadership and myself, as bishop. Member have been told that the bishop knows about the community, its goals and methods and he approves. The truth is that I do not know what is going on. For example, I had never even heard the name Paco Gaurilides and he, for several years, was Sword of the Spirit representative and gave the formation and the teachings for this local community.

2. The lives of members have been controlled by coordinators and heads. Person after person has told me examples of sometimes subtle ways, sometimes open ways, in which they were forced to accept patterns of living, relationships, even the choice of marriage partners. Great psychological harm has been done to members.

Sam Roeble

#10, Aug 4, 2014 12:15pm

I have heard it wisely said that these architects of covenant community "Could have just as easily started a new Church", and the fact that they DID NOT has left an excellent door wide open for the Catholic Church to improve upon, REFORM (whatever you want to call it), this blue print for living a specific way of life--that is not for everyone, but is suitable for those who freely choose it.

G.K. Chesterton says the same thing in his biography of St. Francis.  Francis could have easily started a new Church, let alone a new Religion based on his powers/influence and following.  But he DID NOT, and although he wanted the whole world to adopt his way of life, Pope Urban decreed that it was GOOD, BUT not for everyone.  It had a place in the Church, but was not it's own Church, etc.

Katie van Schaijik

#11, Aug 4, 2014 12:44pm

Here are more of Bishop Ottenweller's items:

4. There has been an unhealthy secrecy about the affairs of the Community. The finances were not disclosed to the membership. The pastoral reporting system violated members' right to privacy.

5. Leadership controlled affairs that should have been the sole business of married couples. For example, husbands were told to let their spouses know that certain behaviors were unbecoming a leader's wife.

8. There was not an honest disclosure of finances to the Diocese.

These are not just mistakes, they are abuses. Nor were they an isolated case of a few over-zealous leaders. The Servants of Christ the King was not worse than the other Covenant Communities of the day on these points. In fact, a case could be made that they were better than most.

Sam Roeble

#12, Aug 4, 2014 1:49pm

All I know first-hand is that when Steve Clark retired ('09), he handed over the debt of Sword of the Spirit to the current president, a CPA from Beirut Lebanon named Jean Barbara.  The total debt he handed over was iao: ZERO.  In whatever currency you can guess, the amount was zero.  I know first-hand that financial accountability is top priority for community leaders now.  Perhaps this is as result of what you say.

Katie van Schaijik

#13, Aug 4, 2014 2:28pm

Zero debt is good. But it doesn't by itself indicate accountability or transparancy.

In any case, the financial improprities of the Covenant Communities were not the worst abuses. Those were spiritual in nature.

Katie van Schaijik

#14, Aug 4, 2014 2:37pm

Another point I can't help stressing:

IF a given community is abusive in its mode and method, then it isn't suitable for anyone, even those who freely choose it.

The Covenant Communities of the '80s were abusive in mode and method. That they went through dramatic shakedown in the early 90s is an indisputable fact of history. 

Whether the reforms demanded by the bishops and implemented by the remaining members were sufficient to end the abuses is a question for thoughtful current members and observers to address as seems to them right.

My interest, as a kind of personalist thinker, isn't with those communities, but rather with the nature of Christian community as such.

What are the principles for safeguarding it from bad group dynamics?

Sam Roeble

#15, Aug 4, 2014 4:19pm

 IF a given community is abusive in its mode and method, then it isn't suitable for anyone, even those who freely choose it.

The Covenant Communities of the '80s were abusive in mode and method. That they went through dramatic shakedown in the early 90s is an indisputable fact of history. 

Whether the reforms demanded by the bishops and implemented by the remaining members were sufficient to end the abuses is a question for thoughtful current members and observers to address as seems to them right.

Ok, I think we're starting to define our terms for this argument...but, what you suggest is like saying "If a given Parish is abusive, etc."  because the communities are as different as parishes.  You may have one more personalistic parish, and another not. 

The names you mention (Bishop O and Paco G) are not familiar to me.  If you were to visit a current Catholic community, I think you would be pleasantly surprised.  I think the reforms were sufficient, because Bishops are much more involved in the communities I am familiar with--so much so that they serve as head of board of advisors!

Sam Roeble

#16, Aug 4, 2014 4:22pm

In order for you to conduct research as a personalist thinker, I think you need to be up to speed with the persons actually involved in the environment and not by hearsay or past experiences.  AND, the persons involved include Bishops.

Sam Roeble

#17, Aug 4, 2014 4:56pm

Again, here are specific Bishops I've mentioned before (this is just a few) 

Archbishop John Neinstedt

Bishop Frederick Campbell

Bishop Andrew Cozzens

Bishop Allen Pates

Katie van Schaijik

#18, Aug 4, 2014 6:00pm

Sam, you are missing the basic point I'm making. I am not critiquing current covenant communities. I am not critiquing the concept of covenant communities.

I am critiquing bad (and depersonalizing) dynamics in community. I am using the Covenant Communities of the 80's (with which I was very familiar) as an example of how such dynamics can come into play even when

1) practically everyone  involved means well

2) the group has the support of bishops

3) the theology in question is sound

Remember: those communities were rife with abuses at a time when they enjoyed the support of their bishops. Likewise, the Legion of Christ was rotten with abuse, even though it had the public support of the Pope.

Hence, to say things like: Everyone involved is there freely and the bishops approve gets us nowhere in the discussion.

Katie van Schaijik

#19, Aug 4, 2014 6:09pm

Bishop Ottenweller of Steubenville was an enthusiatic supporter of the Servants of Christ the King until its abuses were brought to his attention. What he learned made him feel used and betrayed. 

I'm guessing J.P. II felt the same about Maciel and the Legion. He had been led to believe they were a wonderful new order. His name, his words, and his image were constantly used by them in their promotional materials.

Though I know very little of the current Covenant Communities, what I don't like, and what I think bodes ill, is that, imo, there was never a full accounting of the wrongs done; there was very little in the way of public repentance on the part of the leaders (Ralph Martin was an exception). To this day, those still involved talk as if the troubles they "went through" were a "maturing process" and/or a case of "media hype" and/or "a matter of a few overzealous and immature or wounded people misunderstanding the teachings and going too far," etc.

The reality was much darker and more serious than that.

That any Catholic can treat Steve Clark as a great leader is to me ominous and disturbing.

Sam Roeble

#20, Aug 8, 2014 1:26pm

I know and respect Ralph Martin, however, I don't think you would see eye to eye with him either:

If you knew the history of these two men, both men of God who have borne good fruit over the years, you would look more objectively at their lives. 

Who do you see eye to eye with?

Katie van Schaijik

#21, Aug 8, 2014 2:53pm

Sam, I'm not looking at their lives.  It's not for me to judge their lives. I mentioned Ralph Martin's public repentance for the wrongs of the Covenant Communites, which I found both commendable and rare. I didn't hold him up as a saint. Nor do I pretend to agree with him about everything.

I do not judge Steve Clark's soul, but his depersaonlizing teachings on marriage (among other things), which have done terrible damage in countless lives.

They are radically at odds with the personalism of John Paul II, to which this site is dedicated.

The Legion's defenders used to say in response to anyone who raised concerns, "Look at the fruit!" What they meant, though, in practical effect was, "Since I see good fruit, I don't have to look at the bad. Anyone who brings up the bad is sinning against charity."

Sign in to add a comment, or register first.

Forgot your password?