APwa 09/03 1936 Island Nuns SHAW ISLAND, Wash. (AP) -- One of three small groups of nuns
APwa 09/03 1936 Island Nuns
SHAW ISLAND, Wash. (AP) -- One of three small groups of nuns
that broke away from a mainstream religious order has been
criticized by neighbors and called a cult by some former
"Excepting that it's not in the jungles of Guyana, it's as
dangerous as Jonestown," said the Rev. Robley Whitson, a priest
in Bethlehem, Conn., who once had close ties to the nuns.
His reference to the mass suicides by followers of Jim Jones
was included in a story in Wednesday's editions of the Seattle
The Seattle Catholic archdiocese has investigated the Shaw
Island nuns, and Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen's report on the
Religious Sisters of Mercy from Alma, Mich., has been sent to
Pope John Paul II's representative in the United States,
Archbishop Pio Laghi. The report will not be disclosed,
archdiocesan officials say.
The other two groups are the Benedictine Nuns of the Primitive
Observance, based in Bethlehem, Conn., who farm and wear long
habits; and the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, from
Meriden, Conn., who reportedly run counseling centers and an
adoption agency. The Sisters of Mercy are professionals who run
homes for the poor, mainly in Michigan and Minnesota.
A Saginaw, Mich., probe was begun at Laghi's request after a
series of newspaper articles in Michigan detailing criticism of
the orders, said Sister Janet Fulgenzi of the Saginaw diocese.
She would not comment on the scope of the inquiry or any
complaints about the nuns.
The Rev. Thomas Barry, secretary to Hartford Archbishop John
Whealon, said the archdiocese has received a few complaints over
the years from people who felt the nuns put undue pressure on
relatives who joined the orders. But Whealon found the
complaints unwarranted, Barry said.
Members of all three orders, whose nuns are accountable to a
Vatican commission in Rome, refused to comment on their work or
on criticisms of them.
The orders once were progressive communities that anticipated
many of the changes of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s,
which called for a greater role for laity and other changes in
the Catholic church, Whitson said.
However, added Whitson, a theologian, under the Rev. Francis
Prokes' guidance, beginning in the late 1960s, the three orders
began to exhibit traits of a cult: strict control over followers,
isolation from family members, paranoia and preoccupation with
money, sex and power.
Prokes' teaching is marked by "an extreme pathological
preoccupation with female sexuality," Whitson said.
Among the critics of the orders are Tom and Mathilda McMackin,
who were involved with the three orders for more than 10 years.
In 1980, one of the Sisters of Mercy asked the couple to give up
the child they were expecting for adoption. The couple refused
and left the community, McMackin said.
Mrs. McMackin said she has been cut off from any relationship
with nine of her siblings, one a Benedictine nun and the others
lay members of the community, and from friendships with others in
the orders' community.
Together, the three orders have about 200 members and about
100 lay followers, who often live near the nuns and whose lives
are closely tied to the nuns' activities.
Only about nine nuns actually live on Shaw Island; about six
Benedictines, and three Franciscans, who run the ferry landing
and manage the island's only store.
Many of the island's 120 residents have argued in court and
before county officials that a building the nuns erected should
be torn down, saying the nuns should abide by the land-use code
that keeps Shaw rural and residential.
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