Finally, the Church has spoken authoritatively on Holy Love Ministries and its 83-acre site of Maranatha Spring and Shrine in Ohio. Despite all the usual Catholic trappings — chapel, statues, rosaries and religious bookstore, not to mention the throngs from across the country and globe — the purported visions by Maureen Sweeney-Kyle have been condemned. Bishop Richard Lennon, head of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, has issued a decree to clergy and laity of the diocese that Holy Love Ministries of Lorain County is officially off limits.
According to The Morning Journal newspaper of Ohio, Bishop Lennon’s decree was issued Nov. 11, 2009:
“Having been directed by the Holy See (in Rome) to act definitively in the matter of the alleged apparitions … and having reviewed the theological content of the alleged apparitions to Maureen Sweeney-Kyle and having consulted an expert in this matter, I … declare that the alleged apparitions and locations … are not supernatural in origin.” Lennon’s decree states he “forbid members of the clergy of any ecclesiastical jurisdiction” to celebrate the sacraments on the site of Holy Love Ministries.
“I admonish the faithful of the Diocese of Cleveland to cease gathering for any religious, liturgical, spiritual or devotional purpose on the site of Holy Love Ministries and declare that the Confraternity of the United Hearts of Jesus and Mary is not an approved association of the Christian faithful in the Diocese of Cleveland and may not legitimately use the name “Catholic” or represent itself as a Catholic group,” Lennon said in his decree.
People have been going to this shrine since the early 1990‘s, drawn by founder Sweeney-Kyle’s claim that Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary and a host of saints are appearing to her with messages. On the surface, everything about the site appears to be Catholic, but they are not Catholic. They say so themselves. Therefore, this official proclamation by the Bishop will be of little regard to Sweeny-Kyle, or her husband Don Kyle, the director of Holy Love Ministries.
The Journal reported that Kyle responded to Lennon’s decree by stating:
“We at Holy Love ministries are, and always have been, an ecumenical ministry. We have no affiliation with the Diocese of Cleveland. We are sorry that the bishop has taken this position. As it has always been, all people of all faiths are welcome to join us in prayer and the peace that Heaven offers at this site.”
This, fellow Catholics, should have been the red flag that immediately exposed the apparitions long before an official proclamation. When in the history of the Catholic Church have approved apparitions consisted of a Blessed Mother going freestyle outside the Church? When has Jesus rejected His own authority — that of the Catholic Church? The final Church proclamation comes as no surprise.
In 2005 an article in The Plain Dealer newspaper of Cleveland, OH reported on this ministry and its many suspicious claims:
“The ministry was formed around 1986, meeting in homes of followers or a few welcoming churches. Then came a time of upheaval. Sweeney insisted that the Virgin Mary’s messages demanded that she be given a new title, one recognized by the Catholic Church, that of “Our Lady Protectress of the Faith.” The Cleveland Catholic Diocese turned down this request. And soon the lengthy messages that Sweeney dictated into a tape recorder began denouncing the Catholic Church; others commented on political details of the day. Several members of Sweeney’s small ministry became disillusioned and left.”
The ministry changed locations and names several times and Sweeney-Kyle even changed husbands, divorcing and then remarrying two years later. The organization has been at odds with the Catholic Church almost from the start. It sought approval through official channels for several years, but instead, in 1999, the Catholic diocese issued a statement urging extreme caution. At that point, Holy Love Ministries took an “ecumenical” approach. Yet, as an ecumenical ministry it found time and space in many of its printed materials to rail against the Church. Would Jesus and His Blessed Mother and the saints choose Sweeney-Kyle to give the Catholic Church a tongue-lashing? No way.
Obedience or Defection?
The question now is, will those that were enthralled with this Shrine, accept Church authority or continue to follow a ministry that has officially been condemned?
