Ever since the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court, she has come under relentless attack from media personalities, and political pundits, for her alleged membership in the “dark and mysterious cult” called the ‘People of Praise’ (POP). So what are the ‘People of Praise?’ Are they a cult? I’ll address these questions below.
Before I begin, however, it’s time for some full disclosure. I am a Practicing Roman Catholic. That means I believe everything the Catholic Church teaches, and I affirm it as true, in spite of my own personal failings and frequent need for confession and repentance. I’m also a convert to the Catholic Church, from Evangelicalism, with a brief stopover in Anglicanism. That means, as a former Evangelical (of the charismatic persuasion), I fully understand the charismatic movement within the Catholic Church, even though I do have a small Biblical problem with it. Ironically, it is my Charismatic-Evangelical background that fuels my criticism of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
My criticism is small, however, and it’s probably not for the reasons that some might think. It centers around discipline. To sum it up. I was part of the Calvary Chapel affiliation within the Evangelical world. Calvary Chapel is a charismatic affiliation that believes in strict adherence to the New Testament in all things, especially when it comes to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. That means during their charismatic meetings (sometimes called “afterglows”), the gifts of prophecy, tongues and interpretation are used in a reasonable and orderly way, following the instructions laid down by St. Paul in 1st Corinthians 14. Catholics of the charismatic renewal rarely do this, and that’s my one and only criticism, small as it may be. They’re not alone. Most Pentecostals and Charismatic Evangelicals blow past these instructions as well, getting caught up in the emotion of the moment and forgetting to ask: “Hey, didn’t an Apostle have a thing or two to say about this?“
Now, with all that out of the way, let’s dive into the People of Praise (POP). Who are they? To sum it up, they’re a lay-run Catholic apostolate (a type of informal ministry) that is based on the ecumenical teachings of Vatican II. Some traditional Catholics might be disturbed by this because of so many abuses surrounding the implementation of Vatican II. I would like to remind my traditional readers that I have no problem with Vatican II when it’s interpreted and implemented properly (read more here). In fact, the way I read Vatican II, lay-run ecumenical apostolates, like the POP, are exactly within the parameters of what the conciliar fathers had in mind. So to be perfectly clear, the POP is not a “church,” but rather a Catholic lay-apostolate, open to members from other Christian denominations. If somebody has told you, or you read somewhere, that the POP is a “church,” you have been misinformed.
The criteria for membership in the People of Praise (POP) is pretty simple. One must be a baptized Christian, meaning baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One must also affirm belief in the Nicene Creed, which has been the official standard of authentic Christian faith for nearly 1,700 years…
Members of the POP must attend Holy Mass, or their respective Christian services, at the churches they are members of. That means membership in the POP does not constitute membership in a church. The apostolate is an auxiliary ministry, that’s designed to work alongside churches of different types, sort of like how the ‘Knights of Columbus’ (KofC) is a fraternal order that works alongside Catholic parishes. Admittedly, while the KofC do have some ecumenical relations with other Christians, it was not founded as an ecumenical apostolate. The ‘People of Praise,’ however, was founded as an ecumenical apostolate in 1971, in the recognition of Unitatis redintegratio: Decree on Ecumenism, signed at the Second Vatican Council in 1964.
The defining characteristic of the POP is Christian charity. Members are expected to help each other, look out for each other, and assist each other in their needs. That doesn’t seem so “dark” and “cult-like” to me. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus and his Apostles commanded us to do? While most members of the POP are Catholic, these Catholics don’t limit themselves to just helping other Catholics. When non-Catholic Christians join the POP they receive the same support and assistance as Catholic members. Beyond that, it would seem that members of the POP are expected to be in “good standing” with their respective churches, without any scandalous reputation, or disciplinary action taken against them by there churches.
As for their practices, the POP are charismatic, which means they’re part of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. The Catholic Church has encouraged this movement, provided it’s grounded in sound Catholic theology and submissive to Church authority. Leaders in the POP communities are required to administer spiritual advice based solely on the ‘Spiritual Exercises’ of St. Ignatius of Loyola. That’s about as grounded in sound Catholic theology, and submissive to Church authority, as you can possibly get.
As for the charismatic thing, there isn’t much information on that online. Do members follow the instructions of St. Paul as outlined in 1st Corinthians 14? If they do, good for them! They would be among the few who do in both the Catholic and Non-Catholic worlds. If they don’t… tsk-tsk… naughty-naughty… maybe they should look into that. My guess is that most POP communities are run independently, and probably a little differently from group to group.
As of right now, we don’t even know if Amy Coney Barrett is a member of the POP. Apparently, her family is associated with the apostolate, but that doesn’t mean she is. Whether she is or not, it doesn’t matter. She’s a practicing Catholic in good standing with the Catholic Church, and if she’s a member of the POP, it’s really not much different than me being a member of the KofC. So who cares?
