Order of Saint Charbel

Bernard Doherty

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ORDER OF SAINT CHARBEL / MARIAN WORK OF ATONEMENT TIMELINE

1950 (May 16):  William Kamm was born in Cologne, Germany.

1953:  The Kamm family emigrated to Australia.

1968 (April 14):  Kamm experienced his first mystical experience in the form of a vision and locution at St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Wollongong, New South Wales.

1972/1973:  Kamm founded the Marian Work of Atonement (MWOA).

1982 (March 7):  Kamm received his first private message from the Virgin Mary.

1982 (July 16):  Kamm received a message that property of followers would be “Sacred Grounds” and that he was to adopt the name “The Little Pebble.”

1983 (Midyear):  Members of MWOA began meeting at 6 AM on Atonement Day (thirteenth of each month) at Bangalee Property of Price family for twelve hour prayer meetings. The Virgin Mary allegedly appeared between Noon and 4 PM.

1983 (July 16):  Kamm and Anne Bicego were married in the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Unanderra.

1983 (October 7):  Kamm received a message for the “inner circle” that the Cambewarra property of Price family would become the “Lourdes of Australia.”

1983 (November 1):  Kamm received his first public message. Followers began distributing this message more widely.

1984 (December 2):  Bishop William Murray sent out a pastoral letter (“On True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary”) noting that “no supernatural significance could be attached to the messages issued by the person calling himself “the Little Pebble”.”

1984 (December 8):  The shrine at Camberwarra opened to public. Two hundred followers of MWOA gathered at the “Holy Grounds” with media present.

1985 (March 21):  Kamm received a message requesting the foundation of the Order of Saint Charbel and mentioning a future papacy.

1987 (April 24):  The Charbelite community in Gilgandra approached Bishop Patrick Dougherty in Diocese of Bathurst for blessing and patronage.

1987:  Kamm met Father Malcolm Broussard in Texas; Broussard joined the Charbelites in Cambewarra.

1990 (November 14):  Kamm received a message that his first wife, Anne, was going to die soon and that follower Bettina Lammerman would become his wife. Kamm proposed by letter to Lammerman.

1991 (March 19):  Kamm married Lammerman in Germany.

1991 (August): Kamm’s first wife, Anne, left the Charbelite community at Nowra with Kamm’s four children and dissociated from group.

1991/1992:  Kamm received a revelation instructing him to select twelve Queens and seventy-two princesses who will bear his seed in the “New Holy Era.”

1998 (October 6):  Bishop Philip Wilson of Wollongong announced that the Diocese would set up a commission to investigate Kamm and the Order of Saint Charbel.

1999 (May 6):  The Charbelites issued a press statement noting that they had received Church approval through Bishop Bartholomew Schneider (a Thuc Line bishop).

1999 (September 27):  Bishop Wilson issued a decree against Order of Saint Charbel.

2000 (May 5):  Bishop Wilson officially established a commission of inquiry under the direction of canon lawyer Father Kevin Matthews.

2002 (June 16):  Bishop Peter Ingham (Bishop Wilson’s successor) issued a decree against Kamm.

2002 (July):  Four female ex-members contacted the police regarding allegations of sexual offences committed by Kamm. The Child Protection Enforcement Agency established Strike Force Winefried.

2002 (August 8):   Kamm was arrested in nearby town of Bomaderry and charged with thirteen child sex offences against two former members. Police simultaneously executed a high-risk search warrant on Cambewarra headquarters of the Charbelites, seizing weapons and documents.

2003 (March 30):  Broussard was consecrated a bishop by Bartholomew Schneider in Bavaria, Germany.

2003 (June 10):  Bishop Ingham issued a decree that Broussard’s episcopal consecration was not recognized.

2005 (July 7):  Kamm was found guilty by a jury of five charges of indecent and sexual assault on a young girl by the Sydney District Court.

2005 (September 15):  Pope Benedict XVI declared Broussard as dismissed from the clerical state (“defrocked”).

2007 (May 30):  Kamm was found guilty of six child sex offences against a second victim in Sydney District Court.

2013:  Kamm began to again receive messages after a long hiatus.

2014 (November 14):  Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay (Bishop of the Maronite Eparchy in Australia) issued a public statement reiterating the Church position on Kamm and the Order of Saint Charbel.

2014 (November 15):  Kamm was released from prison on parole.

2014 – Present:  Kamm sought legal recourse for imprisonment and treatment in prison and whilst on parole.

FOUNDER/GROUP HISTORY

William Kamm was born in 1950 in Cologne, West Germany, the illegitimate son of a decommissioned Italian officer (who Kamm claims was of royal pedigree) and a German mother, and baptised in the Roman Catholic Church. At the age of three, Kamm’s family migrated to Australia as part of the a large number of Europeans who took advantage of government assistance for skilled labour, settling in Renmark, South Australia, a region long popular with German migrants. When around thirteen years-old, Kamm’s mother moved with her children to the suburb of Sunshine in Melbourne, Victoria, a region popular with post-war migrants from southern Europe. Finally, in his mid-teens Kamm [Image at right] moved with his mother, her new husband, and siblings to Wollongong in New South Wales, a predominantly industrial region south of Sydney known for its steel-works and once-again popular with southern European migrants.

While according to Kamm his family was not overly religious, Kamm sporadically attended Catholic Mass as a child with local Italian families in Renmark and was exposed to the forms of popular Catholicism practiced by Southern and Eastern European migrants in both Sunshine and Wollongong. In his mid-teens, however, Kamm became more interested in religion, particularly by the life of Padre Pio, the famous Italian stigmatist, and at age sixteen had become an altar boy. During his teenage years a local priest who Kamm had become close to made sexual advances toward him, a matter which he later reported to Church authorities. Kamm left school in his late teens and began work as a courier in Wollongong. At the same time, Kamm became increasingly devout and began attending daily Mass.

