A former member of the People of Praise told CNA that the covenant was taken seriously, and as a result his family was encouraged to reconsider when they decided to leave several decades ago, but the group did release them from the covenant..
Even vows of obedience, in and of themselves, are not new or uncommon amongst Catholics. As Faggioli himself notes, Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans and lay Catholic members of “secular institutes” all take them.
“But at least in these communities, the vow of obedience that such a person has made would be visible, formal and accountable. That is not the case with new Catholic charismatic communities, whose vows are not public and whose leadership is not accountable under Church law,” Faggioli writes.
People of Praise’ covenant, which is publicly available, speaks mostly about the members’ commitments to each other and to the community, and does not explicitly include any provisions related to obedience to the group’s leadership, though it does provide that the member “accept the order of this community.”
Part of the covenant includes a promise to “obey the direction of the Holy Spirit” “in full harmony with the Church.”
Covenant communities- Protestant and Catholic- emerged across the country in the 1970s, as a part of the Charismatic Renewal movement in American Christianity.
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.
The group began with 29 members who formed an agreement to follow common principles, to give five percent of annual income to the group, and to meet regularly for spiritual, social, and service projects.
Rick Garnett, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, argued in a response to Faggioli’s op-ed that while there may be legitimate reasons for a nominee’s faith to come up in their hearings, a willful misunderstanding or misrepresentation of a nominee’s beliefs is not acceptable, nor is the application of greater skepticism to a nominee’s sworn testimony because of disagreements with that nominee's religious beliefs or affiliations.
“Several Democratic senators did these things during Barrett's hearings on her Court of Appeals nomination, and too many commentators and activists are doing these things now,” Garnett contended.
Barrett offered sworn testimony in 2017 to the Senate that she sees “no conflict between having a sincerely held faith and duties as a judge,” and that she will “never impose my own personal convictions upon the law.”
In a 2018 interview with the South Bend Tribune, People of Praise leader Craig Lent said the group never tries to influence how their members live their professional lives.
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Faggioli in his op-ed cited a 2014 warning from Pope Francis for church communities in which he advised them not to “usurp the individual freedom” of members.
But Garnett noted that Pope Francis has praised charismatic renewal movements as a “current of grace” in the Catholic Church, and rejected the idea that Pope Francis’ comments could be used to single out People of Praise specifically.
Bishop Peter Smith, auxiliary of Portland in Oregon and a member of the People of Praise, rejected the idea that there is anything out of the ordinary or inappropriate about the group. If affiliation with the group were something to be concerned about, he said, Pope Francis would not have appointed him a bishop.
Some former members of the People of Praise have alleged that leaders have exerted undue influence over family decision-making, or pressured the children of members to commit to the group before being able to make that decision with maturity.
One critic, philosopher Adrian Reimers, has written that the group has made “serious errors” in its theological approach.
One former member of the group acknowledged the criticisms the group has faced, and said groups like People of Praise can develop unhealthy dynamics without careful attention. But he told CNA that “the rank and file People of Praise members are very, very good people, wholeheartedly dedicated to the Lord,” he said.