Army of Mary cast out

Vatican excommunicates members of a Quebec Catholic movement

National Post/September 12, 2007

Calling it a "very grave situation," the Vatican has excommunicated members of a controversial Quebec Catholic movement, the Army of Mary, for their heretical beliefs that derive from the writings of Marie-Paule Giguère, an 86-year-old mystic who claims to be a reincarnation of the Virgin Mary.

In a judgment delivered to the group on Monday, and announced yesterday, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled that the ordinations of six priests in the Army of Mary this past June were illegitimate, because they were performed by a priest rather than a bishop. As a result, at least one recent marriage, performed by one of these new priests, is now regarded by the Vatican as null.

Further, the ruling says that anyone who participates in the Army of Mary, which has centres in Quebec City and Lac-Etchemin, Que., is in schism with the Catholic Church, and therefore automatically excommunicated.

The group has been in conflict with the Vatican for at least 20 years - its members claim to be fully Catholic, but with extra beliefs - and so it received the ruling with equanimity, calling it the "will of God."

"In 1958, our foundress received from above, heard from above that she would be crucified by priests and bishops. It's only the realization today of such a message," said Father Eric Roy, Superior General of the Sons of Mary and a leading figure in the group. "We cannot go against our conscience."

Founded as a prayer group in 1971, and recognized by the Archbishop of Quebec four years later, the Army of Mary has been a headache for Canadian Catholic bishops ever since.

In her writings, Mme. Giguère described visions and messages she received from God, explaining that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is fully divine, and also that, as her modern incarnation, so is Mme. Giguère. Rather than the traditional Catholic Trinity - in which God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are each fully divine and part of a three-part deity - the Army of Mary now speaks of a "quinternity," including Mary and Mme. Giguère.

This reverence of the charismatic Mme. Giguère, and the inevitable comparisons to Joan of Arc and Teresa of Avila, helped it to spread beyond Quebec, with missions across Canada and in France, the United States, Austria, Jamaica and Italy. At one time it claimed 20,000 members, but that number is now far lower, although Fr. Roy would not estimate.

"There was always this suspicion that was around them, that they were doing something on the side, you know, teaching other things. It was always hard to tie them down, and I just tried to get them to come out and admit things," said Terrence Prendergast, Archbishop of Ottawa, who was appointed in 2003 by Pope John Paul II to be a mediator in the dispute.

"They would say that they would not subscribe to some of the limitations that we would put on the creed.

"They would say we hold everything that the Roman Catholic Church teaches, and then some things that the Church is not yet ready for," he said.

Yesterday, he criticized the belief that God has somehow willed their excommunication, which he called "victim theology."

"It's one of those ironies that they have been waiting for this and hoping for it. And probably their foundress has predicted it [but] I would have to find out after the fact, because that's usually when we find out that she's predicted something," he said. After 9/11, for example, she claimed to have envisioned the falling towers several years previously.

"The Church has been very patient with them. I've been very patient with them," Archbishop Prendergast said. "It's a kind of cult. I think they are very much under the sway of the foundress. Whatever she says counts for more important than what the Pope says."

Archbishop Prendergast's predecessor, Bishop Gilles Cazabon, had tried for five years to resolve the schism and made little progress.

In fact, until this week, things stood pretty much as they were 20 years ago, when in 1987 the late Cardinal Louis-Albert Vachon revoked the Army of Mary's status as a Catholic organization, which was meant as a warning of future excommunication. In 1999, Bishop Cazabon was appointed as Pontifical Commissioner, a sort of Papal envoy, but things remained stalled until 2001, when the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a doctrinal note in 2001 stating that the Army of Mary is not a "Catholic association."

Since then, Archbishop Prendergast said, the group's status has fallen among mainstream Catholics, and so the trend among Army of Mary devotees outside of Quebec has been to either recant their heretical beliefs and become fully Catholic, or to return to Quebec.

Things came to a crisis this June, however, when a leading Army of Mary priest called Father Jean-Pierre Mastropietro ordained six new priests, including a father and son. Under canon law, only a bishop can ordain priests.

"He simply accepted Marie-Paule Giguère's idea that you are now appointed to be Father John of the Church of John," Archbishop Prendergast said. "He calls the Church of Rome the 'Church of Peter' [Peter was the first pope and one of Jesus' 12 apostles]. And the Church of Peter, which is the Church of Authority I guess, is being 'transmutated' - that's the term they use - into the Church of John, the Church of Love. And that's where, of course, the Catholic Church can't agree."

He said he regrets the failure of the efforts at reconciliation, because most of the Army of Mary's priests - there are 39 at the Lac-Etchemin centre, for example, in addition to brothers and sisters of the order - are legitimately ordained, one even by the late Pope John Paul II.

But now that Fr. Mastropietro is wearing a Byzantine crown and "acting like a pope" himself, the final line has been crossed.

"I did my very best with these men," Archbishop Prendergast said.

"I like them. I would like them to be Catholic priests. We need Catholic priests, but we have to have Catholic priests who obey what the bishops say ... [But] once you decide Heaven can tell you what to do, it can tell you all kinds of things that go beyond the boundaries."

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