By the age of seventeen, Kamm had become fascinated with various Marian apparitions, including those at Palmar de Troyes (Spain) and San Damiano (Italy), and received the first of many visions whilst attending Easter Sunday Mass at St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Wollongong in 1968. He heard the voice of the Eternal Father informing him that he would become a great and holy saint, that he would marry and establish a model holy family, and that he would witness the Second Coming of Christ. Kamm continued to work various jobs and became further involved in various lay organizations, particularly those dedicated to spreading the messages connected to various apparitions and seers. At this stage, Kamm began reading various unapproved messages from contemporary seers, particularly those distributed by a French migrant in Melbourne named Yves Dupont.  He became convinced that humanity had entered a period of impending crisis before the end-times.

At this time, Kamm also became increasingly aware of contemporary messages which were critical of what were seen as the liturgical and theological abuses creeping into the Roman Catholic Church as the result of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and interested in various traditionalist publications. By the late-1960s, Yves Dupont, through his magazine World Trends and small publication house Tenant Press, had become a central figure in Australia. He distributed various apocalyptic Marian material and promoted traditionalist opposition to liturgical and doctrinal reform in the Church. Dupont went on to become a key figure in the wider subculture of post-Vatican II Catholic apocalypticism with his 1972 book Catholic Prophecy, [Image at right] a collection of end-time prophecies of various dates ranging from late antiquity to the mid-twentieth century. While Kamm and Dupont never met, the latter’s publications exerted a strong influence on Kamm’s developing apocalyptic spirituality and understanding of prophecy.

In either 1972 or 1973, Kamm formed an organisation known as the Marian Work of Atonement (MWOA) with the purpose of offering atonement to God through the Virgin Mary, inspired by the unapproved Mexican seer Portavoz. This group consisted of a series of prayer meetings across New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory and organized lay retreats at nearby Carmelite and Schoenstatt monasteries. Throughout this period Kamm worked a number of different jobs in Sydney and Wollongong. At the same time, he deepened his Marian devotion according to the principles of the seventeenth century anti-Jansenist writer St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort and consecrated himself as a “Victim Soul.” During this period, Kamm was alienated from the Charismatic Renewal and became increasingly committed to the promotion of Fatima and other approved and unapproved apparition messages through video nights and promotional material.

Around 1976, after a failed relationship, Kamm experienced a crisis of faith and ceased the activities connected with the MWOA and only attended Mass sporadically. However, in 1978 he received a consoling vision of the Virgin Mary and soon returned to the prayer groups. It was around this time that Kamm became particularly interested in the apparitions of Veronica Lueken at Bayside in Queens, New York.  In November of 1979, he received a vision instructing him to go to Bayside. Kamm left for New York on December 28, 1979, where he stayed briefly, praying at the Our Lady of the Roses Shrine over the New Year. On returning to Australia, he began promoting the Bayside messages through pamphlets, the distribution of the Roses newssheet, and the prayer meetings associated with the MWOA in the Diocese of Wollongong and further afield. It was here that he first came to the attention of local Church authorities.

In May 1980, Kamm went to Bayside once more. However, he was questioned by police at Sydney Airport after allegations by a former housemate, who had loaned Kamm the money for the trip, that Kamm had stolen it. On arriving in New York, Kamm mailed a check, returning the money he had borrowed. Whilst working in the mailroom during his second visit to Bayside, Kamm clashed with other staff in Lueken’s “inner circle.” After an alleged incident involving the daughters of Canadian Traditionalist journalist Anne McGinn Cillis and further allegations of inappropriate behaviour with another married promoter, Kamm was asked to leave the shrine. The married-woman later wrote to Kamm apologising for the incident. Cillis’ accusations were to return to haunt Kamm in later years when details were made public in an exposé article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

On his return to Australia Kamm was unable to find work and moved-in with friends in Wollongong where he continued to promote the Bayside messages which, by this time, had become a matter of minor concern for the Australian Episcopal Conference (AEC, later the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, ACBC). Around this time a split occurred in the MWOA, with the majority of families involved severing links with the movement. Those who stayed went on to form the “inner circle” that later became the core of the Order of Saint Charbel.

Beginning on March 7, 1982, Kamm began to receive messages from the Virgin Mary, with their frequency increasing over the next year. Among other things, these messages, not all of which were later made publicly available immediately or later, requested he and the MWOA members begin building catacombs and undertake paramilitary training in preparation for the tribulations that were to accompany the last-days. On July 16 of the same year, Kamm received a message telling him that a farm in Cambewarra, outside of Nowra, was to become known as the “Holy Grounds.” Kamm was to take the nom-de-plume of the Little Pebble, ostensibly to ensure that focus was kept on the message and not on the person. Kamm also began to make his messages known to three local priests and the ailing Bishop of the Diocese of the Entrance, Thomas Muldoon. All of them subsequently rejected the group, concerned, among other things, about the groups survivalist activities and military training activities.

From mid-1983, members of the MWOA began meeting at 6 AM on the thirteenth day of each month for “Atonement Day” at the Holy Grounds in Cambewarra. [Image at right] They gathered for twelve hours of prayer, during which the Virgin Mary would appear between Noon and 4 PM. Kamm also married Anne Bicego on July 16, 1983. By the end of 1983, there were MWOA prayer groups in many areas of rural New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. However, as Kamm’s beliefs became increasingly apocalyptic and the specific requests made of members in the messages became more demanding again, a number of families separated from the group. Others intensified their involvement, and, on October 7, 1983, Kamm received a message that the Cambewarra property of a family of his followers was to become the “Lourdes of Australia.” On November 1, 1983, Kamm received his first public message. It echoed many other contemporary apparitions in chastising the Roman Catholic clergy for various liturgical innovations, especially the then increasingly common practice of receiving communion in the hand, and warning the people of Australia of coming cataclysms for their sins. Additional messages were received and distributed by Kamm and his followers in a broadsheet entitled Our Lady Comes to Australia over the ensuing months and soon came to the attention of Church authorities.

