16 November 2010

Nadine Brown: Disobedient, etc?? Followup Question

For those coming to this page, please also see: Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: In Memoriam, Nadine Brown

[[Dear Sr Laurel, I hope you have seen the statement put out by Mother Nadine Brown about how the Archdiocese treated her and the other Hermit Intercessors before the suppression. They brought in sheriffs, ousted superiors and councilors, refused to allow Mother to leave Omaha even to go on retreat elsewhere, and forced her off the main property with very little warning. I am sure it would make you sorry you suggested she has been disobedient and cause you to rethink whether you believe the Archbishop has really been unusually generous.]]

Thanks for your questions or comments. I was sent the statement while away on a trip back East, yes. I read it briefly then and couldn't make much sense of it. I returned last night however and read the statement a couple more times along with the original report by former intercessors. I think I understand what Nadine Brown is reporting happened. Let me recount what I heard from Nadine Brown's report combined with the other one --- a combination of the two reports. There is a little "pulling and tugging" as I make sense of things as I write so I see things through more than one lens as I come to clarity (or what I think is clarity) on all this.

First Nadine Brown was asked to resign from both her directorship of the HIOL and from the civil board. This she did and she signed a statement of resignation for each which the Archdiocese had gotten ready beforehand. (Let me note here that if Brown had no sense that this was going to happen beforehand it would have been very traumatic and she would not have fully processed all it meant in merely signing the papers. It would have been traumatic in any case and she is to be commended for this act of selflessness or obedience before any other conclusions are drawn.) The next morning the Archbishop himself came to the community and announced the resignations. He appointed a trustee for the community and that trustee accepted the resignations of all the councilors and current superiors of the women's formation houses, etc. Within a day or two those who had held office and lived in formator's houses were asked to move out of formation houses and into some of the nearby homes also owned by the HIOL or IOL, Inc. Their car keys were also surrendered (I am assuming the cars belonged to the the formation houses and the HIOL could give the keys to whomever needed them.) So far this seems fairly straightforward to me though it could certainly point to factions developing.

Then it gets a bit wonky (read "confused and hard to understand"). For instance, Brown states that a number of the sisters and a brother informed the trustee and new superiors that they had decided to take sabbaticals. Here it sounds like they decided they could not go along with the new arrangements and took time to decide the matter. Perhaps though they just needed time apart to process the changes and to allow others to do the same. Brown is not clear whether these 10 people were the former superiors and council members or not but it does sound like it. If that is true, then it does seem to change the complexion of the whole situation in light of the announcement to their superiors (note it is not a matter of them requesting, but rather informing their superiors) that they will be taking sabbaticals. Of course, again, there is the need to take time to process the transition occurring so the announcements per se may be understandable and not particularly sinister (that is not a matter of disobedience or recalcitrance). However, in reading between the lines it seems to me that factions are definitely forming.

I had to read the older newspaper report to make further sense of Brown's most recent statement, especially of the denial of her request that she be allowed to make retreat elsewhere, or leave the Archdiocese, and even then I have not been wholly successful. Clearly, however, something critical happened between October 2nd and the morning of October 4th to precipitate more desperate action or provisions than had seemed necessary to that point. Here is what other former HIOLs said about that period:

[[But on the morning of Sunday, Oct. 3 — two days after Brown's resignation was announced — people close to her began taking steps signaling that they would not comply with the archbishop, the three former Intercessors said. A board member and a man she identified as her lawyer walked into a house the Intercessors owned on a neighboring street and announced that they were there for the association's assets, Neuhoff said. She said they took computers and files with financial and personal records from the house. Then people began carrying boxes out of the main house on the Intercessors campus, including in the middle of the night. That was confusing and frightening, the three said. The three called police and archdiocesan officials. They were told that the civil corporation had the legal right to move its property. The corporation changed the locks on the Intercessors' homes and asked for their car keys, Nolte said. It was becoming obvious, he said, that the faction close to Brown would not budge. He said the situation became more tense in the two weeks that followed, culminating with Friday's suppression and the archbishop's offer of sanctuary at the retreat.]]

