NEOCATECHUMENATE COMMUNITY – Archdiocese of Melbourne – Report of activity in one parish
by Paul Cooney, sm
1. The Neocatechumenate was invited into the parish in 1977. At its peak there were five communities with about 100 adult members. Eventually in 1990 after two and a half years of prolonged discussions and attempted dialogue, the Parish Priest of the time withdrew permission from the four itinerant catechists of the Neocatechumenate from Italy to conduct activities in the parish or with groups from the parish.
2. The way in which the group operated in the parish led to the following conclusions:
2.1 The group is inflexible:
(i) When approached to defer mid-week meetings through the six-week diocesan and parochial renewal program, RENEW, the response was negative; the reason given: the Neocatechumenate is on-going and cannot be interrupted. (Some had been involved twice a week for 11 years.)
(ii) All music is imported and is particular to the group. No other music may be used.
(iii) The Saturday night exclusive Eucharist is immovable.
(iv) In fact, nothing is changed or adapted for local conditions, unless it is absolutely unavoidable.
2.2 They are authoritarian in style:
(i) It was reported that a member was told to go to confession only to a certain priest who is involved in the group.
(ii) The local responsible telephoned the group leader in Rome to see if it was correct for a person not in a certain community to go to a farewell Eucharist for a priest who had received another appointment and had been part of the movement.
(iii) They always visit in twos, threes or fours to discuss matters with the parish priest. They use a persistent hammering technique to try to convince him to see things their way.
(iv) The local priests are very much functionaries of the overall scheme of things. The community power is centralised in the catechists.
(v) They place great importance in gaining the support of the local hierarchy, especially bishops and parish priests.
Any small gesture, e.g. attending one of the gatherings, is emphasised, expanded beyond true import, and appears to be exploited.
The parish priest was led to believe that, no matter what his attitude, he was automatically the presbyter of the first community.
(vi) It was reported that married people are told such things as: "You should have another baby now".
2.3 The movement is secretive, exclusive and elitist:
(i) The Saturday Eucharist is not open to all – it is not a parish Mass.
(ii) Collections are taken up; no books or accounts are kept of income and expenditure. No financial statement is presented.
(iii) No members, other than those in authority or those who are disaffected, ever spoke to the parish priest on their own initiative about the group and how it is going. One can only conclude that members had been told to leave any talking to the Responsible and to the Catechists.
When members of the group were invited by one of the local priests to provide written testimony of their positive experience of the Neocatechumenate, they were instructed by the local Responsible not to do so.
(iv) In meetings between the Parish Team, the itinerant catechists and the local Responsibles, any criticism of the Neocatechumenate and its methods was met with a diffuse and vague discourse. Invariably the issues raised by the team were not addressed adequately.
(v) A local priest who was involved in the Neocatechumenate was subjected to extreme and personal abuse from the chief catechist when he dared raise questions about the theology and method of the Neocatechumenate.
(vi) The catechists appeared to be impervious to any criticism, and were unwilling to admit the need for change in either content or method.
(vii) Other parishioners felt very hurt about the energy that had gone into the Neocatechumenate; they saw how the members on the whole withdrew from other aspects of parish life.
2.4 The methods used are very doubtful:
(i) It is very difficult to leave the group – members keep contacting those who leave, offering them transport in their cars, encouraging them to come back.
(ii) They submit to very personal scrutinies of their lives in a group setting.
(iii) They visit in the parish in pairs with no reference to the parish pastoral plan, but rather when it is part of the group’s agenda, i.e., after 9 or 10 years in the group.
The parish visiting drew varied responses. Some frightened, some wondering from where the group came.
The parish priest refused to sign a letter of introduction for them, as it may be construed as supporting the group. One of the priests in the parish interested in the movement provided one.
2.5 Theologically the movement is inadequate:
(i) There is a great emphasis on sin and our own unworthiness: e.g. members say: "I am not a Christian!" The negativity of our lives is stressed.
(ii) Their view of marriage has the man very much as head and the woman as subject.
(iii) Much of their effort is introspective and engrossed in self.
(iv) They do not encourage wide reading or study. Their biblical interpretation tends to be literal.
(v) There is very little written; it is thus difficult or impossible to give adequate critical reflection to what goes on in a catechesis.
2.6 Psychologically it is dangerous:
(i) It taps into people’s fears, anxieties about sin, sexuality, family hurts, and keeps them locked into such attitudes.
It does not liberate people.
(ii) It keeps members dependent on the authority people and locked into a struggle to graduate to the next stage.
At one point, a whole community did not graduate.
The Responsibles and the catechists are unqualified theologically and psychologically; yet they have great influence on the lives of people – advising them on the most personal matters.
(iii) The dynamic of the group encourages people to reveal matters involving their spouse or family which are clearly private; it is inappropriate to share such matters in a large group.
The group cannot deal with such matters, but it does have the effect of binding the person into the group more closely. They dare not leave after such intimate self disclosure.
This is a technique which is a basis of brain-washing.
(iv) A significant number of people sought professional help because of negative influences they had experienced in the Neocatechumenate. At times the stability of individuals and marriages appeared to have been under threat.