By Jay Reeves, Montgomery Advertiser
Sterrett -- A multimillion-dollar organization that promotes visions of the Virgin Mary is fighting charges of being a destructive cult as religious pilgrims from across the nation arrive at its Alabama compound seeking spiritual renewal.
Five former residents of Caritas of Birmingham have filed suit in state court seeking an unspecified amount of money from the group and its founder, Terry Colafrancesco.
The suit claims Colafrancesco lures people into Caritas with promises of spiritual enrichment and then drains them of money. Families are made to live in nasty trailers at the group's compound, and Colafrancesco controls their lives almost totally, the suit claims.
"Considering the above, it can be concluded that if someone supports Caritas of Birmingham, they are supporting a strange, religious sect and this potentially, which may cause serious damage in an individual's personal and family life.
If you are Roman Catholic perhaps you should first seek spiritual direction from the recognized and historic Catholic Church, before becoming involved with Caritas of Birmingham and/or the Community of Caritas."
By Jason Deegan, Ann Arbor News Staff Reporter
The Flynns say they are focused on moving on with their new lives, but they feel obligated to talk about their experiences to warn others. Their terrifying tale started in 1991, when the family sold everything, moving from Jacksonville, Fla., to Birmingham, Ala., to join Caritas, a group the family thought was a religious mission.
Caritas, founded in 1988 by Terry Colafrancesco, claims to be a spiritual community dedicated to promoting the apparitions of the Virgin Mary, which six youths say they witnessed in Medjugorje, Bosnia, in 1981.
Flynn said the family lived in a trailer inside a compound where roughly 50 people of Roman Catholic faith live. The Flynns stayed with Caritas for nine years, despite living under the control of its leaders.
By Covenant Community Blog
"I am very familiar with covenant communities, however, have had some inquiries regarding Caritas located in Birmingham, Alabama. This group seems to have some similarities to abusive covenant communities."
"What I know is that the group is governed by a former KKK member who believes that his purpose is to have the folks in his group live according to the "teachings" of Mary - related to apparitions in Medjugorje. While most folks whom I know who are involved in Medjugorje prayer groups have a healthy relationship with one another and the Church, Caritas seems over the top."
Despite its proximity, whenever anyone asked Mother Angelica about Caritas she never encouraged anyone to visit it.
As for Caritas of Birmingham, the recent bishops of the Birmingham diocese (Boland and Foley) have done nothing to favor this site, and have forbid the celebration of Mass there (though not confessions).
The position of Mother Angelica has always been to discourage people from going there. That is also EWTN's position.
November 25, 2000
Caritas of Birmingham
100 Our Lady Queen of Peace Drive
Sterrett, Alabama 35147
It has been brought to my attention that in response to questions coming to Caritas about Fr. Svetozar's recent fax expressing the concerns of the Franciscans of St. James in Medjugorje about your community, people are being told:
1. Sr. Emmanuel has been asked to leave Medjugorje.
2. The priests of the parish are trying to stop the messages from going out.
Dear Fr. Svetozar,
Here at last are my observations and analysis of the book you sent me, How to Change Your Husband: Owner’s Manual for the Family, by “a Friend of Medjugorje”. The author, as I can recognize from his earlier writings, is Terry Colafrancesco of Caritas of Birmingham. You may feel free to share this letter with Fr. Ivan Sesar, OFM, or with any other person you desire.
Your letter arrived today. The news you shared with me is distressing. I can barely imagine what Patsy, Tori and you are experiencing.
I have reviewed the requests for recognition as a lay organization with Pontifical approval and found nothing for Caritas in our files. Nor has the priest any knowledge of this group who is responsible in the Pontifical Council for the process of such recognition.
Pontifical recognition can only be given with the recommendations of the local bishop. Groups seeking such recognition also must be international in extent and have letters of support from each bishop in whose diocese they are found. From what you have told me, Bishop Foley not only doesn't support Caritas but has many preoccupations about it. That would stop any formal process for approval at zero.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Here in Medjugorje, in the name of the priests who are working in the parish with pilgrims who are coming from all over the world, I express my deep concern for the organization called CARITAS from Birmingham, Alabama.