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Editor's note: This document appears here unedited.

James Cardinal Hickey
Address to Mother of God Community
September 23, 1995


Dear friends in Christ,

Let's begin with a prayer.

Heavenly Father, we come before you this day bearing in our hearts a deep love for this community as well as our concerns. We ask you, O Lord, to send upon us Your Holy Spirit so that in all we say and do we may follow Your Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, "the way, the truth and the life," who speaks to us through the Church. Give us, Lord, hearts that are humble, courageous and open so that we may preserve what is good and change what must be changed and do all this in a spirit of love for you, Our Heavenly Father, for one another and for the entire Church, the Body of Christ. Through the overshadowing of Your Holy Spirit, may we receive Your Word and know Your will, as did Mary, the Mother of God. Give us hearts like that of Mary whom we claim as our Mother and our Patron. We ask this, through Christ Our Lord.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Dear friends, with me today is Bishop Lori. Father George Kirwin, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, and President of Oblate College in Washington was with me earlier but was obliged to depart because of two previously scheduled weddings. Later on I will speak to you more about him and the role I am asking him to assume.

I wanted this opportunity to speak personally with you today as the assessment process draws to a close. I come to you this day in love and respect. I come to you this day as your pastor; I come in truth and in love.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Let me first affirm my belief that the Mother of God Community is a gift from the Lord. I want to recognize the gifts which the Lord has given you during these past three decades. Through this community, you and so many others have striven to take your faith much more seriously, to grow in your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. There has been a sincere attempt to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as you strive to lead a truly Christian life, not just on Sundays but every day of the week.

On a more personal note, I remember so well your participation in the special celebration at the National Shrine to welcome me as Archbishop of Washington back in 1980. I especially remember the young people and their joy in the Lord. I remember as well my visits with members of the community through the years. I recognize the contributions of the priests of the Community to the Archdiocese and to its many ministries. And so I come among you not as a stranger, but rather as pastor and as friend. It is in a spirit of respect and love, that I will share my concerns -- not in a spirit of blame or retribution. It is in that spirit that I will ask for some changes which I believe will promote the authentically Catholic spirit of this Mother of God Community.

If, at times, it seemed that the assessment process focused too much on the negative aspects of the Community, I want to assure you I have not lost sight of the positive aspects nor of the vision and insight that brought the Community into existence. Yet it is my responsibility as your pastor to address forthrightly whatever needs correction and change.

In sharing concerns and asking for changes, I recognize that the Mother of God has always had an ecumenical outreach and that some of you belong to other Christian confessions -- Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and Pentecostals. I speak respectfully to those of you who are not of the Catholic faith. And such respect demands that I speak to you clearly even as I speak to all Catholics who are present here about the Catholic roots and identity of this community. I shall ask for full fidelity to the teaching of the Church.


The first duty of every bishop is to be the teacher of his people in the ways of faith. My responsibility is to ensure that all the people entrusted to my care have a genuine understanding of what the Church believes and teaches. As a bishop for nearly three decades, I can attest that this is a challenging calling, and one that I take very seriously. And I take it very seriously in my parishes and in the schools of the Archdiocese. I take it very seriously in the universities and institutes of higher learning in the Archdiocese. And I take this same responsibility very seriously in your regard as well.

I have spent much time studying the teachings of the Mother of God Community. I have listened to tapes and I have read letters; I have studied reports and transcripts; I have spent long hours of prayer and discernment. I do find that there are misunderstandings in the Community about what the Church teaches. There is an urgent need to ensure that community teachings fully reflect the living faith of the Church as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Church's doctrinal teaching is not taught and studied fully and systematically within the Community. What is not said is just as important as what is said. Any preaching and instruction that fails to draw its foundation and inspiration from the magisterium of the Church runs the risk of not being of the Holy Spirit. I am particularly concerned that young people, children, adolescents and young adults, lack a solid foundation in the Church teaching. Many older members came to the community well instructed in the basic truths of the faith and were better able to integrate community teachings into their life of faith. But younger people have not had the benefit of a full and systematic instruction in the faith; yet the faith of the Church, in its entirety, is their rightful heritage as baptized Catholics.

More specifically, I believe there is a great need to clarify the meaning of "baptism in the Spirit" as it relates to all the sacraments, but especially in relationship to sacramental baptism and the sacrament of confirmation. Sacramental baptism is recognized by all Christians -- Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant churches as the principal sacrament of initiation and the foundation of the Christian life. "Baptism in the Spirit," a gift characteristic of the charismatic renewal, helps one live out the call to holiness received in baptism; it helps to revivify the divine gifts received in sacramental baptism, in the other sacraments and in the entire tradition of the Church. However, "baptism in the Spirit" is not essential to the Christian life; those who do not receive "baptism in the Spirit" are not second-class Christians!

