A tiny sect of so-called Carmelite Nuns not recognised by the Catholic Church has received thousands of Euros from donors in the US. The information comes as a result of a hack of Christian fundraising website GiveSendGo last month. Based in Dunmanway, Co. Cork, the pair of nuns which make up the sect are themselves linked to an antisemitic Catholic splinter group known as the Society of St Pius X Resistance (SSPX Resistance). This group is itself an offshoot of a conservative Catholic faction known as Society of St Pius X (SSPX).
So far the nuns have raised over €53,000 of their €60,000 goal in order to construct a new hermitage in West Cork.
American money and far-right links
In February hackers breached the GiveSendGo website four separate times. One security lapse gave them access to a detailed archive of every fundraiser created on the website up until that point. And this was then provided to non-profit and data archivist group Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoS) in order to distribute the dataset to journalists and researchers. DDoS granted The Beacon access to the database which includes the details of not only every campaign the website hosted, but also information related to individual donors. This includes full names, email addresses, Eircodes, ZIP codes, and comments left by everyone who donated to every fundraiser.
At the time of the hack the nuns had raised $56,645.55 from 428 donations around the world for their new hermitage. But of that number 231 are listed as originating in the US, contributing a total of $32,890.31 to the fundraiser. The average amount donated was $142.38 with the single largest contribution coming to $2,361.60. By comparison, only 60 individual donations seem to have come from Ireland, raising a total of €5,374.19 for the sect. Other donations flowed in from Australia, Belgium, Canada, and the UK. In some cases the same individual made multiple donations to the fundraiser.
Many donors left comments in support of the nuns and their fundraising attempt. One such person located in Cork, whom earlier this year pleaded guilty in court to harassing a former Sinn Féin TD, wrote “God bless you on your journey and may Heaven shine upon you”. A Canadian donor thanked the nuns for their “suffering, persecutions and your prayers for us poor sinners”. Another contributor from the US celebrated the nuns’ actions:
Imagine being able to give towards providing Jesus Christ a Tabernacle home — like sheltering Him in Bethlehem and Nazareth — and restoring His [sic] reign in bereft Ireland? To assist His [sic] brides in adoring and taking care of Him [sic], and so they can pray to Him [sic] for all of us — what an opportunity!
One North American-based donor appears to be Fr. Patrick Girouard, a prominent member of SSPX Resistance. Fr. Girouard made five contributions to the nuns’ financial appeal gifting them a total of $4,159.47. The renegade priest left a number of comments with his donations, in one case thanking the nuns for their “prayers and sacrifices”. In other comments he apologises for the gap between his donations while in another he reveals he “cannot send more [money] at this point” but hopes he can one day visit “and say Mass for you!”. A former member of SSPX, Girouard left the splinter group in 2013 due to dissatisfaction with its direction and joined the extremist SSPX Resistance instead.
Another SPPX Resistance donor listed in the leaked database is Fr. Edward MacDonald. Seemingly donating under a series of pseudonyms but using the same email address, MacDonald handed over AU$1,259.74 in three separate transactions. After one donation he wrote “May God bless the work”.
The nuns’ small retreat consists of Mother Irene Gibson, a self-described Carmelite Nun of the Holy Face of Jesus and Sr. Anne Marie, aka Hannah Loeman, who moved from New Zealand to West Cork to join the sect. Having operated in the area since at least 2016, the media widely featured the nuns in 2019 after a court found they’d breached planning regulations by illegally constructing their settlement near Leap. The court also ordered the nuns to vacate the area and return the location of their hermitage to its original state.
In the aftermath the nuns raised a substantial amount of money on fundraising website GoFundMe to legally purchase some land where they could resettle. Although GoFundMe appears to have since removed the campaign, the nuns had managed to raise over €77,000 by February of 2021.