By June 1984, Bishop William Murray of the Diocese of Wollongong was becoming concerned over reports he was hearing about the group and the material they were circulating. He appears to have commissioned a private investigation into the content of these messages by a Sydney-based solicitor who concluded from internal considerations that Kamm’s locutions were not authentic. After receiving additional concerning information from disaffected members and concerned priests, Bishop Murray proceeded to consult another theologian in Sydney who similarly concluded that the messages were not authentic and advising Bishop Murray to pen a short statement warning Catholics away from the movement. Following the receipt of this second report, Murray invited Kamm to a private meeting at which he notified Kamm of his actions and requested Kamm cease distributing the messages. Kamm refused, noting that he would obey God first rather than his bishop. This incident solidified what was to remain a frosty relationship between Kamm and successive bishops of Wollongong.

On December 2, 1984, Bishop Murray issued a pastoral letter entitled On True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in which he declared Kamm’s claims to be lacking in supernatural origin and cautioned members of the laity from involving themselves with Kamm and his alleged shrine. A number of followers ceased associating with Kamm at this time, but despite the pastoral letter, Bishop Murray’s warnings were unheeded. [Image at right] Indeed, from the official opening on December 8, 1984, significant numbers of pilgrims began to flock to the shrine of Our Lady of the Ark in Cambewarra for the monthly Atonement Day where they participated in a day of traditional Catholic processions and Marian devotions.

As his popularity increased and Church resistance continued the content of the messages Kamm received from the Virgin Mary and other Catholic intercessory figures began to diverge from normative Roman Catholic doctrine. In 1984, Kamm received a message that he was to form an “Army of Truth” and unite all the seers currently active throughout the world under his leadership. This message led to increased collaboration between Kamm and a succession of other unapproved seers from Australia and across the globe. One of these (a Texan named Andrew Windgate, who went by the name Trumpeter) had received a message in 1984 which declared that Kamm was to be the next and final Pope upon the decease of Pope John Paul II and would become head of the Church who ushered in the end times.

The Little Pebble’s role as a millennialist prophet was to become a central pillar of the inner circle and of the later Order of Saint Charbel, and over the next decade and a half Kamm’s foretold role in this eschatological drama was unfolded to him through a succession of messages communicated either directly to him or through other seers. One of these was a Canadian seer using the name of Thornbush (Danielle Gervais) who was then associated with a censured Quebecois group the Order of the Immaculate Heart and of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort which for a time maintained strong links with the Order of Saint Charbel. At around this time the first press coverage directed at the MWOA began to appear on television and in newspapers.

Kamm’s popularity grew, particularly among devout Southern and Eastern European migrants to Australia and, at least initially, sectors of the large Lebanese Maronite diaspora. Kamm received a message in early 1985 advising him to prepare a new order within the Roman Catholic Church which  was to be called the Order of Saint Charbel, named for the celebrated nineteenth century Maronite saint Charbel Makhlouf (1828-1898). To achieve this, Kamm visited Rome the following month, and on April 19, 1984, Kamm was photographed with Pope John Paul II after obtaining access to a private service. [Image at right] This image was to reappear frequently in subsequent media coverage and form part of the group’s foundation story. Kamm later claimed he presented his message about the founding of the Order to the Pope during this visit and to have received his approbation, something later officially denied by Vatican officials. Over the course of 1985 and 1986, Kamm’s mission grew and several international seers became associated with him. However, others, like Fr. Stefano Gobbi, rejected his claims. On October 13, 1986, the MWOA held a large “Gathering of the Seers” at the Holy Grounds with several claiming to witness a solar miracle.

Perhaps realising that permission to found an order would not be forthcoming in Wollongong due to Bishop Murray’s disapproval, the Order of Saint Charbel founded their first “official” community in Gilgandra in the rural New South Wales Diocese of Bathurst. On April 24, 1987, this community presented their initial rule to Bishop Patrick Dougherty and sought his blessing and patronage. Aware of the circumstances in Wollongong, and having previously addressed matters regarding Bayside while secretary of the AEC, Bishop Dougherty commissioned a report from his diocesan chancellor, Monsignor Laurence Jennings into the activities of the nascent Charbelites.

Father Jennings’ thorough and balanced report found numerous problems with the local group in Gilgandra, including that, while finding that members were sincere and devout people, they were proving to be a divisive presence in local parochial and community life. Jennings recommended no approval be given in Bathurst, but that given the growth of the group since Bishop Murray’s initial statement, a wider Diocesan investigation (either in the Diocese of Wollongong or Bathurst) would be opportune to forestall further problems. This advice does not seem to have been taken, though the Gilgandra community was relatively short-lived.