There is also need to clarify and strengthen the comrnunity's understanding of the centrality of the Eucharist which the Second Vatican Council taught is "the source and summit of the Christian life." [SC,8] Indeed the Eucharist is much more necessary than the Sunday prayer meetings, good as those may be. I know that you go to Sunday Mass; many of you attend Mass on weekdays. But the materials I have read convince me that too many see the prayer meeting as more central, more satisfying, more important than the Eucharist. There is need for a clear and consistent formation to guide your deepening faith to full, active and conscious participation in the Eucharist as the "source and summit of the Christian life."(SC 8, 14). So also there is need for a better grasp of the crucial role of a frequent reception of the sacrament of penance in the spiritual life. Community teaching needs to re-focus itself and to anchor itself much more firmly in the sacramental life of the Church.

There is also need to clarify for the members of this community the authentic Catholic understanding of the essential goodness of creation and the dignity of the human person, a point so central in the Holy Father's teaching and in the long tradition of the Church. The Catholic Church teaches that the human person, though wounded by original sin, retains dignity and worth in the eyes of God. It is true that the human intellect is darkened, that we experience a leaning toward evil; indeed we are incapable of saving ourselves! However, it is erroneous to speak of human nature as "depraved", as lacking in any goodness or worth. In our Catholic tradition, God's grace heals and builds on our human nature as we die and rise in Christ. And even our darkened intellect can know something of God and of his truth.
[cf. GS,13]

Every effort must be made to achieve a correct understanding of marriage -- including the equality of the spouses and the rights and duties of parents in natural law and in the teaching of the Church.

There are serious theological and pastoral dangers from delving into literature and practices drawn from fundamentalist groups often deeply hostile to the Catholic Church. I have deep concerns about the Toronto Blessing, from the Vineyard Church, "resting in the Spirit" -- as practiced in the Mother of God Community. I know some of you feel that this practice has been beneficial; nonetheless it has proven to be divisive for this community and is theologically questionable. I now ask you to cease its use as of this day and until such time as I can discuss this matter further with theologians and spiritual directors as well as with Father Peter Hocken. But to be perfectly candid, I do have grave reservations about this practice.

The true union among Christians, which as Catholics we all must seek, will happen only by our being true to the faith of our Church.

In order to address these problems, I ask that a new systematic catechesis based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church be undertaken for the whole community. The priests have acknowledged deficiencies and omissions in community teaching and have also acknowledged their responsibility in not correcting and guarding against those deficiencies. Because of their awareness of the problems which I have outlined and because of their renewed resolve to strengthen your life of faith, I shall designate the priests, together with other qualified community members, to give teaching that shall cover doctrine, worship, morality and spirituality. I am asking the community to accept, without reservation, the Catechism, a truly anointed teaching, which the Holy Father has given to all of us as the sure norm of belief and instruction.

Let me also say a word about the teachings at the Sunday night prayer meetings. I am asking that community members who are well-trained in theology take a much more active role in reviewing such teachings as are prepared ahead of time and in gently but firmly correcting spontaneous teaching that contains errors or statements that may lead to misunderstanding. Any teaching that does not clearly reflect the fullness of the Church's teaching risks not being of the Holy Spirit.

In addition, I ask that the Mother of God School take steps to be affiliated with the Archdiocesan School System. This helps to ensure compliance of this school with all that is required of every Catholic school in this Archdiocese. I am asking my Superintendent of Schools, Lawrence Callahan, and Father Charles Parry, my Assistant Secretary for Catholic Education, to visit the Mother of God School and to prepare an evaluation for my review. We will work with you to ensure that the Mother of God School not only meets appropriate standards and follows sound policies but most importantly that it presents authentic Catholic teaching as befits a truly Catholic school.

Pastoral Practice

Teaching and pastoral practice are very closely allied. Again, I speak to you as a pastor, as one who spent almost fifty years in one or another pastoral role, as a parish priest, as seminary rector and as a diocesan bishop for nearly three decades. I can tell you this: to provide good spiritual direction, sound guidance, and compassionate help is a very challenging work. For in engaging in this ministry, we are not simply dealing with externals but with the very mind and heart of those we seek to serve. We are dealing with the conscience, that secret, inmost core of the person, that privileged sanctuary where each of us is alone with God and where His voice echoes in our hearts. [GS,16] This work is more delicate and demanding than that of any surgeon! That is why the Church has always demanded that anyone who offers pastoral care be carefully trained, not only in theology but in the very art of caring for the human soul. The Church always insists that those who engage in pastoral work fully respect the legitimate autonomy and freedom of those they are working with; it has always insisted that relationships between spouses and between parents and children be respected and fostered in all cases but especially whenever pastoral care is given and received. It also insists, with greatest clarity, that people receiving pastoral care have a right to privacy and confidentiality. That applies in the strictest way to the confessional, as we know; but it also applies to various forms of spiritual direction, counseling and other efforts to enable people to come to terms with all that impedes them from following Christ. The Church also insists that those in authority exercise their responsibility with love, care and restraint.

