Why I Think Michael Scanlan Went from Charismatic to #straightouttairondale

A little while back I posted How Did We Get from Scanlan to #straightouttairondale?, which posed the obvious (for me at least) question: how did Michael Scanlan, who (when I was going to the Steubenville conferences in the early 1980’s) was promoting a  Charismatic type of spirituality, end up at the conservative Catholic type which I characterise as #straightouttairondale?

One of the commenters on that post may have, IMHO, come up with the answer.  He commented as follows:

If necessity is the mother of invention, then desperation is the mother of re-invention.

In a speech from maybe 20 years ago on EWTN radio, Father Scanlon mentioned that two separate foundations who rate the viability of not for profit institutions both stated the school would close. Scanlon and the powers that be latched onto faithful and traditional Catholicism. That was a novel concept, what with most Catholic colleges being neither traditional nor faithful. Their relationship with EWTN has surely born fruit as well. EWTN was an instrument in my reconversion, and until finding this site, I was unaware of its Charismatic past.

What I am about to say is really the proposal of a theory.  It’s a theory that may not sit well with many people, not only because it characterises the participants in a less than perfect way, but also because so many people do not grasp the institutional dynamics that drive non-profit institutions such as churches, universities and governments.  Having worked in these, I can tell you that institutional survival drives many of their decisions and overrides the ideological or religious motivations that drive the faithful.

One of the things that “full-gospel” Christianity has dealt with from Azusa Street onwards is a deficiency of respectability.  That’s driven a great deal of the history of the movement.  Focusing on institutions of higher learning, if we look at a Pentecostal institution like, say, Lee University, we’re looking at a place which has experienced a long, hard road to get where it’s at today.  With respectability comes moneyed donors and students who can afford the tuition, both vital ingredients for the survival and prosperity of any private college.

In the case of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, the participants started further up the “food chain” than most of their Pentecostal counterparts did both in the beginning and really during the Renewal’s heyday.  But that doesn’t always translate into the donors and students that the Franciscan University of Steubenville needed to survive.  For all the conferences they hosted and the prominent place the University attained in the Renewal, they still experienced financial difficulties, to the point where the existence of the institution was in play.

Enter conservative, #straightouttairondale Catholicism.  There’s no denying that the Renewal and #straightouttairondale had touchpoints, as anyone who has read Ralph Martin’s Crisis of Truth is aware of.  (Some of you will also remember Mother Angelica’s famous rant after Christ was depicted as a women during a papal visit.)  But the means the two had to meet their common goals were highly divergent, and means is key here.  From their divergent musical tastes to their view on the working of the Holy Spirit, the differences between the two are profound.

#straightouttairondale Catholicism, however, was more respectable than the Charismatic Renewal, and that made it attractive for someone like Michael Scanlan, who was trying to make his institution viable.  Making the transition between the two was tricky enough on its face, but Scanlan had another problem: the existence of the Servants of Christ the King covenant community, which was under the direction of the Sword of the Spirit movement.  Guitars and folk music were anathema enough to the #straightouttairondale people, but a group connected to Sword of the Spirit, with its dicey connections to the Catholic Church and autocephalous authority structure, wouldn’t do at all.

In 1991 a group which spent a lot of time talking about visitations from God got a visitation from on high in the form of Steubenville’s Bishop, Albert Ottenweller.  He basically broke the group up.  That breaking up–a major point in the University’s history–was hardly acknowledged by Scanlan in later communications, as indeed was the Charismatic Renewal at the University.

I think it boils down to the respectability issue.  I’ve noted a broad reluctance to discuss the Renewal from many of its participants.  If we consider the practices current in the Renewal vs. those in #straightouttairondale, it’s not hard to see why.  On a deeper level, the Charismatic Renewal attempted to import the free exercise of the spiritual gifts into a church which had absorbed them into its sacramental and hierarchical system centuries before, and that was an uphill battle from the start, one only made easier by the state of Roman Catholicism in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Based on these considerations, I believe that we can make the following assertions about Scanlan and the break-up of the community:

  1. I think that Scanlan had advance knowledge of Ottenweller’s visitation and the result that it would have.  I think it’s a stretch at this point to say that Scanlan actually induced Ottenweller to come to the University, but it’s possible.  Even at that, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Scanlan threw the Servants of Christ the King under the bus.
  2. I think that he used the results of that visitation to further the transition of the University from a Charismatic institution to a #straightouttairondale one.  The University has, frankly, prospered from that transition.  Whether Roman Catholicism is better for it, or the state of the souls of those involved in all of this improved, is a trickier proposition.

Some of this monograph was drawn from John Flaherty’s compilation on the subject; I would especially draw your attention to the National Catholic Reporter’s article on the University, which was especially informative.

5 thoughts on “Why I Think Michael Scanlan Went from Charismatic to #straightouttairondale”

    1. You could apply the same logic of institutional success and spiritual blessings to Lee University, but something tells me you wouldn’t…

  1. Thank you Don Warrington for continuing this discussion. For what it is worth I would like to ad my two cents.

    My first year at the College of Steubenville in 1974 was Fr Michael Scanlan’s first year as President. He was already a Catholic Charismatic and regularly engaged in public speaking at Conferences in Charismatic Renewal by that time.

    He had become President that year because the College of Steubenville was breathing it’s last. The Board of Trustees saw no other viable option short of selling the place to the Ohio State University system. Students would prank the school by painting FOR SALE on bed sheets then drape them over the sign on Rt 22 at the entrance.