In May 1987, Kamm met a Texan priest, Father Malcolm Louis Broussard, who had previously been the spiritual director of the seer Trumpeter and convinced him to join the nascent Charbelite community in Australia. Father Broussard abandoned his pastoral ministry in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston and departed the United States to join the Charbelites in September of the same year. Meanwhile, two wealthy Japanese followers of the mission funded the purchase of a caravan park adjacent to the Holy Grounds in Cambewarra, the owners being forced to sell at a cut price after the extensive dynamiting undertaken by Kamm and his followers in the construction of their catacombs drove away business. With the assistance of Fr. Yves-Marie Blais, a Canon Lawyer and leader of the Order of the Immaculate Heart and of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort, Kamm and members of his inner circle began to write successive drafts of The Rule and Constitution of the Order of Saint Charbel outlining the structure and charism which the Order of Saint Charbel was to follow. This was later presented to various Vatican dicasteries, though with no approval.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Kamm and his entourage maintained an often-gruelling travel schedule, spreading his messages through a variety of locales across in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. Kamm’s travelling and self-promotion soon transformed him into a major figure in the Marian visionary subculture, though this did not prevent him receiving condemnations from other seers including the seers associated with Medjugorje, Fr. Stefano Gobbi, and Veronica Lueken. Kamm was also censured by the celebrated French Mariologist Rene Laurentin. Despite this, various prayer houses were set up in a number of regions, including in Africa and India where the Charbelites also provided some relatively meagre funds for the building and maintenance of churches in impoverished communities. This led to a number of significant Roman Catholic figures, including Cardinal Antony Padiyara of India and Cardinal Jaime Sin of the Philippines, initially giving their blessings to Charbelite foundations and prayer groups. At least in the case of the latter, support was withdrawn on discovering more about Kamm’s conflicts with local ecclesiastical authorities or when these groups proved disruptive in local parishes. Kamm also had some association with the controversial (and later defrocked) African Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo.

Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, the Order’s self-described Mother House, the Community of Gethsemane at Cambewarra, slowly grew in size, eventually setting up its own school and buying a series of business interests in the local community. [Image at right] Other communities were also formed in Australia and overseas. By the early 1990s Kamm had begun to receive messages declaring that his eschatological role would involve the siring of a new holy race to repopulate the world during the millennial New Holy Era. Kamm also received a mystical vision in which Christ bestowed upon him the “Holy Shiny Thing” (a reference to The Life of Christ by nineteenth century Germany visionary Blessed Anne-Catherine Emmerich, a particular favourite of Kamm’s) through which he was to distribute his holy seed. To this end, Kamm began to gather around him a Holy Family (referred to as the Royal House of David), which was to consist of twelve Queens and seventy-two Princesses drawn from amongst the members of the inner circle.

These new revelations, which are difficult to date but appear to have commenced sometime between 1991 and 1992, coupled with Kamm’s subsequent mystical marriage to Bettina Lammerman, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a German follower, in 1991 led to his first wife Anne leaving him with their children and a number of other followers. This included Polish priest, Father Miroslaw Gebicki, who alerted the media and Church authorities of Kamm’s activities and bigamy. Over the next decade or more, Kamm is believed to have fathered over twenty children by a number of different women and invited or taken a significant number of female followers as his mystical wives. This led to tensions within and departures from the group as Kamm’s messages identified the wives of other members as part of his mystical family.

At the same time the novel practices and teachings contained within Kamm’s messages (for instance with regard to abortion in the case of rape) saw a number of members who had taken up residence in the groups numerous communities decide to leave the group. This, in turn, led to a number of financial disputes between Kamm and former members, some of which involved substantial amounts of money, which once again brought Kamm to the attention of the Australian bishops, who were frequently being contacted by former members complaining about Kamm’s activities.

Despite the negative assessment from the two preliminary investigations authorized by Bishops Murray and Dougherty, and another pastoral warning from Archbishop George Pell of Melbourne in 1997, Kamm continued to maintain the need for a more thorough investigation into his supernatural claims and the Charbelites status. To this end in late 1997, Kamm threatened legal action against the Diocese of Wollongong, now under the auspices of a new bishop Philip Wilson, in an effort to force the Diocese to undertake an official investigation into his claims. In response, and with the support of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Bishop Wilson informed Kamm that he would begin an ecclesiastical investigation into Kamm’s claims and activities.

While this investigation was in its preliminary phases, however, the Charbelites, frustrated by what they believed was a lack of progress, issued a Press Statement on May 6, 1999 in which they claimed to have received official recognition from Bishop Bartholomew Schneider, an alleged Thuc Line bishop operating in Spain and Germany. This event, and other evidence of ecclesiastical approval provided to the Commission by the Charbelites, was duly investigated.  On September 27, 1999, Bishop Wilson issued a decree directing the Order of Saint Charbel to cease presenting itself publicly and directing its members to cease claiming any ecclesiastical approval within the Catholic Church. Bishop Wilson, moreover, called for Kamm to close the order. The Charbelites responded by taking recourse against Bishop Wilson’s degree, first to Cardinal Edward Clancy in Sydney and then directly to Pope John Paul II.

On May 5, 2000, Bishop Wilson officially established the commission of inquiry, directed by a canon lawyer from another Diocese, Father Kevin Matthews, and comprised of two theologians and two canon lawyers. Their brief was to investigate the writings and activities of Kamm and the Charbelites and to establish whether they were in compliance with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Following an initial examination of his writings and the messages, and large amounts of positive testimonials sent in from followers, the commission eventually interviewed Kamm on October 21, 2000. External reports were also sought from two leading Catholic theologians and a canon lawyer pertaining to Kamm’s writings and the Charbelites’ rule. The findings of the diocesan commission of inquiry were resoundingly negative. Father Matthews’ final report concluded that Kamm and his followers were schismatic, that the group’s teachings (especially those pertaining to Kamm’s eschatological role) were heretical, that Kamm’s apparitions were not genuine, and that the Order of Saint Charbel could not be approved and was harmful to its members.

In early 2001, the Commission forwarded its report to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In March 2002, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote directly to Bishop Peter Ingham (Bishop Wilson’s successor) expressing its desire that as Bishop of Wollongong he issue a decree against the group. Meanwhile, a significant number of members departed from the Charbelite’s Nowra community and voiced their misgivings about Kamm’s leadership on the Internet and through the group’s email mailing list.

On June 16, 2002, Bishop Ingham issued a decree calling for Kamm to abandon his claims and the Charbelites to disband. Once again the Charbelites refused to recognise this and appealed to Rome. Soon after this degree was issued, four female ex-members of the Charbelites contacted police regarding allegations of sexual offences committed by Kamm. As a result, Strike Force Winifred was established by the New South Wales Child Protection Enforcement Agency.