Some of you have attested that they have benefitted from pastoral care in the community as they understand it. Others have experienced very serious problems; still others have had a mixed reaction to the pastoral care they have received. Yet, as your pastor, I must address the very serious difficulties which many people have shared with me.

After careful study, I have come to the conclusion that the very notion of pastoral care needs to be clarified for the community at large. There is need to understand the goals and methods of authentic pastoral care. It is not a detailed series of directives to be obeyed but rather a healing of the soul centered around the Word of God as it comes to us through the Church and the sacraments of the Church. In the pastoral care of this community, members were led to speak of very personal things in a manner that did not protect their right to privacy and confidentiality and which had the effect of leaving them vulnerable. Great damage has resulted from this.

In addition, I am concerned that the authority of those giving pastoral care be clearly understood and properly limited. No private individual can say that he or she presents the absolute will of God for another person in life's personal decisions. Unlike bishops and religious superiors, no lay leader has a right to demand religious obedience from a fellow adult lay Catholic. We can help each other on the journey but we must all walk in freedom!

Because of my deep concerns for you, I require that the pastoral care now being offered by the current community leadership, including region heads, coordinators, and other small groupings for pastoral care and direction be discontinued at once. Of course, small gatherings for prayer can continue; but in these groups it must be understood that all participants are of equal rank; and the practice of "headship" must be stopped in all its forms. All current covenant and associate agreements, including any continuing relationships of the Unio Crucis, are to be terminated until the Statutes are completed and approved.

I invite the priests of the community to work closely with myself, Father Kirwin and Bishop Lori in providing sound pastoral care for the community. They will work under my authorization and along lines which I shall indicate. I esteem the three priests currently serving you and I know they are very much a part of the life of this community. I want them to remain be with you during this difficult time of renewal. As the future unfolds, I also want to ensure that anyone else who provides pastoral care is well-trained in theology and other necessary skills.

The pastoral needs of this community are many. In addition to the need for sound teaching, the community suffers from a lack of charity for one another; from the failure to reach out in reconciliation; from anger, suspicion, slander and fear; from being judgmental of one another and of those who are not members of the community. The words of St. Paul come to mind: "If you go snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, you had better watch or you will destroy the whole community." (Gal. 5:14). All these sinful tendencies need to be healed for they are not of the Holy Spirit.

For the immediate future, special efforts must be made to bring about reconciliation within families, some of whom find themselves at odds. There is also need to make available the services of trained counselors from outside the community to offer any one who wants it the opportunity to share the burdens of their mind and heart without fear or hesitation. We need to be especially conscious of the children and young people in the community, some of whom have been seriously harmed by the systematic undermining of parental authority. We need to be attentive to their needs, especially by working hard to strengthen their relationships with their parents. I also require, out of love and respect for one another, that any one who has personal information about other members -- in notebooks, in computer files, in whatever form, that you destroy it, lest it be the source of future embarrassment or harm. All of you must cease using any personal information about others gained from previous pastoral practices.


This morning also, I must speak to you not only about teaching and pastoral care, but also about the leadership of the community. I know this is a very delicate and difficult area and I have given it much thought and prayer. First, I want to recognize the dedication of so many who have worked at various levels of leadership within the community. I know of your desire to live the faith in a very intense way and to help others to do the same.

Yet in every community made up of human beings -- whether it is a diocese, a parish, a religious community or any other type of community -- there is need for periodic change in leadership. It is not good for any community when a relatively small group is always in charge of all aspects of community life -- teaching, pastoral care, policies, funds, etc. Next month, when I am in Rome, upon my 75th birthday, I will submit my own resignation to the Holy Father and simply put myself at his disposition for however long or short a time he wants me to serve as your Archbishop.

The Church recognizes the need to rotate leadership at every level. That is why, in 1993, when I was asked to give recognition to the Mother of God Community as an association of the faithful, I directed that steps be taken for an orderly rotation and change in leadership. Unfortunately, that directive was not made known widely to the community nor was its goal achieved. The assessment process confirmed my original perception of three years ago that a change of leadership is not only wise but indeed necessary.

As one deeply concerned for the welfare of this community, I judge it necessary to ask that some in leadership positions step aside for a period of three months. This includes coordinators and region heads. During this period I will be in conversation with Joe and Edie. I also have serious concerns about the Corporations which I shall address in the coming months.

It is above all important that we begin the process of enabling all of you, as a community, to define in a better way the role of leaders; and when the Statutes are completed and approved by me, then you will be enabled to elect your own leaders. However, when elections do take place, I must reiterate what I asked for in 1993 -- there must be a change in leadership.

