(AP) CHICAGO Cardinal Francis George added his voice to those of other Roman Catholic leaders criticizing a secretive Chicago-based religious movement by banning the group Friday from meeting in churches or other archdiocesan facilities.
“While they have been functioning here for a number of years, the `Love Holy Trinity Blessed Mission’ has no official approval as a lay movement or as a religious order in the Catholic Church,” the cardinal said in a statement.
George also announced the recall to a pastoral position of a priest believed to be one of the movement’s leaders. The Rev. Len Kruzel had been working full time at the mission’s headquarters on the city’s Northwest Side, assisting its leader, Agnes Kyo McDonald.
The group, founded 12 years ago, reportedly hopes to be recognized as a Catholic religious order. Kruzel has said it now holds weekly prayer meetings in nearly 100 Catholic churches in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin.
The cardinal’s statement came after a six-month review of the mission by priests and church scholars who received few answers to their questions about the group’s operations and theology, archdiocesan officials said.
Bishops in Rockford, Ill., and Madison, Wis., have criticized the group in recent months.
The strongest statement came Sept. 15 from Archbishop Jerome Hanus of Dubuque, Iowa, after some families in his diocese accused the mission of using “cult-like” tactics.
Hanus said he could no longer remain silent about the mission because of concern over its secretive nature, McDonald’s authoritarian approach, possible harm to families and evidence of “characteristics of a cult.” Hanus said he could find no evidence of “appropriate formation in Catholic theology” in the mission leader’s teachings, which he said are “close to fundamentalism.”
Since October, members have purchased 10 buildings divided into 70 apartment units for more than $2 million in downtown Dubuque, according to city records. They also are establishing a retreat center on a 400-acre farm near Bellevue, Iowa, donated by mission member Dick Vogt.
Vogt has denied the accusations against the group. He has said McDonald is unavailable for comment “because of the persecution” of her group.
Vogt said the mission is born of Catholic teachings and is trying to establish itself as a new order, just as “Mother Teresa started a religious order.”
Members traveled to Rome two years ago, Vogt said, to persuade the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to become an order. He was told that they needed to support themselves financially. That’s when they began to acquire rental property in Dubuque.
Monsignor James Barta, vicar general of the Diocese of Dubuque, said the diocese was pushed to action because of concern over Ashley Fahey, 19, of McGregor, Iowa.
Fahey was going to attend Loras College, a Catholic college in Dubuque. But on Aug. 20, the night before her parents were to take her to school, she changed her plans. She said she was going to become a “sister” in the Love Holy Trinity Blessed Mission.
The next day, she was gone.
Fahey’s mother and stepfather, Lora and Roger Knott, said they’ve been cut off from her for more than a month.
“She said this was her calling,” Lora Knott said Friday. “She said she had to do it or she would be corrupted by Satan.”
“She looked emotionless,” said Roger Knott. “It was like someone had stolen her soul.”
The Knotts traveled to Chicago on Thursday to try to find Ashley after receiving a letter from her that she wouldn’t be calling or writing again. They said that when they attempted to enter the Love Holy Trinity offices Friday, they were turned away by a man who reportedly told them, “Your daughter has made her choice. Respect her wishes.”