Regular readers may remember that there was a local parish staff person present at Holy Wisdom Monastery when I went there to deliver testimonies of local parish Catholics on why Catholics shouldn’t support the place. I carefully avoided any identifying info, but reported that I also gave the testimonies to that person. Without any happiness, but with a preparation of prayer, it’s time to tell that story.
His name is Ed Emmenegger, and he is a pastoral associate at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Madison. Parish bulletins describe him as director of RCIA; he also visits the home-bound and those in nursing homes. Ed has an extensive history of service in local parishes; before he began working at Blessed Sacrament in 2001, he was a DRE at Saint Dennis Parish, if I recall correctly what one of his former catechists there told me. He served also for six years as Society of Saint Vincent de Paul District Council President, ending in 2009. Based on his LinkedIn page and other sources, Ed has a priest’s education from Loyola University and the University of Saint Mary of the Lake (Mundelein Seminary) from which he graduated in 1974. Ed is now a married layman, with four grown children. Particularly because he is very oriented toward serving the less fortunate, I know confidently that there are many lovely things about Ed, and things he has done that give him much credit, and I regret that because I do not know him personally I do not have have the details to cite that would humanize the good qualities I know that he possesses.
Blessed Sacrament Parish is staffed by Dominican Friars, and the current pastor, Fr DePorres Durham, OP, is I believe new in town as of last November. There are many very good things to say of Blessed Sacrament, and some have said that it used to be really off-the-rails liberal in the past and has gotten much better in the last few years. Nevertheless, Blessed Sacrament is one of several local parishes which in recent years hosted a variety of programs presented by the members of the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters’ HWM-connected Wisdom’s Well Interfaith Spirituality Center, the members of which Bishop Morlino disapproved last year to to be speakers on Catholic premises. Those leading programs at Blessed Sacrament included not only Sr Lynn Lisbeth and Sr Maureen McDonnell, but surprisingly even Beth O’Brien, a Holy Wisdom Monastery Oblate who attends their Sunday Assembly; Beth for instance hosted a Bridges to Contemplative Living course at Blessed Sacrament as recently as fall of 2012.
And if you don’t know what Holy Wisdom Monastery is then none of this will make sense, so have a look at my extensive coverage of that. In short, it used to be a Catholic Benedictine monastery, but the Sisters quite publicly left their vows, left the Church and now host a lay-led invalid “eucharist” called “Sunday Assembly”, as well as various activist dissent groups aimed against various unchangeable Catholic beliefs, that simply function to confuse people and estrange them from the Church. One of the most scandalous aspects of the Holy Wisdom tragedy, to my mind, was that a whole array of religious sisters and monks remained supportive of the former Benefictine sisters as they left the Catholic Faith and took many laity with them. Numerous religious continued to frequently give talks at Holy Wisdom, for instance, including the Wisdom’s Well members and certain other Sinsinawa Dominicans. Religiously-indifferent, morally relativistic dissenters inside the Church are among those helping usher people out of the Faith and away from the saving Sacraments, and to feel comfortable with that choice.
Last November, Ed Emmenegger wrote an article for Holy Wisdom Monastery’s email newsletter, which I took notice of when I was browsing their website in mid December. He describes how he first began coming regularly to Holy Wisdom Monastery to participate in their version of Morning Prayer.
On Thanksgiving weekend 2009, while many were still gratefully celebrating the opening of the sparkling and highly acclaimed monastery building, I decided more prayer in my life would be a good thing for Advent. I wanted to see if I could build on positive experiences of morning prayer I’ve had away on retreat in past years. Though I had often prayed in thanksgiving and wonder while walking the trails of Holy Wisdom for years, I wondered if I might re-awaken the love for a time of shared prayer in the morning.