On August 8, 2002, police raided the Charbelites community at Cambewarra, and Kamm was arrested off-site and charged with a series of child sex offences relating to a number of his underage female followers. He was later convicted for those crimes and served a nine year prison term. [Image at right] Following Kamm’s initial conviction, a significant number of the remaining members left. In the wake of Kamm’s first conviction on July 7, 2005, a second investigation, entitled Strike Force Winifred 2, was established by police. It resulted in further charges and a second conviction for Kamm on May 30, 2007.

Meanwhile, concerns were raised with the Diocese of Wollongong that Kamm’s associate, Father Broussard, was planning to be consecrated by Bishop Schneider. Father Broussard was consecrated a bishop by Bishop Schneider on March 30, 2003, in Bavaria, Germany, in violation of canon law and incurred a penalty of latae sententiae excommunication. On June 10, 2003 Bishop Ingham issued a decree formally noting this, as well as warning the remaining Charbelites that those who continued to adhere to Broussard’s ministry placed themselves outside of the mainstream Roman Catholic Church. Over the following two years Broussard ordained numerous followers to either the priesthood or the diaconate contrary to canon law, including Kamm. These men similarly incurred latae sententiae excommunications. At the time of writing these sanctions remain in place for all of those who continue to belong the Charbelites. Following these further ordinations, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith moved a request on July 29, 2005, that Broussard be stripped of his priesthood. Pope Benedict XVI subsequently decreed on September 15, 2005, that Broussard was dismissed ex officio et pro bono Ecclesiae from the clerical state, that is, defrocked. This decree provided no avenue for further appeal, though Broussard noted in a letter to followers that he believed the process against him lacked natural justice. Some attempts have been made since by diocesan officials to reconcile the Charbelites, including Broussard, to the mainstream Roman Catholic Church.

In 2013, following a long hiatus during his prison sentence, Kamm began to once again receive messages which expressed approval for the controversial Irish seer known as Maria Divine Mercy (but widely held to be the Dublin-based publicist Mary Carberry) and expressing disapproval of the papacy of Pope Francis. The Pope is identified in these locutions as the false prophet and false pontiff predicted in various messages received by Kamm and his circle since the early 1980s. These messages have continued into the present. Kamm was released on parole on November 15, 2014. He has since been engaged in various legal proceedings regarding the strict conditions of his parole, the validity of his conviction, and his treatment whilst in prison. The group still maintains an active Internet presence, and Kamm continues to receive messages about various current affairs issues. He is currently suing the NSW Government in the Supreme Court so that he can again be allowed access to Facebook and Twitter.

The future of the Order of Saint Charbel, which has been in decline as a result of Kamm’s imprisonment and natural attrition (many of the members of the inner circle being elderly), remains uncertain and will have to await how Kamm and his followers respond to the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, upon whose decease the group will become de facto sedevacantist. The group have sought to communicate with the Church through various channels regarding their ecclesiastical status, though no official answer has been made public. At the time of writing (June 2018) part of the Holy Grounds in Camberwarra has been put up for sale to meet Kamm’s ongoing legal costs.

DOCTRINES/BELIEFS

The Order of Saint Charbel regards itself as a Catholic religious order and remains emphatic about its Catholic identity, this despite numerous formal censures from the Church. The Roman Catholic Church considers the group both heretical and schismatic. The Charbelites beliefs are best characterized as Marian or Catholic Apocalyptic, with an emphasis on private revelations (“messages from heaven”) received by various seers in the form of audial locutions, visual apparitions, inner locutions, and other visionary mystical experiences. The group has strong affinities with a variety of other Roman Catholic fringe groups with their origins in other unapproved apparition sites across the globe (e.g. the Palmarian Catholic Church, the Army of Mary). In most regards, the group’s teachings closely resemble those found amongst conservative Roman Catholics in terms of morality and spiritual praxis. While some of the Charbelites were formerly associated with traditionalist groups (e.g. the Society of St Pius X), the group claims to accept, to a degree, the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), though with the proviso often found amongst conservative groups that it is interpreted as a pastoral rather than a doctrinal Council. Moreover, especially in their earlier writings, the group often quoted Pope John Paul II whose strong Mariology the Charbelites held in particular esteem.

In terms of ecclesiology, the Charbelites present some complexities. On the one hand, they emphasise their desire for communion with Rome as evidenced through their attempts to receive approval as a recognized religious order under the jurisdiction of the Pope; on the other hand, since the late 1980s this has been balanced with an emphasis on what Charbelite writings refer to inter alia as the “church of the catacombs,” the “mystical church,” or the remnant Church. In this latter aspect the group is similar to various other “Marian Ark” groups who see themselves as a holy remnant preserving an unadulterated and pristine Catholic tradition against the encroachments of modernism, largely associated with the permissive reforms that followed in the wake of Vatican II. In various messages, the group has distinguished between an eschatological inner mystical Church of which Kamm is already the Vicar of Christ and an outer spiritually corrupt Church which will pass away upon Kamm’s physical accession to the Papal office (variously timed following the death of John Paul II and now, it seems, following the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI).

Aside from the devotional and theological trappings that the Charbelites share with a significant constituency of more conservatively inclined Catholics, the Charbelites ideas have developed over time with a series of additional revelations from various divine intermediaries about their future role, in particular revelations about Kamm’s eschatological role. While claims that Kamm would be the final pope (Petrus Romanus) appeared early in the group’s history and follow a theme historically common in Roman Catholic apocalyptic writings (e.g. the so-called Vaticinia de summis pontificibus and the more popular prophecies associated with Saint Malachy of Armagh), over the course of the early 1990s (in particular in 1993) Kamm began to receive revelations that he was the recipient of a three-fold covenant with God. He will be the “Little Abraham” who will bring forth the new generation of the immaculate race in the New Holy Era, a stigmatist who bears the wounds of Christ, and the foreordained final Pope for the Church. In addition to these lofty roles, Kamm also envisages his mission as containing five goals encompassing the preparation of the people of God for the Second Coming: the unification of various Catholic seers and visionaries (approved and unapproved) under his leadership, to reunite the Eastern and Western Christians, to found the Order of Saint Charbel, and to bring the word of salvation to all concerned (see Kamm 1999:iii-v).