    Fr Scanlan was at that time under the influence of Ralph Martin (later made a Trustee along with Tom Monaghan of Domino’s Pizza), Steven B Clark (Co-Coordinator of the Word of God Covenant Community with Ralph Martin) as well as Derick Prince and the other four Protestant Brothers of Christian Growth Ministries.

    Fr Scanlan believed -via a prophetic word from God that he received- that he was charged with ‘guarding the Catholic Gate’ of the Word of God/Sword of the Spirit Covenant Communities. This would have been in 1977, three years after becoming President. He was -in his position as President of the Catholic College of Steubenville, as a Catholic Priest and as Sr Coordinator of the Covenant Community to be a counter argument to those who accused the Sword of the Spirit of being an organization outside the Catholic Church. You can read the prophecy here: https://www.scribd.com/document/20484406/Sneaking-the-Sword-of-the-Spirit-Into-the-Catholic-Church

    So from 1977 till he resigned his position as Senior Head Coordinator of the Servants of Christ the King – a Branch of the Sword of the Spirit – in May of 1991, I can tell you from personal experience that Fr Scanlan was utterly devoted to the Sword of the Spirit. He was devoted to the idea that you could be Catholic and fully participate in a non-denominational group.

    It wasn’t until 1994 or three years after Bishop Ottenweller kicked the Sword of the Spirit out of the Diocese of Steubenville that Fr Scanlan was able to renounce the Sword of the Spirit in private letters written to me and my former spouse.

    It is my observation that Fr Scanlan was totally devoted to the Sword of the Spirit. I was told by the Chairman of the Visitation Team (Fr James LeBar) that Fr Scanlan was fighting the Bishop’s investigation every inch of the way.

    Fr Scanlan had a different Irondale, but they were the same creatures if one looks carefully. Scanlan’s Christian conservationism leaked out of Ann Arbor, Michigan via the non-denominational Sword of the Spirit. Later when that horse died it was relatively easy for Scanlan to skip down to Irondale and utilize that connection.

    When the Covenant Community failed, the first thing Fr Scanlan did was to have the University embrace the “Oath of Loyalty” that John Paull II had just introduced. No other Catholic University had touched it yet, but Scanlan ran to it like a child to an ice cream cone. It was perfect timing. Taking the Oath, he could argue against those who claimed that the non-denominational Sword of the Spirit had taken over the University.

    Via Scanlan and the many staff and faculty who were Sword of the Spirit members however, a defacto take over was in fact what had happened. Bishop Albert Ottenweller rescued the abuse members of the Sword of the Spirit community, but he rescued Franciscan University as well.

    At Bishop Ottenweller’s funeral, the University paid it’s respects by sending the Public Relations director down off their holy hill. Not one other TOR could find the time (or the insight) to attend Bishop Ottenweller’s funeral.

    Then there were grateful former members like myself who traveled from across the country to be there.

    God Bless Bishop Albert and may he Rest in Peace.

    God have mercy on Fr Scanlan. I hope he can find some peace.

  2. Taking into consideration everything Don proposes and John remembers, I do not believe one can accurately know what was going on inside of Fr. Scanlan’s mind. Being that high up in the University, the Community, and SoS is evident a person knows how to survive in a political environment. Those skills do not always overlap strongly with traits needed to gain eternal life. He may have publicly backed the Community, but Father was also left standing as president when the walls came tumbling down. He may have quietly switched sides, perhaps not publicly, when the writing was on the wall. As for why the autobiography was changed, only God knows now. A superior in the order or the bishop may have strongly encouraged it. Scanlan may have been embarrassed that a stated prophetic word from God to him led to decisions and actions which were ultimately overturned by the bishop. If I could guess, he probably did not think very many people would notice–other than perhaps those who were members of the Community around that time. Who reads two editions of the same autobiography? Thanks to John and the perpetuity of the Internet, this historical revisionism can be more widely known. We should pray for Fr. Scanlan, Bishop Ottenweller, and all the souls of the faithful departed.

    1. There’s no doubt that all of this was painful to the participants. But there are a couple of timing issues that bother me here.

      The first was Paenitemini’s recollection of Scanlan’s latching onto conservative Catholicism after the school’s near demise. John tells us that the bells tolled around 1974. Did Scanlan conflate the advent of the Charismatic renewal at Steubenville with the coming of “conservative Catholicism?” Or did the University hit the skids again later? The Charismatic Renewal and #straightouttairondale Catholicism are simply different, points of overlap notwithstanding.

      The second question is this: when did Tom Monaghan come on the board? The real advent of #straightouttairondale, with money following, would be marked with this event.

      I’d like to make a few observations from some other “tribes” (to use Leonard Sweet’s term.)

      First, the idea of the University being absorbed into the Ohio State University system isn’t as far fetched as one might think. In 1969, the Methodists gave the University of Chattanooga to the University of Tennessee system, and it became the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where I teach now. UC wasn’t as strapped as Steubenville was, so the UC Foundation lives on as an endowment for faculty and the Patten and Danforth Chapels are still owned by UC (which avoids the stink they’re having in OK right at the moment…)

      Second, the classical Pentecostal churches, having been through some rough times in their early years, didn’t embrace the prophetic gift in the way the Charismatics would do. We believe in the prophetic gift, but I can’t see the AoG and CoG “hanging their hat” on it the way the SoS people did. We exhort each other to “try the spirits” and that was lacking in the CCR with their self-validating authority structure.

      Third, in the whole “Anglican Revolt” the Charismatic Renewal, the Reformed tradition and the Anglo-Catholics have always been recognised as “three streams.” They worked together to create the ACNA but there’s never been a merger of any of them, a problem which still bedevils the ACNA. Unlike the Ohio and Tennessee rivers at their origins, two streams don’t merge into one, let alone three.

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