Faith Group Linked to Amy Coney Barrett Urges Leaders to Report Sexual Abuse Claims
By Stephanie Kirchgaessner
December 23, 2020
|Amy Coney Barrett is sworn in as a supreme court justice in October. Photograph: Ken Cedeno/EPA|
The head of the secretive Christian faith group People of Praise, which reportedly counts the supreme court justice Amy Coney Barrett as a member, has called on its leaders to report any allegations of previous sexual abuse to a lawyer the group has hired to investigate such claims.
The letter from Craig Lent to the leaders of the group, who are known as coordinators, was sent shortly after one of the group’s former members, Sarah Kuehl, shared her own story of alleged childhood abuse at the hands of a member who lived with the family.
In a letter to members written in November, sent shortly after Kuehl had shared her allegations of childhood sexual abuse with the Guardian, Kuehl described how Barrett’s nomination to the high court had triggered feelings in her because of the manner in which People of Praise had allegedly tried to discourage her from discussing the abuse.
Kuehl said she hoped that coming forward would lead to more “transparency and honesty” about the issue.
In response to that letter, Lent sent his own email to People of Praise’s leaders in which he said “no words of ours can do justice to the horrors Ms Kuehl experienced”.
“To Ms Kuehl, we extend our prayers for comfort and healing and our sincere compassion,” he said. He also pointed out that the alleged abuse occurred in the 1970s, when Kuehl’s parents belonged to a precursor group to People of Praise that was called Servants of the Lord.
In his letter, Lent did not explicitly respond to Kuehl’s request for leaders to create an anonymous forum for survivors of abuse to come forward. In her letter, Kuehl said she was aware that other survivors of abuse had come forward to speak to Diane Doolittle, a lawyer from the firm Quinn Emanuel Urquart & Sullivan hired by the group, but that others feared possible retribution if they did.
Lent said Doolittle had been hired to conduct an independent investigation and that she had “extensive experience” in the area of sexual abuse and misconduct.
“We expect this investigation to be concluded soon, and you can expect to hear more from us,” Lent said. “Until then, please know that we consider allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously and invite anyone with information about any acts of child sexual abuse to act consistent with our policies, which include immediately reporting to the appropriate authorities.”
A spokesperson for People of Praise did not respond to a Guardian request for comment.
Barrett did not face any questions about her reported membership in People of Praise during her confirmation hearing. Over the course of the hearing, the Guardian and other media outlets reported on allegations by former members that the group – part of a Christian charismatic movement that practices speaking in tongues and prophecy – practices strict hierarchy and at times controlling behavior.
The group, whose leaders are all male, is also staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage and schools affiliated with the group do not, in effect, allow the children of gay parents to attend the school.
Barrett has said she is a “faithful Catholic” but that her religious beliefs would not “bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge”.