The Controversy Surrounding Anne, the Lay Apostle

Last week a woman called into our radio show and expressed concern that a retreat house in Pennsylvania was distributing free booklets to teens that contained the locutions of a woman named “Anne” who claims she has been receiving messages from Jesus and Mary. She asked us to do a little research on the matter and what we discovered was quite a bit of controversy.

For those who are not aware of this alleged prophet, “Anne” is actually Kathryn Ann Clarke, a secular Franciscan and mother of six from Illinois who is currently residing in Ireland. She claims to be receiving messages from Our Lord and Our Lady in prayer. Kathryn, who was married, had a child and was divorced by the age of 20, remarried eleven years later and had three more children before moving to Ireland with her husband who owned two cattle farms. They had two more children in Ireland.

The locutions began shortly after she visited Medjugorje for the first time on her 40th birthday. Since then, she has published ten books full of these “messages from heaven” as well as booklets that are distributed, often free of charge, by her ministry, which is known as Direction for Our Times (DFOT).

A lay apostolate associated with Anne’s work has also been formed for those who “seek to be united to Jesus in their daily work, and through their vocations, in order to obtain graces for the conversion of sinners,” says the website. Calling themselves lay apostles of Jesus Christ the Returning King, they agree to perform their basic obligations as practicing Catholics and to adopt additional spiritual practices such as reciting the Morning Offering, one hour of Adoration per week, participation in a monthly prayer group that includes recitation of the rosary and reading of the monthly messages Anne receives, monthly confession, and following the example of Jesus as set forth in Scripture.

The Filipino edition of her works has an imprimatur from Bishop Emeritus Federico Escaler, S.J., although he was retired at the time he gave it which calls it into question under Canon Law.

In 2004, retired Archbishop Philip Hannan of New Orleans wrote a letter of endorsement of the messages, which is included in each volume, and decided to involve his FOCUS Worldwide Television Network in spreading them. However, when he died earlier this year, the letter was revoked.

From what I can find, her work has the approval of Bishop Leo O’Reilly of the Diocese of Kilmore, Ireland, who has assigned a chaplain to work on a full-time basis with Anne’s ministry. He has given her permission to publish the messages and has submitted her writings to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In 2010, he formed a theological commission to examine the messages and the nature of Anne’s work, a project that is currently underway.

“The movement is in its infancy and does not as yet enjoy canonical status,” Bishop O’Reilly said in a 2006 statement. “I have asked a priest of the diocese, Fr. Darragh Connolly, to assist in the work of the movement and to ensure that in all its works and publications it remains firmly within the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church.”

Her messages also received the approval of Dr. Mark Miravalle, professor of Theology and Mariology at Franciscan University of Stuebenville and a letter to that effect can be read here.

The controversy surrounding Anne seems to have started with a posting on an internet forum by someone who had an e-mail exchange with a representative of DFOT who refused to give out the name of Anne’s bishop in Ireland. Although the matter was later cleared up, the exchange caught the attention of Richard Salbato of Unity Publishing who posted the text of the E-mail conversation on his site. It was Salbato who revealed Anne’s real identity as Kathryn Ann Clarke, a woman who once served as a counselor for abused women. Salbato later posted another e-mail exchange, this one between Kathryn and the woman who would later become the CEO of DFOT, which was laced with vulgarities. Because Kathryn began writing the volumes of her messages shortly after this e-mail exchange took place, it raised quite a few eyebrows in Catholic circles.

The deeper I delved, the more apparent it became that something is definitely amiss with this organization. For instance, in August of this year, Sr. Briege McKenna and Fr. Kevin Scallon publicly withdrew their support for DFOT. Fr. Scallon claims he did so because “recent information has caused me to question the authenticity of Direction for Our Times” and he can “no longer support or encourage involvement with this organization.” Unfortunately, neither Fr. Scallon or Sr. Briege disclosed any more details.

The many questions surrounding Anne and the DFOT are very well chronicled in this series of articles written by Kevin Symonds, who is currently serving as one of the three translators of the Vatican’s Norms for discerning alleged private revelation. The details he reveals in these articles, and other issues surrounding Anne’s work, should be read by anyone who is discerning whether or not to become involved with DFOT.

Of course, none of us is compelled to believe in the locutions of any seer, as these are considered to be private revelations. As the Catechism teaches, private revelations “do not belong . . . to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history.” (No. 67)

In other words, you can skip them entirely and you won’t be missing anything.

But one thing is for sure. Anne’s work has been submitted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith so we can count on a Church ruling to eventually settle this controversy.

UPDATE 11/13/13: Rev. Leo O’Reilly, Bishop of the Diocese of Kilmore, Ireland, has granted Anne’s writings an imprimatur. Bishop Kilmore had already given Anne permission to publish her works and is the prelate who referred her writings to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for review. To date, the Church has rendered no decision on the authenticity of Anne’s messages.

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