By Catholic News Service

OMAHA, Neb. – Saying that the step was necessary to “guard the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church,” Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha has suppressed a public association of hermits in his archdiocese and dismissed its 48 vowed members from religious life.

“From this point forward, the Intercessors of the Lamb Inc. is in no way associated with the Catholic Church,” the archbishop said in an Oct. 15 letter. “Catholic faithful worldwide should be aware that any alms given to the Intercessors of the Lamb Inc. are not being given to a Catholic organization.”

A news release from the Archdiocese of Omaha said a majority of the lay board that had guided the finances of the Association of the Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb had “impeded (the archbishop) from helping the association accomplish the necessary reforms identified by a recent canonical visitation.”{{more}}

“For reasons that they have refused to share with me, the board of directors does not want to work with the Church to implement the necessary reforms,” Archbishop Lucas said.

Among the problems uncovered during the visitation by Jesuit Father James J. Conn, a canon law professor at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, were “serious disunity within the community; widespread dissatisfaction with leadership; lack of safe environment policies; questionable financial practices; … use of intimidation tactics to secure obedience from members;” and “illegitimate and irreverent custody of the Blessed Sacrament,” the news release said.

Archbishop Lucas took the action two weeks after accepting the resignation of Mother Nadine Brown, founder of the association, as its director and appointing Father Gregory P. Baxter, pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha and a former chancery official, as trustee of the Intercessors for up to 12 months.

Citing Canon 1194 of the Code of Canon Law, Archbishop Lucas said “the vows of the former members have ceased and they are to set aside the habit and refrain from using the titles ‘Mother,’ ‘Brother’ or ‘Sister.’ They are no longer considered to be in consecrated life or assimilated to it in the Church.”

The 48 members of the association – 32 women and 16 men, including five priests – were transferred by bus to a Catholic retreat center in Schuyler, where they were receiving food, clothing, housing and spiritual direction, according to news reports.

“I am providing for the care of the former members in the short term and remain committed to helping them in any way I can in the future,” the archbishop said in his letter.

The archdiocese described the Association of the Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb as “a contemplative, intercessory and mixed (lay men, women and clerics) public association of hermits.” In addition to the 48 vowed members, there were as many as 3,000 laypeople who were considered “companions” or “associates.”

The group was recognized as a private association of the faithful in 1992 by then-Omaha Archbishop Daniel E. Sheehan and as a public association of the faithful in 1998 by Archbishop Elden F. Curtiss, Archbishop Lucas’ predecessor in Omaha.

“When the association asked to be recognized as a Catholic entity in accord with Church law, it agreed to recognize the pastoral authority of the archbishop and follow Catholic practices,” said Deacon Timothy F. McNeil, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha, in the news release. “In other words, you cannot make the claim you’re a Catholic organization and at the same time separate yourself from the teaching, sanctifying and governing role of the archbishop.”

When he became archbishop of Omaha in July 2009, Archbishop Lucas “tried on several occasions to meet with directors of Intercessors of the Lamb Inc. to share his vision and hope for the hermit community,” the news release said. “The majority of the board refused his invitations and took steps to undermine his pastoral oversight of the association.”

The Omaha World-Herald newspaper reported that the board of directors still owns the 75-acre property on which members of the association lived, as well as 13 nearby homes and at least a dozen cars and SUVs.

In a statement released through attorney David Levy, the board said it “disagrees with many of the actions, statements and findings of the archdiocese” and would “meet very soon to discuss how best to continue the corporation’s mission.”

“The corporation has provided for the hermits for decades, and has continued to do so after the archdiocese removed Mother Nadine from her home of 30 years on the Bellwether campus two weeks ago,” the statement added.

The web site of the association itself ( carries the message, “We are sorry our site is offline,” along with an emoticon showing a frown.