Note that until this point it has seemed that the only taking of car keys was a piece of taking over leadership of the community and ensuring that things would continue smoothly. But here it is the IOL, Inc which is taking car keys, changing locks, etc, and Nadine Brown seems to be part of that. The Archdiocese actually affirms the corporation's rights to do so, so it seems clear that the Archdiocese was not instigating the taking of keys, etc earlier. From my own reading of both accounts I hear the Archdiocese trying to take steps which would preserve the community intact and allow it to have a genuine future. What seems necessary for that to happen was a change of leadership, and especially having Nadine Brown step down from all leadership roles. (It also seems to have meant disassociation from the civil board as it was then constituted so when I refer to Nadine Brown at this point I also mean the board she aligned herself with.)

What made no sense to me initially from Brown's account is the prohibition about leaving the Archdiocese. Her account made it sound unreasonable and punitive. If definite factions formed and there was a struggle over resources I can absolutely understand requiring Nadine Brown and the others to move off the Bellwether campus and into outlying houses. But the prohibition re leaving the Archdiocese or making retreat elsewhere simply requires greater explanation in order to make sense. I can imagine Brown going to other groups (of associates or companions) and whether she wanted to or not, carrying the problems of factionalizing, etc into other dioceses. Whether she purposely or consciously contributed to this or not she is a personality around whom others gravitate. It is also possible she was simply prohibited from travelling or making retreat while things were up in the air --- not least because the community needed her and the others on board to move ahead in a healthy way. This is the reading I prefer, the interpretation which makes the most sense I believe. I would think the new superiors (and the Archdiocese) wanted to move forward WITH Brown and not to cause a complete schism in the community. If I am at all correct in my reading of things, refusal of permission for leaving the archdiocese or making retreat make sense (which I believe was really a request that she not leave) --- and were not at all punitive or unreasonable.

Now, regarding the question of disobedience. Contrary to what you believe I said, I wrote earlier that I had no idea whether or not Nadine Brown had been disobedient or was being disobedient. I still do not. At this point (post suppression) she is clearly a lay person without private vows and no commitments beyond her baptismal ones. She is thus obligated as any lay person is with regard to the Archbishop. We should therefore be careful about leveling charges of disobedience! However, when I look over the pattern that emerges from the accounts of actions taken by Brown and the 10 or eleven that followed her prior to the suppression I can't say "obedience" is precisely the word that comes to mind. Clearly she did as the Archbishop required in relinquishing her position, but beyond that the situation is opaque because she had and retains influence over the group that went their own way. For these reasons neither humility and docility are words that come readily to mind either --- especially  on the part of this group as a whole. Of course, I need to remind people (and myself!!) that they may well apply in ways we simply cannot see. The fact is we do NOT know the whole story yet, from EITHER side of things. One thing I know firsthand is disobedience is not always easy to define from outside a situation; there are sometimes competing voices or mediations of God's voice and preferencing these can result in what merely appears to be actual disobedience. This difficulty of defining what is happening from the outside is even truer of humility which is a form of truthfulness and integrity, not one of obsequiousness. Think how many times St Paul has been accused of arrogance when in fact he was serving the Gospel of God and boasting in the Lord.

It is true that at this point in time it does appear that Brown has chosen the lay board and the original IOL, Inc over the the Archdiocese and its governance. It also seems that the 10 or so members that stayed on the Bellwether property have done the same. In other words, they seem to have chosen not to obey (or said they could not do so in conscience) and have left to resume private lives, but this is not the same as disobedience. However, should the small group act in ways or set up ministries at this point which go against what the Archbishop-as-pastor (as opposed to Archbishop-as-legitimate-superior) specifically requests and desires for his diocese, the situation could very well become one of actual disobedience or rebellion just as it would for any other lay person. The obligations of the laity are not the same as those bound to legitimate superiors by public vow (which is why lay persons ordinarily do not make even private vows of obedience), but real obedience (a considerate and open hearkening to), respect for, and cooperation with are owed pastors in the Church nonetheless.

Finally regarding the Archbishop's generosity: I have heard nothing yet which causes me to reevaluate my conclusions on this. I don't think Nadine Brown's latest account was clear really. I thought it tended to make the Archdiocese the bad guys and to whitewash the civil board, but again, we don't have all the facts. Even so I continue to think Archbishop Lucas has acted with great generosity with regard to the former HIOL's who remain together in the dormitory, and I understand the reasons for the visitation and I think (in a general way) for the suppression. Besides reminding you and others that the Archbishop acted completely within his scope in suppressing the group --- and could have done so at any time for any good reason --- I can't say more than this.