The only people who would care are anti-Catholic bigots, like those running the Democratic Party, who think the only good Catholic is a Lapsed Catholic. To them, such organizations like the POP (and the KofC for that matter), are “dark and mysterious cults” that “oppress women” and “engage in cult-like mind-control” of their members. This is typical of anti-Catholicism. We saw this throughout the 19th-century and early 20th-century, coming to a head in the 1928 presidential election between All Smith (D-NY) and Herbert Hoover (R-CA).
Smith was a Catholic, the first Catholic to be nominated for the office of President of the United States. During this election, anti-Catholics circulated a fake oath (a complete fabrication) and claimed that it was required to be sworn by every Knight of Columbus reaching the 4th-degree. (For the record; Knights of Columbus don’t even take oaths.) This fake oath had already been found to be a fabrication by the United States House of Representatives. You can read the entire congressional record here, from February 4, 1915. That didn’t stop anti-Catholic bigots from using it against Smith in the 1928 election. The fake oath alleged that 4th-degree knights swore to undermine Protestants and Freemasons (even killing them!) whenever possible. You can read this garbage here.
A century ago, anti-Catholic bigotry was fueled by Protestant Fundamentalism, Freemasonry and the Ku Klux Klan. Today, it’s fueled by Marxist Liberalism, Militant Feminism and the LGBT Agenda. The motives may be different, but the net effect is the same. Catholics are slandered, maligned, and discriminated against. While our churches our vandalized, our members harassed and our clergy assaulted. Catholics have been down this road before in the United States. It looks like we’re starting to go down it again. Indeed, nothing is new under the sun.
With the kind of calumny endured by the KofC in the last century, it should be no surprise to us that the POP will be treated similarly in this century. As a 4th-degree knight, I’m compelled to stand beside the POP in solidarity as we watch this unfold. I pray that my fellow knights will join me. The political Left (Marxist, Feminist and LGBT) have already unleashed a flurry of calumny against the People of Praise (POP), accusing them of being a cult, and calling women “handmaidens,” as if that’s some sort of horrible thing.
These bigots have claimed that this apostolate was the inspiration behind the 1985 novel “The Handmaiden’s Tale,” which inspired the popular 2017 Hulu series by the same name. Nothing could be further from the truth. The author of the original novel, Margaret Atwood, specifically stated that her inspiration for the novel came from her historical understanding of the Puritans (an English Protestant sect) known to most Americans as “The Pilgrims” who established their colony in New England back during the 17th-century. Atwood said the religious cult in her novel is totally fictional and she doesn’t “consider these people to be Christians because they do not have at the core of their behavior and ideologies what I, in my feeble Canadian way, would consider to be the core of Christianity” — (“Margaret Atwood on Christianity, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ and What Faithful Activism Looks Like Today,” Williams, Layton E., 25 April 2017). In the novel, Roman Catholics, along with other Christians, are listed as enemies of the “Sons of Jacob” cult that controls this dystopian future. So the notion that the POP is the inspiration behind “The Handmaiden’s Tale” is complete garbage, and a total fabrication, designed to smear the reputation of Amy Coney Barrett, and the POP, during her confirmation process and the 2020 election cycle. It’s sort of like that fake oath spread in the 1928 election to smear the reputation of Al Smith and the KofC — different lie, same intent.
The term used by the POP — “handmaiden” — in reference to female members, is about as Catholic as it gets. It’s a reference to what the Blessed Virgin Mary called herself…
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.— Luke 1:38
From a Catholic perspective, the term “handmaiden,” used in a religious context, is the highest form of complement, because it calls to mind the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom Catholics regard is the Immaculate Queen of Heaven and Earth, Mother of our King and Savior Jesus Christ.
As for the traditional family roles, which Leftists bemoan, these are explicitly taught by the Catholic Church, and many other Christian churches.
As for “speaking in tongues,” well, that’s been going on for 2,000 years. The Apostles did it. Their disciples did it. The early Church did it. Pentecostals do it today, along with a number of Charismatic Evangelicals. Yes, some Catholics do it too. It’s nothing new folks. I just wish everyone would follow St. Paul’s instructions in 1st Corinthians 14. Sigh.
Let’s just cut to the chase, shall we? There is nothing about the People of Praise (POP) that is “cultish” or “dark.” As for the “mystery,” that’s all been put to rest now. If you’ve got a problem with the People of Praise, then you’ve got a problem with Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. You’re engaging in bigotry. It’s time to own up to it, so maybe you can do something about it and change. Hopefully, you didn’t know any better. Maybe you were just misinformed by the real bigots out there, printing all sorts of calumny on the Internet, spewing it on television and radio, or protesting in the streets wearing those ridiculous red capes with white bonnets. If that’s the case, you’ve been informed now, so do the right thing and correct whoever misinformed you, if you’re able to. As for the People of Praise (POP), let’s leave these good folks alone and repudiate those who malign them.
Shane Schaetzel is an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism and was trained as a catechist through the University of Dayton – a Catholic Marianist Institution. Shane’s articles have been featured on LifeSiteNews, ChurchMilitant, The Remnant Newspaper, Forward in Christ, and Catholic Online. Shane is an author of Catholic books, which can be read here.