Before, however, Kamm can assume his papal role, it appears that the world must first pass through the “Great Warning,” a vaguely described moral and spiritual reckoning predicted by a series of different seers since the unapproved apparition at Garabandal in Spain in 1961. This “Warning” will be followed by a series of tribulations in the form of plagues, earthquakes, comets and various other meteorological phenomena, as well as by extensive military conflicts between various world powers. As with many Catholic apocalypticists, Kamm’s associates these tribulations with atheistic communism and various traditional Catholic conspiracy tropes regarding the role of the Freemasons and Satanists. Following Kamm’s revelations, the Charbelites believe that the Antichrist, who Kamm calls Maitreya, is already living and will eventually assume leadership of a one-world government intent on the persecution of Christians. The group’s eschatological timetable, set out in a message on September 6, 1984, appears to borrow from popular Protestant fundamentalist ideas (e.g. the Rapture) as well as traditional Catholic apocalyptic ideas.

The New Holy Era consists of a millennial kingdom following the great tribulation in which Kamm, as the final Pope of the Church, will reign as both a spiritual and temporal leader from a newly established Vatican to be based somewhere in his native Germany. During this period of undisclosed length, Kamm, together with his twelve queens and seventy-two princesses, will produce a spiritually perfect race through the means of immaculate conceptions. In one vision from 1993, for example, Jesus appeared to Kamm and said:

From your seed, My dear son, in fulfilment of My Words to Abraham – all the new nations will come – the Seven New Tribes that will rule the earth with five Clans. And the seventy-two small nations will form the cohort of earthly Paradise, which you, dear child, will lead and govern as the Vicar of Christ; as leader of My people through the Kingship of the Godhead. It is from thy seed, dear son, that there will be a multitude of billions and billions of souls that will be created before the end of the world. In you I make the final covenant with man, until the end of the world when I will come and Judge mankind. (Message 395 July 3, 1993).

This will come about through the “Holy Shiny Thing,” a spiritual blessing bestowed on Kamm in July 1993 in order that he might, like Adam, Abraham and Moses, be fruitful and multiply. Kamm later claimed that these immaculate conceptions had already begun and that many of his numerous children through his various spiritual wives were conceived without sexual intercourse. The Charbelites believe that this kingdom will be free from all sin (except for original sin) and there will be no pain, no suffering and no death.

To aid Kamm in the New Holy Era will be his followers, who will be granted various preternatural graces.  In addition to Kamm, his closest followers will form a group of Apostles of the Latter Days who, following their understanding of certain prophecies contained in the work of the aforementioned St. Louis-Marie de Montfort, will play a leading role. At various times different figures have been numbered among these figures, including Kamm’s spiritual director Bishop Malcolm Broussard, who also goes by the appellation Little Bartholomew. The theological rationale of these novel aspects of Charbelite beliefs concerning the more controversial aspects of Kamm’s role have been outlined by Broussard in a lengthy apologia sent to followers in 1996. It outlines what the group sees as its theological case for Kamm’s seemingly antinomian divergences from mainstream Catholic practice.

RITUALS/PRACTICES

The Charbelites ritual repertoire is rooted in the visceral symbolism of pre-Vatican II European devotional Catholicism. [Image at right] It borrows heavily from the imagery found in the writings of earlier Catholic visionaries, like Mary of Agreda and Anne Katherine Emmerich, and in various prayers and devotions found across Catholic Europe that emphasise Christ’s atonement for humanity’s sins through the intense visualisation and meditation on his passion and death. For example, the group’s Universal Prayer Book contains a Holy Wounds Chaplet and a Prayer to Honour the Shoulder Wound of Our Lord which reads:

O Loving Jesus, meek Lamb of God, I a miserable sinner, salute and worship the Most Sacred Wound of Your Shoulder on which you did bear Your heavy Cross, which so tore Your Flesh and laid bare Your bones as to inflict on you anguish greater than any other Wound of Your Most Blessed Body. I adore You, O Jesus Most Sorrowful; I praise and glorify You and give You thanks for this most Sacred and painful Wound, beseeching You by the exceeding pain, and by the crushing burden of Your heavy Cross to be merciful to me, a sinner, to forgive me all my mortal and venial sins, and lead me on towards heaven along the Way of Your Cross. Amen. (OSC 1999:13).

In terms of regular devotions, the Charbelites’ practices mirror those of other conservative Catholic Marian groups, with a strong emphasis on praying the rosary, novenas, various consecrations to the Virgin Mary, and devotion to the Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary, which are featured on the group’s habits. A rigorous regime of daily prayer is a major aspect of the group’s life and follows their own Universal Prayer Book, which features morning, midday, afternoon and evening prayers, including a daily rosary.

Liturgically the Charbelite priests say multiple daily masses, according to either the Novus Ordo Missae of Pope Paul VI or the Latin according to the 1962 Missal of Pope John XXIII. [Image at right] During their services, the Charbelites are insistent on appropriate respect being accorded to the reception of the sacraments, and members are required to receive communion kneeling and on the tongue. Similarly, the accoutrements of the group’s chapels are decorated and laid out according to pre-conciliar norms, with the tabernacle taking a central place on the altar and statuary of popular saints. The Charbelites insist that women’s heads remain covered during Mass.