He kept going there on a regular basis since that time. The enjoyment he had seems to have been been a contrast from how he felt about praying the Liturgy of the Hours in his past–“an experience I avoided and which left me lifeless in an earlier phase when it was an expected part of my daily schedule.” The language of prayer corresponds with beliefs (“lex orandi, lex credendi”), and at Holy Wisdom the beliefs profoundly differ from Catholic ones and so too in turn does their prayer language differ. All liturgy at Holy Wisdom is neutered, for instance: “In the name of the Creator and of the Redeemer and of the Sanctifier….” In a recent email Abbot Rooney said to me this type of thing “is what happens when one buys into the secular feminist agenda — which is very anti-Catholic, anti-Scriptures, and anti-Tradition.” It is worth noting also, I was recently present at an event at Blessed Sacrament Parish where prayers apparently drawn from the Dominican Sisters’ non-approved Liturgy of the Hours style prayerbook were used, with similarly non-gendered words for God. Two Dominican priests present willingly prayed this as “Evening Prayer,” but some lay people were quick to say this was an anomaly, when I spoke up. May God bless and help faithful lay people!
In his article, Ed takes care to specify certain boundaries to his participation at Holy Wisdom:
I don’t make it every morning. Sundays I’m at the Catholic parish where I am on staff as pastoral associate. A couple of other days a week I have early morning commitments, making my average about four times a week. And I only come in the morning — it’s close to home then, and a way to focus my day at work. Admittedly it’s the only time available in my current daily schedule, but dawn and dusk have always seemed the most vivid time to engage the Source of all being, eternal Word and gentle Spirit.
And that’s truly important: he doesn’t go to their “Sunday Assembly,” but to Mass. I also notice what it doesn’t say: he doesn’t even hint that Catholics who go to Sunday Assembly rather than Mass are gravely failing to practice their Faith, and he doesn’t mention his wife, a “disaffected Catholic” participant in the Holy Wisdom Monastery Sunday Assembly, who has helped organize their children’s ministry, served as a reader at their Sunday service, and organized charitable donations. When I greeted Ed at Holy Wisdom on Ash Wednesday, she was seated by his side wearing her Holy Wisdom nametag.
I emailed diocesan Vicar General Monsignor James Bartylla and Blessed Sacrament pastor Fr DePorres Durham. “As someone who prays the Liturgy of the Hours, going to a non Catholic community like Holy Wisdom to pray some version of that is not something that I would do. It seems like their newsletter may be using him to bolster their credibility with Catholics,” I wrote. “Maybe I am totally misunderstanding, if so I very deeply apologize, but his involvement with Holy Wisdom seems like terrible judgement, unless he were more unambiguously there to re-evangelize, to invite people back to Catholic belief and the practice of the Faith.” No reply. I did hear through Bob Bright that Fr DePorres told Ed of my email.
It wasn’t a happy moment for me when I recognized Ed on Ash Wednesday in the Holy Wisdom sanctuary. He also realized who I was as I approached him. I simply handed him the testimonies, in a manila envelope. I saw him open and look at it. After the service he approached me. “Ed, I don’t think you should support this place,” I said quietly. He said he realized that (ie, that I think that) but asked “to discuss the reasons why you think I should not participate at Holy Wisdom.” I indicated the reasons were given in the testimonies, but he nevertheless wanted to meet later, to which I agreed while feeling in over my head, and he gave me his Blessed Sacrament business card.
I prayed, and I emailed him as he wished. I strongly didn’t want to wind up in a situation where he would try to defend continued support of Holy Wisdom at a meeting, and so my email was firm and clear: “I believe that if you do not support Holy Wisdom Monastery and its errors, you need to make that clear and public and act in accord with that, and if you do support them then you must not be on a parish or Catholic organization staff.” I also told him not to expect any confidentiality in regards to our meeting. I included a link to a blog post of my personal conversion story, “Falling off my Horse”–a story that makes clear both my intimate personal understanding of religious progressives, and how decisively I have turned away from the points of view typical of something like Holy Wisdom Monastery, and leaves no room for thinking I could be persuaded that it’s simply okay.
His reply began in this way:
I am concerned that my invitation to talk with you was taken in the wrong way. I don’t have any need to “defend” myself, and I don’t have any reason to be held accountable to defend anything to you. My interest in talking with you was to understand better how God is calling you to take such a forceful role in resolving what you perceive as problems that need to be corrected.
