Sect To Drop Some Separatist Practices, Bishop Says
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) _ A sect attacked by other Roman Catholics as being a separatist cult has agreed to change some of its practices in order to reduce friction in a Union County parish, a bishop says.
The People of Hope group promised to stop holding separate Masses and baptisms, and promised not to establish a separate Hope school or adopt Little Flower parish as its center, Bishop Dominic Marconi said Tuesday.
Marconi said the agreement emerged from meetings among church officials, People of Hope members and other Little Flower parishioners.
Marconi supported the parish pastor, the Rev. Pierce Byrne, who has been criticized as having coming under the sway of the Hope group, and said the parish school has been rated ″excellent″ by the archdiocese. Half of the school’s 16 teachers are Hope members, he said.
It was agreed that Hope members will end their ″disproportionate number″ of meetings at parish buildings so others can use the facilities, Marconi said. Marconi said a ″clear and unequivocal declaration″ must be made by the Hope group in airing differences with parishioners and letting its goals be known.
Critics in the Little Flower parish call the People of Hope elitist and secretive, and say the group is trying to take over the local church and the parochial school. They also say Hope women are placed in a subservient role.
The Hope group is made up of about 240 families, most of them in the Little Flower parish. In all, the parish has some 1,300 families, church officials said.
The People of Hope, who believe direct divine inspiration can allow them to speak in tongues, has also been ordered to end affiliation with the Sword of the Spir1/2 t, a fundamentalist, ecumenical group based in Michigan.
On Sunday, Newark Archbishop Peter Gerety spok.Pat the Hope group’s regular meeting and praised members for their faith. But he asked that they enter the mainstream of the church and ″redefine″ the status of female members.
″You have not always been perceived as upbuilding the local church or serving the needs of mankind in your neighborhood,″ Gerety said. ″It is the time, God’s time designated for you, to stop and consider your priorities.″
Gerety asked the Hope to stop recruiting members and to work under diocesan officials in redefining the group, which is seeking official approval from the Catholic hierarchy.
Hope spokesman Jack Costanzo said after Gerety’s speech that the group is ″pleased about his statement that we are a community of loyal Catholics in the church. We are confident that we can continue to serve the Catholic community.″
Rev. Philip Rotunno, Gerety’s liaison with the group, said Tuesday it is ″too early to tell″ whether the Hope group can meet all of the archbishop’s conditions for official church approval.