Communally, the Charbelites traditionally celebrated Atonement Day on the thirteenth day of each Month at the Holy Grounds in Camberwarra and undertook a series of devotions, including multiple rosaries, mass, and the hearing of confessions. [Image at right] Around 3 PM on Atonement Day the Virgin Mary would regularly appear to Kamm and other seers at the shrine and communicate messages to the group. It is unclear if this tradition continues as Kamm’s parole restrictions prevent him from visiting the Mother House in Cambewarra.

ORGANIZATION/LEADERSHIP

Organizationally, the Order of Saint Charbel contains at least two-tiers of membership. The Order itself draws a sharp distinction between its work as what it perceives to be (1) a yet-to-be approved Roman Catholic religious order and the work of the inner circle and (2) its unique but separate mission in relation to the “Church of the Catacombs” and the prophetic mission of the Little Pebble. For the purposes of scholarly analysis, however, these two entities must be treated as largely contiguous and coextensive.

Outward membership of the Order of Saint Charbel is governed by the Rules and Constitutions of the Order of Saint Charbel, last revised in 1999 (though major revisions were pending as of 2013), which describes the group’s aim as:

The Order of Saint Charbel aims to bring about the re-evangelisation of the Church, to re-live the authentic traditions of Holy Mother Church, to encourage unity between Eastern and Western Catholic Rites, and to embrace aspects of the traditional monastic life in a new form of Consecrated Life (OSC 1996:13).

The Rule governs the life of most members who can belong to one of four branches. The first branch of membership is composed of celibate priests; the second of religious (both male and female); and the third branch composed of laity, each of whom live in community. A fourth branch, compared by the group to the “third orders” found in other Catholic groups (e.g. the Carmelites), is comprised of lay people not living in community, but who follow the daily prayer regimen of those living in community. Finally there was confraternity membership, which incorporated both the Saint Charbel Houses of Prayer, Peace, Unity and Reconciliation (essentially communal prayer groups scattered across the world, but particularly numerous in Africa and India) and The Living Stones (individuals who could, for various reasons, not be involved in other capacities). At its height, the number of confraternity members numbered in at least the thousands, perhaps more, whilst membership of the other four branches was somewhat smaller and limited to a handful of communities in Australia and abroad.

Through the Rule, the Charbelites seek to adhere to a specific charism and ordered religious life akin to that of Roman Catholic religious orders like the Franciscans or the Dominicans, with various rules and regulations set out regarding matters like admission, postulancy, novitiate, profession, community life, prayer, family and social life, and apostolic works. The Rule also set out guidelines for the formation of seminaries and training of priests though this has yet to see fruition.

However, in addition to the outer order is the existence of what is often referred to in the messages as the “inner circle,” which comprises Kamm’s most devoted followers. Members of the inner circle take a vow of silence, which forbids them to speak of their involvement at the request of the Virgin Mary. Originally, the inner circle’s chief mission was to secure the survival of the “hidden Church” until the return of Jesus Christ. This appears to have changed over time, and it seems that now this inner circle is committed to supporting the Little Pebble’s mission.

In addition to these aspects, has been what has been referred to as the “Warriors of St Michael” which, while details are sparse, appeared to comprise of mainly male members of the Charbelite community who undertook a form of paramilitary/survivalist training on properties owned by the group. This group was led by one of Kamm’s followers, James Duffy, who allegedly conducted various training exercises at Nowra and elsewhere and penned a document called The Marian Survival and Protection Guide.

While the Rule seeks to emphasise that the Supreme Head of the Order is the Vicar of Christ, the leadership structure of the Charbelites remained ill-defined, as did the place of proposed married priests, which the order envisioned in the future. It has since been instigated by Broussard, who has ordained and consecrated a large number of male members, married and unmarried. In reality, Kamm exercises authority over the “mystic church,” and his Apostles of the end times are considered to act in a comparable sense to the apostolic College (i.e. the bishops and Cardinals united under the Pope).

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

The Carbelites have faced a series of challenges on a number of fronts. Kamm’s criminal convictions have been the most impactful, but there also have been tensions with the local community at Cambewarra, negative media coverage, criticsim by former members, determined opposition from the Catholic hierarchy, and dwindling membership.

Kamm’s messages surrounding the New Holy era and Broussard’s theological defence of these (discussed above) have had a profound effect on the group’s activities and have proven the most acute point of controversy surrounding the Charbelites both in terms of its relationship with the Roman Catholic Church and in the Australian courts. On the ecclesiastical side the Charbelites eschatology and other teachings were considered – following multiple investigations over a number of years – to be heretical by the Church, a point clearly noted in the decree of Bishop Peter Ingham (Ingham 2002). However, the controversy surrounding the group’s eschatology has been more pronounced in the legal arena as it was these specific beliefs and their implementation in the group’s communities which formed the basis of legal proceedings against Kamm. In these cases the prosecution successfully argued that it was “under the guise of these locutions, he [Kamm] procured and inseminated numerous female children from within the cults community” (Yeomans 2013, p. 44). In sentencing Kamm, Justice David Berman noted that:

I find that the offence was part of a planned criminal activity. Indeed, the offender’s modus operandi was to pursue the complainant and her parents through the use of fabricated communications with the Virgin Mary, to make them do something they would clearly not have otherwise done. The offender set out to achieve the object of having sex with an underage girl and used his religious beliefs to achieve his ends. (R v William Kamm [2007])

These convictions were upheld despite a number of appeals, however, since his release Kamm has noted that these aspects of the group’s beliefs have been suspended by heaven and has consistently protested his innocence. Aside from Kamm’s criminal convictions and on-going litigation pertaining to this and other matters, the Charbelites have also faced a series of challenges on a number of other fronts.