He exercises pastoral skills and says some things that are not unkind toward me. In regards to my conversion story, it helps him to understand me, however “I must confess that I don’t understand why you feel a need to put so much about yourself and others in the public forum.” In regards to the entirely anonymous, non-evaluative mentions of his presence in my post Sister Simone Campbell at Formerly-Catholic Holy Wisdom Monastery, “how strange it was to read something on your blog about me, because you really don’t know me, and what you might write about does not really represent the reality of who I am.” Finally, he quoted Tielhard de Chardin via Timothy Dolan’s book Doers of the Word, and wanted us both to pray about the quote which touches on patience and trusting in the slow work of God. Maybe you, dear reader, have as little use for Tielhard as I do, but nevertheless we can all for a moment pray on that. You and I do not change hearts. God’s grace changes hearts.
More recently, a newspaper article (which quoted me pointing out HWM is perhaps best known locally for substantive rejection of the Catholic faith, and that priests and sisters should know they are not sending a good message if they attend events there) and a statement on the diocesan website revealed that in March Bishop Morlino contacted religious from various places, and all his diocesan priests and told them not to attend events at Holy Wisdom Monastery. I am consoled that I was not alone in feeling there were problems that needed to be corrected.
I never received any responses from Father DePorres in regards to this, either at that time or more recently when, in preparation for this blog article, I inquired to him again by email, nor did Ed respond to a similar recent inquiry, with any further comment. I did not release Ed’s name as part of my February blog coverage of this topic, out of respect for Ed’s long and in many ways extremely positive service in the Church, and hope that this could get clarified and get better discreetly. But I am not aware of anything being better, and remain concerned and dismayed that Ed turned down every opportunity he had to clarify to me or to mutual friend Bob Bright (a great Blessed Sacrament parishioner, Saint Vincent de Paul member, and former Holy Wisdom board member who wrote the first of the “testimonies“), whether he disgrees with the errors of Holy Wisdom. In particular it’s because he’s a pastoral associate and director of RCIA for a parish that I decided to write this.
As I wrote in one of my unanswered messages to Fr. DePorres:
I both believe this whole thing with HWM is a considerably serious situation, and have prayed a good deal for everyone’s good. Father, I do not know Ed personally, as he accurately says in his own email. And it is not to me that he is accountable, as he also rightly says. We are all of course accountable to Jesus, present Body, Blood Soul and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament.
There was an article recently on the website of the National Catholic Register that I found myself clicking back to multiple times.
If Catholicism is true, why isn’t everything we do ordered around this Truth?
The incongruity between what we claim to believe and the lives we live is revealing. Any honest outsider can surely tell that we can’t possibly believe what we say we believe. Not only is our religion a fraud, but so are we Christians.
That’s what Catholics as a whole communicate about Catholicism.
This is for all of us.
[UPDATE: the following is my response to an email from a person whose startled concern some other readers might share. I heartily forgive anyone who finds this very unpleasant, because it’s extremely unpleasant to me too. On the other hand, the most common response people have made is thanking me, though I am not looking for that either–please pray to Holy Spirit our advocate and helper.]
If I understand correctly, you feel I’ve committed the sin of detraction, which has to do with revealing another’s sins without just and proportionate cause. Detraction is a very real sin, but when there is in fact just cause to reveal something someone has done, and particularly when there is the potential for correcting a problem, then revealing what someone has done can be the right thing to do and is not in that case the sin of detraction… like the IRS whistleblowers, to give a current secular example. I acted with care not to sin by detraction–and knowing some people would interpret it that way anyway and I might even lose friends, because of some people not seeing the matter as serious as it truly is, or needing correction.
[…] If I had made his involvement there public immediately it would have been less surprising to people than doing a post specifically about him, but instead I tried to go about it entirely discreetly hoping there would NOT be a reason to make it public, and brought it into public only after there was, very surprisingly to me, absolutely no acknowledgement from Ed that HWM is problematic, no response from the pastor, and after much prayer.
Graces of the Holy Spirit to you on this Pentecost, please pray for me,