In the meantime, I ask the following individuals to provide interim leadership to the Community on a day by day basis for the next six months until the statutes are completed and approved, and new leaders are elected. They include:

1) Mr. Robert Roche

2) Mrs. Marjorie MacLeod

3) Mr. Stephen Miletic

4) Mr. Anthony Bosnick

5) and a younger member of the community, possibly someone from the current Region #3.

I have asked Mr. Roche to chair this interim leadership team. I ask that these leaders take up their duties immediately.

The functioning of this temporary leadership will be crucial until permanent leadership is installed. Your interim leaders will work with you and me to ensure that the vision and spirituality of the Mother of God Community be enhanced and forwarded.

Your interim leaders will work closely with Father George Kirwin, OMI, of whom I spoke at the beginning of my address. Because of his prior experience, I have asked him to assist the Mother of God Community during this time of transition. Father Kirwin is President of Oblate College in Washington; he is a trained theologian, a former Provincial and a man of proven wisdom and love for the Church. Father's role will be to oversee the implementation of what I am asking of the community.

I have also asked your interim leaders to select an advisory board of about ten members to represent various segments of the community. Their role is to listen to all of you, and to meet with the interim leaders on a regular basis to share their concerns in an orderly and charitable manner. In addition, as I have already mentioned the priests will continue to serve the community in a pastoral role, especially as teachers and spiritual directors.

I also ask Father Peter Hocken to serve as your interim Chaplain for the next six months; he is to work closely with you and your interim leaders. As Chaplain, he bears special responsibility for the pastoral care of the Community in the months ahead.

As I mentioned, already in 1993 I asked that Statutes be drawn up as a prerequisite to the Community's gaining definitive recognition as an association of the faithful. I ask that the Statutes Committee continue to function under the direction of the interim leaders. This committee is to follow the directives which I give today; its members also need to take into account the strengths, problems and recommendations which surfaced in the assessment process. They are charged to write Statutes that describe well the gifts and goals of the community; but it is also important that the Statutes protect the dignity and rights of members as well as the responsibilities and limits of those who serve as leaders. I ask Father Theo Rush to continue working with the Statutes Committee.

The good of your community also demands a careful review of community corporations, the Potomac Charismatic Community, Incorporated and the Word Among Us, Incorporated. For the protection of all, however, I will be asking that the corporations undergo a comprehensive legal audit going back to the very beginning of each organization. I also ask that the corporations have a comprehensive financial audit covering a period of ten years. These audits should be available for all the members to read. Members of the community should be aware of any changes in board membership. They should be aware of the assets of these corporations. There should be no attempt to sell assets, to transfer assets or to dissolve these corporations during the coming months. Policies regarding the operation of these corporations must be clarified with input from the entire community.

In general, there is a great need for much more community input regarding these corporations. As members of the community, you need to know much more about the finances of the community and have a say in the disposition of community resources. So also there is need to develop fair and consistent policies on matters such as pay scales and benefits for those employed by the Community. In no way is it my desire to be directly responsible for the corporate affairs of the community nor control its assets. I would be less than responsible, however, if I did not insist that your community, as a non profit organization, follow the same high standards that I have set for the corporations of the Archdiocese. I ask of you nothing that I do not ask of myself and my co-workers.

* * * * *


As I come to the conclusion of these remarks, I want to make the canonical status of this community clear. In 1993, I gave a tentative three year recognition to the Mother of God Community as a private association of the faithful. In January 1996, that three-year period will be over. As of this time, I am NOT withdrawing recognition but I will continue recognition until the end of April 1996, to give your community the opportunity to implement all that I have asked of you today. It is the responsibility of the interim leadership to implement these directives. I will ask the opinion of your interim leaders and rely on the judgment of Father Kirwin in reaching my own judgment about whether or not these directives have been adequately carried out. I must say, in all candor, that if I judge that they have not carried out in adequate fashion, I shall withdraw my recognition. I do not want to take that step; rather, it is my hope that we shall work together to strengthen the community now and in the years ahead.

I want to assure you that I shall be praying for all of you and working closely with your interim leaders. I know these past months have been painful for you; and I grieve over the difficulties which surfaced. Now I ask your wholehearted cooperation in remedying these difficulties and deficiencies. In many times past, I have received from your leaders and from many of you, expressions of your loyalty and love. I have received assurances of your readiness to follow whatever directives I deem best. Please know I have reached these directives after much prayer and discernment. I know some of them are difficult and it will take much patience and love to work them out. Again, I ask your cooperation, your prayers and your love. Together, let us beseech the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God and patroness of this community. In union with our Holy Father and with all the Church, let us continue our journey to the Kingdom where Christ lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

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