On a local basis beginning with the initial gatherings of followers in the early 1980s, the Charbelites have been the subject of tensions in the local community at Cambewarra. One particular incident occurred while the group was constructing its catacombs in the early 1980s. According to media reports at the time, the construction forced the neighbouring caravan park out of business (the property was subsequently purchased by the Charbelites). Around the same time, the group’s holy spring was subject of controversy after water testing showed it to be contaminated and unsafe for human consumption, possibly as a result of tampering. The group’s activities continued to be a mainstay of local media throughout the 1980s and 1990s. This negative media coverage continues to impact the group’s standing in the local community, where tabloid television exposé reports have frequently been followed by acts of vandalism and occasional threats of violence against members of the group’s community in Cambewarra. Nowadays, the group, under the leadership of Bishop Broussard, seeks to live quietly and make a concerted effort not to provoke their neighbours or cause any disturbance or scandal in local parishes.

Since the 1980s, the Charbelites have been the subject of extensive media coverage in Australia, both in local papers and on the national stage. Prior to Kamm’s arrest, this coverage was often little more than a combination of sensationalism and ridicule, so much so that that the group instigated unsuccessful legal action against media outlets on a number of occasions.  In terms of the tone of this coverage, during the early 1980s the group’s members were referred to as Roman Catholics and seen as a local curiosity (and only later described as a Catholic “sect”) whose conflict with Rome was treated even-handedly and sometimes even sympathetically. However, over time the language used became increasingly sensational, and the group was increasingly referred to as a “cult” or “doomsday cult” and depicted in more lurid and stereotypical fashion. Former Australian Associated Press journalist Graeme Webber self-published a thorough and well-research long form journalistic treatment of the group in 2008.

Perhaps most notable was a series of reports in 1997 claiming that the group might be planning a mass suicide (similar to that of the Heaven’s Gate group) after Kamm predicted a collision between the Hale-Bopp Comet and the Sun that would produce cataclysms. Another report, aired on 60 Minutes in 1997, sought to cast the Charbelites as a threatening “doomsday cult” and aired claims about military training taking place on their properties. It is certain that the Charbelites undertook some military-styled survival activities during various stages of their history, but police did not substantiate claims by ex-members about a substantial arsenal of weapons, though some registered firearms were seized during the 2002 raid. However, at least one member has subsequently made claims in the media hinting at the existence of such a cache, though reportedly not with Kamm’s approval. During the 1990s, Australia’s domestic intelligence service ASIO did take some interest in the Charbelites, and police took extreme precautions when raiding the community in 2003. Kamm continues to consider the media complicit in his criminal convictions and vociferously contests his innocence. In more recent times, he has begun to speak of “fake news” with reference to the media treatment of him.

Over the years, numerous individuals have left the Charbelites regularly speaking with the media about the group. Former members have also been instrumental in writing to various Catholic bishops about the activities of the group, and several bishops in Australia have made statements about the group over a number of years. This includes Archbishop (now Cardinal) George Pell who cautioned parishioners in the Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1997 against the group. In 2014, Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay (Bishop of the Maronite Eparchy of Australia) issued a public statement regarding concerns in the Maronite community about Kamm’s parole and clarifying his canonical status with reference to the Church, noting:

William Kamm and his so-called “Order of St Charbel” have no connection whatsoever with the Maronite Catholic Church. He was excommunicated from the Catholic Church on 10 June 2003, and therefore cannot receive any sacraments of the Church, or exercise any ministry or function within the Church. His teachings and movement are repudiated by both the Maronite Catholic and the Roman Catholic Church. (Tarabay 2014).

Despite consistent opposition from local bishops in Australia, the Charbelites have consistently appealed to bishops outside of Australia or to various Vatican dicasteries in an effort to approve their activities or regularise their canonical status. This legitimation strategy, however, has not proven successful. The most notable case occurred when Cardinal Jaime Sin of the Philippines rescinded approval he had given to a Saint Charbel House of Prayer after becoming aware of the Charbelites’ conflict with their local bishop. With reference to approaches to various Vatican dicasteries, it seems highly unlikely given the time-lapse and other precedents that Rome will answer the Charbelites appeals or that an answer would contain any approval. Indeed, the absence of reply is seen by most canonists as a negative. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has expressly supported the line taken by local bishops against the Charbelites since 1984. They also encouraged and later approved the actions of the Diocesan Investigation undertaken by Bishop (now Archbishop) Philip Wilson and his decree of 1999 and the two decrees issued by Bishop Peter Ingham. Moreover, the Charbelite’s decision in 2003 to have Broussard illicitly consecrated in the Thuc Line has made circumstances more difficult, leading to de facto canonical penalties against remaining members.

It seems likely that the Charbelites, whose numbers have been dwindling considerably since before Kamm’s incarceration, are in terminal decline. There are reports that a significant proportion of former members have either returned to the mainstream Roman Catholic Church or affiliated with other similar groups. Financially, recent media reports in Australia suggest that, as a result of on-going litigation and dwindling support, the group has been forced to put its Holy Grounds up for sale. Kamm, however, continues to receive messages from the Virgin Mary on a regular basis and to offer unsolicited advice to various world leaders, most recently U.S. President Donald Trump, and the group still retains a close-knit group of devoted followers in Australia and a more dispersed online following internationally.

IMAGES

Image #1: William Kamm Receiving a message in 1988.
Image #2: The front cover of Yves Dupont’s book, CatholicProphecy.
Image #3: Pilgrims at Atonement Day gathering.
Image #4: Bishop William Murray of the Diocese of Wollongong.
Image #5: William Kamm photographed with the Pope in Rome.
Image #6: The front gates at the Community of Gethsemane at Cambewarra.
Image #7: William Kamm standing with his attorney.
Image #8: Charbelites at prayer.
Image #9: Interior view of the Order of Saint Charbel Chapel.
Image #10: Charbelite pilgrim procession on Atonement Day.

REFERENCES

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Post Date:
26 May 2018

 

 

 

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