Around the same time the nuns began regularly appearing with far-right extremist and Síol na hÉireann leader Niall McConnell on his livestream. During their appearances the nuns accused priests of having lost their faith and that the pandemic had been “prophesied”. During one livestream Sr. Anne Marie repeated anti-Freemason conspiracy theories. The nun insisted that the “Freemasons stir up so many wars” and “all the chaos in society that is also due to the Freemasons”. And this “divide and conquer” tactic is used by Satan to rule over people. She also told McConnell that Freemasons funded Karl Marx and supported communism which eventually led to a process of infiltrating and undermining the church. It’s understood that both nuns regularly attend mass given by SSPX Resistance priests and are members of the group which has a base of operations in nearby Reenascreena.
Splits within splits
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre established the SSPX Resistance forerunner, SSPX, in 1970 to oppose what he saw as the increasing liberalisation of the Catholic Church as a result of Vatican II. Members of the group contend that those they define as “Modernists” are trying to “modify” and “destroy” Catholicism. To counter this threat, Lefebvre and his followers insisted on the continued use of the traditional Latin Mass and books in opposition to the changes Vatican II brought about. But this schism turned into a complete rift in 1988 when Lefebvre consecrated four bishops against the orders of the then pope, John Paul II. As a result, the Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre and the new bishops, one of whom was Englishman Richard Williamson.
Then, in 2009, in order to heal the rift between the Vatican and SSPX, Pope Benedict XVI reversed the excommunication of the clergymen. But this proved to be disastrous as it quickly emerged that Williamson had engaged in Holocaust Denial during an interview in which he claimed “200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but none of them in gas chambers”. Prior to this he’d also described the antisemitic forgery the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as “authentic” and had engaged in sexist rhetoric about women. A German court later found Williamson guilty of Holocaust Denial as result of the interview which was filmed in Germany, fining him €12,000. He later appealed this with a court reducing his fine to €1,500. Williamson took his appeal as far as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which in 2019 upheld the initial conviction, arguing that he knew he was breaking German law when he made the comments.
SSPX dismissed Williamson from its ranks in October 2012 as a result of what it called his “violent criticisms of any relations with the Roman authorities”. Williamson had also incurred the group’s wrath because of an “unapproved visit to a large group in Brazil” where he confirmed 100 Catholics. In formalising his expulsion, SSPX leaders wrote that they’d pushed out Williamson for “refusing to show respect and obedience deserved by his legitimate superiors”. But by November Williamson announced his intention to found a new “Catholic Resistance”. And this gave birth to SSPX Resistance with the bishop as its leader and its non-profit wing called the St. Marcel Initiative. Since then Williamson has again been excommunicated by the Vatican, this time in 2015 as the result of consecrating a bishop without prior approval from the Vatican.
Williamson has since visited SSPX’s West Cork base a number of times. During one such visit in March 2020 the conspiracy theorist told parishioners during a sermon that COVID-19 “is possibly the creation of the Jews”. He also insisted that Jewish people are in direct contact with Satan and are manipulating the stock market in order to cause a Third World War. Then in December the two nuns broke travel restrictions in order to attend an “exorcism” of the Dáil in Dublin which SSPX Resistance priest Fr. Giacomo Ballini was carrying out. Ballini purchased a disused farmhouse in 2016 where the West Cork branch of SSPX Resistance is currently based. It’s also understood that National Party leader Justin Barrett semi-regularly attends SSPX Resistance services in Longford. What’s more, Matthew Bruton, the son of former taoiseach John Bruton, is also heavily involved with the group.
Although not representative of the Catholic Church in general, SSPX Resistance and the nuns have quite a lot in common with other conservative Catholic groups based in Ireland. All of them engage in conspiracy theories of various shades. The Carmelites and SSPX Resistance priests resort to antisemitic tropes while the Iona Institute and Human Life International Ireland (HLI Ireland) rail against a supposedly liberal conspiracy to keep them on the sidelines of society. What separates them is a difference of degree and not one of kind. And given the amount of foreign money flowing into all of them — particularly money from the US — they’re even more closely aligned than anybody ever imagined.
Featured image via GiveSendGo