I myself have visited a couple apparition sites that proved to be false. I understand this sort of devotion although I’m much more cautious these days. Yet, if everyone had awaited an official pronouncement from the Church, the 60,000 people that witnessed the Miracle of the Sun in Fatima, Portugal would have stayed home that day. Nor would there have been the initial miracles to report at Lourdes, France if people did not flock to the miraculous spring. (Oh, and by the way, Holy Love Ministries has one of those miraculous springs. They had them at a couple of their locations.)
It’s not wrong to go to a site where purported apparitions are occurring. Catholics must keep their heads on straight and not wander from Church teachings, but praying at an apparition site is not wrong.
However, once the Church has condemned a site and declared it off limits to clergy and laity, it’s a different ball game. Then, it becomes a matter of obeying Catholic authority or thinking you know better. “The one who listens to you listens to me and the one who rejects you rejects me; and he who rejects me, rejects the one who sent me,” Luke 10:16.
Either we accept the authority of the Church, or we reject it. Those at Holy Love Ministries have openly rejected it. The question now is how will the many followers respond to the Bishop’s decree? I fear that many, enthralled by what they believe to be a miraculous site, will disregard the Church.
The Snares of the Devil
I used to wonder why the devil would have a hand in false apparitions when they inspired so many faithful Catholics to increase their prayer life and devotion to God and the Blessed Mother. What would the devil get out of the deal? This, my friends, is what he gets out of it: There will be a number of people who believed they were healed or their faith brought to life through Holy Love Ministries that, like a rebellious adolescents, will respond, “We don’t have to listen to the Church .”
Consider the options the devil has available to trap faithful Catholics? Such people will not be attracted to obvious evil. So, instead, the devil uses a Catholic facade to lure them in. Then, when God’s authority on earth — the Church — speaks against the fraud, a number of otherwise good Catholics get caught in the trap.
In November of 2006, I wrote an article for Catholic exchange exposing the Holy Love site. (http://catholicexchange.com/2006/11/06/94475/ ) After an angry backlash of emails telling me how wrong I was, I promised never to write about alleged apparitions again. In addition, there are a number of followers in the area where I live who were irritated by my observations. My life is stressful enough without stirring up such pots, I reasoned. I am proving, however, that we should never say never . After the Bishop’s decree, I felt compelled to appeal to all Holy Love followers, to accept the fact that the Church has the authority to condemn this site. Jesus told us that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church and he promised to send the Paraclete to keep the Church free from error.
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18: 17-18).
“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:12-13).
If Jesus were giving messages on “all truth” to individuals, the result would not be thousands of denominations going in different directions. He speaks through His Church. The Church has spoken on Holy Love Ministries.
What of the many miracles and increased devotion so many experienced at the site? I did not save all the impassioned emails I received three years ago, but I did find similar comments on a site discussing Holy Love. One woman credited her father’s conversion from a Sunday church grumbler to attending Mass and saying the rosary daily — even two years after his visit to the site. Another person said that her fallen-away Catholic friend that once ridiculed the site became a believer. Someone said that such compelling evidence of positive fruits proves this is from God. No, it does not. That is why we have the Church, so that we don’t get led astray by what looks good on the surface.
The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, always looks below the surface because all that glitters isn’t gold and regardless of how many people visit or how many statues are erected or rosaries said, it does not constitute proof.
I once read that people bring their own holiness to these sites. They pray and love God. God answers prayers. All this is holy in nature but is not proof of authenticity of purported apparitions. Too often, after apparitions are condemned people feel betrayed and give up on God and the Church. Then, all their gains are lost. Or, disappointment leads them to reject Church authority thinking that they are right and the Church is wrong.
Rather than allow such disappointment to derail them, they can instead take a big step closer to God. By giving their disappointment to God and continuing to walk with him, they acknowledge that his Church is bigger than a single ministry or the claims of any purported visionary.
The past prayers and experiences of Holy Love followers were very real. If people were inspired or received what they believe to be miracles at this site, then praise be to God! God can use all things for good. But now the line has been drawn. People can follow Sweeny-Kyle or the Church, but not both.