“For many, like Mr. Coney, [Judge Barrett’s father] the communal life offered by the People of Praise was so rich that being without it seemed unimaginable. For others, though, the degree of commitment could feel overly intrusive and controlling,” the
“The community is more important than anything else in your life,” Ailish Byrne, whose parents were involved in the community in the 1970s and 1980s, said in the
Judge Barrett, who has described herself as a faithful Catholic, does not appear to have ever spoken publicly about the religious community that has played a significant role in her life. But her nomination to the Supreme Court after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has vaulted the People of Praise, which has just 1,650 adult members, into the media spotlight. Along with the attention has come scrutiny of the group’s conservative beliefs and practices; it has been falsely credited with inspiring Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
The People of Praise is a small, especially insular religious group with an unlikely amalgam of influences. Most of the group’s members are Catholic, and yet its worship practices draw on the ecstatic traditions of charismatic Christianity, including speaking in tongues. The group’s close-knit style arose out of the 1960s when hippie ideals — that living in deep community with others was superior to being alone — entered Catholic life. It also has an intellectual bent from its origins in academic communities like the University of Notre Dame, where Judge Barrett has taught for 18 years.
Belonging to the People of Praise, which has communities in 22 cities, most in the United States, is a significant commitment. Members are asked to donate at least 5 percent of their gross income to the community. Since the People of Praise is not a church, members attend services at their chosen congregations on Sunday mornings followed by a private People of Praise worship service in the afternoon. Members agree to submit to the leadership of a spiritual director and sign a 181-word “covenant” that they frequently recite together. “We will serve one another and the community as a whole in all needs: spiritual, material, financial,” it reads in part.
Times actually debunked the claim by many left-wing media that People of Praise inspired Margaret Atwood’s book, The Handmaid’s Tale, about women being forced to bear children.
Times tracked down Arthur Wang, a doctor in Indiana who joined the group in 1988.
“Dr. Wang left the group around 2014 after realizing the rigidity was not good for his emotional health, and also for political reasons: His own politics had become more progressive as his social network expanded, and he began to realize the members were more right-wing,” the
Times investigations found.
“The group was not this bipartisan group of people,” Wang said. “The social scene was extremely Republican, very much Rush Limbaugh.”
Times report included a statement obtained from the People of Praise spokesperson, Sean Connolly.
“Decision-making in the People of Praise is collegial, engaging the entire community — women and men alike — in consultation on significant matters that affect us,” Connolly said. “Each person is always responsible for his or her own decisions, including decisions in their personal lives or careers, and no community member should ever violate his or her conscience.”
Times noted that in 1975, Pope Paul VI welcomed People of Praise members to the Vatican, presiding over a charismatic Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica attended by more than 10,000 people.
Times also implied that Barrett’s full family life as the mother of seven children, one with special needs, and her exceptional career, which will likely include being seated on the Supreme Court, are not solely her own accomplishments.
“Some other former members noted that it was certainly possible for women to excel in chosen fields, as Judge Barrett had, but that such professional choices could only proceed with the support of a woman’s husband and the community,” the
In fact, when Trump introduced Barrett at a Rose Garden event three weeks ago, she credited her partnership with her husband for helping her succeed — dispelling the
Times and others who claim People of Praise’s practices subjugates women.
“At the start of our marriage, I imagined that we would run our household as partners,” Barrett said. “As it has turned out, Jesse does far more than his share of the work.”
Moreover, Barrett has
spoken repeatedly about the separation of faith and judicial philosophy, including in an interview with the Heritage Foundation in March, which included a discussion about how Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had questioned the nominee’s “dogma” during her first Senate confirmation hearing for the federal bench seat she now holds.
“I don’t think that faith should influence the way a judge decides cases at all,” Barrett said. “I don’t think that a judge should twist the law to help it match in any way to the judge’s convictions.”
“Everyone has convictions,” Barrett said. “It’s not unique to people who have faith.”
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