Amy Coney Barrett by Rachel Malehorn / CC BY 3.0

How Amy Coney Barrett’s Religious Group Helped Shape a City

Sep 28, 2020

By Adam Wren

In 2002, when Amy Coney Barrett moved here to begin her academic career, she joined the faculty at the law school where she’d been a student, attended Notre Dame football games and eventually joined a Primal Fitness gym where she’s currently known for her fierce pullup workout. She also connected with one other local community: People of Praise, a charismatic Christian group founded here in 1971.

Many aspects of her life dovetail with a typical high-achieving resume: the summa cum laude law degree, the steady stream of academic papers, the family’s picturesque 3,800-square-foot brick home and the legendary Mardi Gras parties they’ve hosted over the years, bringing a little flair from her native suburban New Orleans to Indiana.

Her spiritual group, however, has drawn more questions. People of Praise is one of a number of groups that rose up in the 1960s and 1970s to offer intense, highly supportive religious communities, in the style of Evangelical churches, within the Catholic tradition. The group, though mostly Catholic, is outside control of the Church itself. The group has a website, but doesn’t let reporters visit its worship center. When Barrett was nominated for her federal judgeship in 2017, she didn’t disclose her involvement. Critics, even those wary of making religion an issue in a judicial appointment, have questioned what role its member agreements—it’s “neither an oath nor a vow, but it is an important personal commitment,” the website notes—plays in her legal philosophy. Former members have called it “secretive” and a “cult”—and, above all, it has remained something of an opaque chapter attached to the life of an increasingly public figure.

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