The Corner

Law & the Courts

Get Ready to Hear A Lot about People of Praise

As Ramesh Ponnuru noted on the Corner earlier this week, some media coverage of Judge Amy Coney Barrett — the leading candidate to replace late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — has zeroed in on Barrett’s purported membership in a mostly Catholic group called People of Praise.

Ramesh’s post chronicles how one such story, from Reuters, has undergone several iterations (mostly achieved via stealth-editing), after starting out as an under-reported and overwrought attempt to portray People of Praise as an ultraconservative and abusive cult.

Other media outlets have, like Reuters, claimed that the group was the inspiration for the fictional, misogynistic nation Gilead in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, one of progressives’ favorite pop-culture weapons for demeaning religious conservatives. In reality, Atwood has suggested that the main inspiration for the repressive, quasi-religious state in her novel was “the heavy-handed theocracy of 17th-century Puritan New England.”

For a more even-handed account of People of Praise, this 2018 article from the National Catholic Register is a good place to start:

Bishop Peter Smith, an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Portland, Oregon, is a member of the Brotherhood of the People of Praise, an association of priests connected to the group, founded with the support of the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. Bishop Smith was ordained a bishop on April 29, 2014.

People of Praise was founded in 1971 as part of the “great emergence of lay ministries and lay movements in the Catholic Church,” Bishop Smith told CNA.

The group began with 29 members who formed a “covenant” — an agreement, not an oath, to follow common principles, to give 5% of annual income to the group, and to meet regularly for spiritual, social, and service projects. . . .

While most People of Praise members are Catholic, the group is officially ecumenical; people from a variety of Christian denominations can join. Members of the group are free to attend the church of their choosing, including different Catholic parishes, Bishop Smith explained.

“We’re a lay movement in the Church,” Bishop Smith said. “There are plenty of these. We continue to try and live out life and our calling as Catholics, as baptized Christians, in this particular way, as other people do in other callings or ways that God may lead them into the Church.”

Nothing terribly sinister there. Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan offers similar clarity in her latest, which is worth reading in full. Here’s part of what she points out:

Judge Barrett is a Roman Catholic, like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi. Judge Barrett is also a member of a faith community called People of Praise, which is part of the Charismatic Renewal movement within the church that started in the 1970s, after Vatican II. The movement emphasizes personal conversion and bringing forward Christ’s teachings in the world. There are tens of millions of members throughout the world, and about 1,700 members of People of Praise in more than 20 cities in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. . . .

People of Praise has been accused of being a right-wing sect. It answers that it has politically liberal and conservative members. They don’t appear to be obsessed with traditionalism or orthodoxy and are ecumenical: Members include Protestants as well as Catholics. They have joined together intentionally, in community, to pray together, perform service, and run schools. They’re Christians living in the world.

If they are right-wing religious extremists someone had better tell Pope Francis, who appointed a member of People of Praise’s South Bend community as auxilliary bishop of Portland, Ore. . . .

Joannah Clark, a local leader of People of Praise in Portland and the head of Trinity Academy, a People of Praise school, also appears to be failing at submissiveness. “I consider myself a strong, well-educated, happy, intelligent, free, independent woman,” she laughs. She has a doctorate from Georgetown. Trinity’s culture is “distinctly Christian” but “purposely ecumenical.” The emphasis is on reading, writing and Socratic inquiry. “Our three pillars are the humanities, modern math and science, and the arts—music, drama.”

Do they teach evolution? They do.

“We are normal people—there’s women who are nurses, doctors, teachers, scientists, stay-at-home moms” in the community. “We are in Christian community because we take our faith seriously. We are not weird and mysterious,” she laughs. “And we are not controlled by men.”

To no one’s surprise, interviews of this sort have yet to appear in the publications that were quick to assert that People of Praise describes itself as “ultraconservative,” when, in fact, the group does no such thing. If this is the best line of attack progressives are prepared to launch against Judge Barrett, they can expect it not only to fail but to backfire.

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