A High Court candidate served as a ‘handmaiden’ in a religious group

WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett served as a “handmaid,” the term then used to refer to high-ranking women leaders in the People of Praise. religious community, an old directory of group members is displayed.

Barrett has so far declined to discuss joining in the Christian organization, which opposes abortion and, according to former members, argues that men are divinely ordained as the “head” of family and faith, when it is duty wives to submit to it.

Two-page portions of the People of Praise directory for the South Bend, Indiana branch were shared with The Associated Press by a former community member on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue and because that this person still has family members in People of Praise. A second former member, Gene Stowe, who left the South Bend branch on good terms several years ago, confirmed the authenticity of the yearbook pages. He said he couldn’t say specifically what year the yearbook was from, but must have been from 2013 or earlier because one of the people listed had moved to another state by then.

All senior leaders within People of Praise are men, but in each of the group’s 22 regional branches, a core group of women are tasked with mentoring and offering spiritual guidance to other female members. Until recently, these leaders were called “handmaids,” a reference to Jesus’ mother, Mary, who, according to the Bible, called herself “the handmaid of the Lord.” The organization recently changed the terminology to “woman leader” because it had new negative connotations after Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” was turned into a popular TV show.

Leaders lead weekly groups of men or women of about half a dozen people where they pray and talk together, and where leaders offer advice and guidance. They will also organize to help other members of the community, such as providing meals when someone falls ill. According to the organization’s rules, no female leader can provide pastoral oversight to a male, former members said.

The White House on Wednesday defended Barrett.

“These allegations are offensive and motivated by anti-religious bigotry. Judge Barrett is an independent lawyer with an exceptional record,” spokesman Judd Deere said.

The People of Praise belief system is rooted in the Catholic Pentecostal movement, which emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus and may include baptism in the Holy Spirit. As practiced by People of Praise, this can include praying in tongues to receive divine prophecies, heal the sick and cast out evil spirits, according to documents and former members.

Founded in 1971, the non-profit organization has 22 branches in North America. It is not a church, but a faith-based community that includes people from several Christian denominations, although most of its approximately 1,800 adult members are Roman Catholic.

The existence of the directory listing Barrett’s name as a servant was first reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday evening. The AP reported last week that a 2006 issue of the group’s in-house magazine, Vine & Branches, included a photograph showing Barrett attending a national conference for top People of Praise leaders.

The group had removed copies of that magazine and other back issues mentioning Barrett and her family from its website in 2017, when her name first appeared on President Donald Trump’s shortlist for a possible nomination for the Supreme Court.

Back issues of the magazine, tax returns and other documents showed that Barrett’s father was the chief executive of People of Praise’s New Orleans branch and served on the group’s all-male board of governors as well. as recently as 2017. Her mother also served in the branch as a servant.

Other documents discovered this week also showed that Barrett and her husband, attorney Jesse M. Barrett, had lived at the home of two of the group’s co-founders when they were young law students at Notre Dame in the 1980s. 1990.

Barrett did not disclose his decades-long affiliation with People of Praise on his voluminous Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaires filed last month and three years ago, when the Notre Dame law professor was appointed by Trump to a sits on the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Barrett submitted to the Senate her list of recusals from the 7th Circuit, people and companies she has a dispute with, including her husband, her law firm and Notre Dame University. But the list includes two other South Bend companies: the Healy Group Inc., a financial services firm owned by four People of Praise membersand Great Day LLC, which shares an address and phone number with this company.

Barrett, 48, did not respond to a phone message seeking comment. The White House press office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on why the mother of seven chose not to disclose her People of Praise membership in the Senate.

Barrett also did not reveal that she signed a 2006 newspaper ad. sponsored by an anti-abortion group stating that she opposed “abortion on demand” and defended “the right to life from fertilization until the end of natural life”.

On Tuesday, the 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee released a letter asking the Justice Department to explain the omissions and confirm whether anything else was omitted from Barrett’s Senate questionnaires. If so, the department should immediately provide the documents for the committee’s review, the senators said.

Barrett’s confirmation hearings are set to begin Monday as Republicans race to approve his ascension to the Supreme Court ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

___

Smith reported from Providence, Rhode Island.

___

Follow AP investigative reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck and Smith at http://twitter.com/MRSmithAP

___

Contact the AP Global Investigation Team at [email protected]